No Necklaces for Men in Iran

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Marco Werman: It looks like men in Iran may have to start hiding their bling. This week Iranian officials declared that Iranian men can no longer wear necklaces. They're un-Islamic. Iranians weren't shocked by the announcement. Authorities there have long frowned on Western style haircuts for men, and women aren't supposed to wear loose-fitting headscarves and tight-fitting coats. It's all part of a larger effort to fight what Iranian authorities call a Western cultural invasion. Los Angeles Times Bureau Chief Borzou Daragahi is in Beirut.

Borzou Daragahi: This happens every year, you know. For a week or two, all my Iranian friends cover up a little better, they dress a little bit more conservatively. And then the crackdown ends and the headscarves go back further, the bling comes out, the sandals come out, the jeans get shorter, etc. The clothes get tighter, and the hairstyles get more outrageous. It just happens over and over again.

Werman: But I imagine, when there are these restrictions, and they're announced to the public, it's probably pretty sensitive for young people?

Daragahi: Actually, the young people are the ones who really don't give a hoot. Every young person I know in Iran has spent 12-24 hours locked up for not being dressed properly or for saying something inappropriate to a security official or something like that. It's a kind of mark of pride. Iran is a strange country where, for example, it's a mark of distinction if you've spent time in prison, you know, rather than a blemish. And if you're a guy who has never been pinched by the morality police, so to speak, no girl will want to date you. Something that's very strange about Iran, where the security forces, like in many authoritarian states, are viewed as such the enemy of the people, that it's not a stigma to be arrested or detained for something like this.

Werman: Tehran's moral police are enforcing the dress code. Remind us of who they are and what they do.

Daragahi: They used to be a lot more reckless and a lot more willing to even invade people's homes and so on. In recent years they've been put, so to speak, under more and more of a leash. Now they're uniformed and they drive around in official vehicles and they're a little bit more under the control of the security forces. It should said that they seem to come out whenever there's a politically sensitive time. So this whole morality police "card" becomes an excuse to deploy additional forces around the city to frighten people, to keep a sort of control over people. It's about control more than what people are actually wearing or not wearing.

Werman: This week marks the second anniversary of what Iranian dissidents call the stolen election. Iran's Green Movement has called for silent protest. Did anyone take to the streets?

Daragahi: Yeah, a lot of people took to the streets. They went into the streets, but there was apparently such a huge security presence that no one dared chant any slogans for fear of being arrested over nothing.

Werman: Can Iran's Green Movement still be energized by the Arab Spring? Is that even in the cards?

Daragahi: Iran moves to a different rhythm than the Arab world. Iran has been much more unstable in many ways than the Arab world has been. They've had so much regime change. They've already been through this once. Sort of like Lebanon, where I am now. They say "Pft, revolution? We tried that once, and look where it got us." Taking to the streets in protest, it doesn't really work. There's a sort of jadedness in countries that have a history that's different from the mainstream of the Arab world. In Egypt, in Syria, in Libya, these are novel things, taking to the streets in hopes of making change. But in Iran, it's something that has been happening for 100 years. It's just a different rhythm. In addition, Iran is definitely part of the Arab world, in that they speak a totally different language, they're not watching the same TV channels. The Al Jazeera effect... There's no Al Jazeera Iran. There's no legitimate, popular international, locally based television channel that unites the Iranians the way that Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera do.

Werman: Los Angeles Times Bureau Chief Borzou Daragahi in Beirut. Thank you very much, Borzou.

Daragahi: It's been a pleasure.