Dogs and jeans out of fashion in Iran

KEEPING pet dogs is the latest fashion to raise the hackles of Iranian hardliners as they combat a "western cultural invasion".

Young men have been warned that jeans could make them infertile because they overheat the testicles.

Police chief of the capital Tehran Hossein Sajedinia declared last week that cars will be seized if there are dogs in them, along with the pets.

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Canines are considered "unclean" in Islamic tradition, but it has become fashionable in up-market north Tehran to keep them, especially expensive pedigree dogs.

Iran's hardline parliament recently drafted a bill to criminalise owning dogs in private apartments or exercising them in public places.

The bill says that, health hazards aside, owning dogs is a "blind imitation of vulgar western culture". Similarly, hardliners view jeans as "decadent", but denim has become too popular in Iran to even try to outlaw. State-run television seemingly tried to scare men off wearing jeans by interviewing a young pundit who made the claim about their impact on fertility. Ali Akbar Rafiepour also said the word "jeans" comes from "jinn". Jinn, according to Islamic texts, are spirits able to assume animal or human form.

Mr Rafiepour suggested that towering high heels make a woman's feet look like a jinn's hooves. His views, relayed by YouTube and Facebook, were scorned by Iranians at home and abroad.

What Iranians wear is a politically-loaded issue every summer, when the number of Islamic "morality police" is increased on the streets to ensure those wearing lighter clothing in the soaring heat are not breaking the rules.

This year they are out in greater force than ever, with 70,000 police officers on fashion duty in Tehran alone.

The annual crackdown has traditionally targeted women, but men are being included this year – they have been banned from sporting neck chains and their hairstyles are also under police scrutiny.

Permissible "Islamic" haircuts for men allow a dab of gel, but pony-tails and a spiked style known locally as the "rooster" are taboo.

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Even so, Iranian men have it easier than the women. Men do not have to cover themselves head to toe and can wear short-sleeved shirts, although shorts are still outlawed.

Men flouting the dress code are usually hauled off to the barber or home to change.

Women caught flashing a bit of ankle, wearing a dash of make-up or pushing back their mandatory headscarves too far get a lecture on Islamic clothing and values.

"If they don't take action immediately and rectify the problem and their outfit, they will be arrested, Tehran's deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan, declared.

Detainees are freed only after signing a pledge "not to appear in public again like that", he said.

The practice of flogging women who broke the dress code ended in the mid-1990s.

Iran's "moral security plan" is as much about politics as it is about fashion.

Enforcing the dress code is a way for the regime to demonstrate its control and deflect attention from its other problems.

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Iran's ruling hardline elite is currently ruptured by a vicious power struggle between president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's camp and followers of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The populist president, now battling for his survival, has often voiced his opposition to any overzealous crackdown on the dress code, concerned it could damage his government's popularity.

His hardline rivals claim that he has been bewitched by a power-hungry, "deviant" faction in his camp that is plotting to sideline Iran's clergy, the cornerstone of the Islamic republic.