Iran at war with Shakespeare and its own people

Men and women are banned from dancing together in this little corner of heaven on Earth that is the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Monday 17/09/2018
 Iranian women walk past a shop displaying scarves on mannequins in the downtown district of the capital Tehran. (AFP)
Iranian women walk past a shop displaying scarves on mannequins in the downtown district of the capital Tehran. (AFP)

To ban or not to ban? That is the question Iranian authorities are asking themselves amid one more idiotic decision by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the semi-official ISNA News Agency reported. Or, as those two government entities should appropriately be called, the Ministry of Thought and the Ministry of Truth.

Forever looking to prolong and promote ignorance, Iranian officials ordered the arrest of two leading figures in the Tehran theatre community over a trailer promoting Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The crime? A scene featuring men and women dancing together, a government spokesman said.

Theatre director Maryam Kazemi and venue manager Saeed Asadi were detained September 9 on orders from the judiciary.

The wizard who runs the ministry's performing arts department said the "type of music played" and the actors' "movements" were the main problems with the trailer, which was widely shared on social media.

Men and women are banned from dancing together in this little corner of heaven on Earth that is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The accused were ordered to post bail of 3 billion rials (yes, billion). Given the ever-decreasing value of the Iranian rial that translates to $71,200. Still a hefty amount.

The play had already been showing for seven nights at Tehran’s City Theatre, one of the Iranian capital’s most famous venues, and only had one night left to run when the pair were arrested.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in countries where the government does not interfere with personal lives often take our liberties for granted. Daily activities that we hardly give a second thought to can in authoritarian countries falsely hiding behind a misguided label of religion lead to arrest, long prison terms and hefty fines.

Consider this: Owning a satellite dish in Iran can result in a fine of $2,800 since the devices “deviate the society’s morality and culture.” The Iranian government reportedly destroyed 100,000 satellite dishes.

Over the course of the last year, the government in Iran has banned 160,000 social media accounts and websites because they were found to spread “atheism and corruption.” Iran, along with North Korea, ranks highest in the world for censored internet usage.

Public affection -- even a simple handshake -- between men and women who are not family members is forbidden. This falls under something only George Orwell’s Big Brother could conjure called “an illegitimate sexual relationship short of adultery.”

Zumba was recently declared illegal in Iran because it is set to Latin music and was deemed un-Islamic.

Women’s hair must not be seen in public and a woman’s head must be covered when outside the house. In recent months, some women challenged the government by having photographs taken without covering their heads and appearing in a public place.

Iranian football star Mohsen Forouzan was “red carded” when, upon his engagement to an Iranian model Nasim Nahali, he posted a picture of his fiancee. For that, the Iranian football federation ethics committee suspended him for three months.

Silly as it may sound, these laws are applicable to female store mannequins, which should always be veiled. It’s not only the hair but no part of the woman’s anatomy should be revealed, including arms. The right to bare arms? Certainly not in Iran.

Men are subject to certain rules regarding certain hairstyles that are not allowed, Simple things like riding a bicycle is forbidden to women in Iran. Women have posted pictures of themselves riding bikes on “My Stealthy Freedom,” a friendly website.

Especially bizarre is that the Iranian government recently introduced an environmental campaign promoting bike riding, urging the population: “Every Tuesday, give up your car and take your bike."

Iran has outlawed the mixing of sexes. Schools, elementary and secondary schools are segregated, as are mosques, public transportation and libraries. In universities, many disciplines are closed to women and men and women must sit on opposite sides of the classroom when they have classes together.

Nothing good can emerge from a society in which men and women are forced to live as complete strangers and then expect them to function as part of a community.  The banning of cultural events, part of the Iranian government’s efforts to control every aspect of its citizens’ lives, is a guarantee that opposition to its tyranny will grow.