Iran’s religious police, the Basij, whose mission it is to make sure the people adhere to an Islamic code, have a long and proud history of harassing women for their Western-style dressing tendencies. But it’s only recently that Iranian men have become the target of similar ultraconservative, style-cramping campaigns. What the Basij are mostly concerned about right now are the increasingly “jazzy” hairstyles guys are sporting. They’re deadly serious about combating the worrying spread of this particular trend. The main style, which has become a favorite among the hip young kids of Tehran, and consequently the one that the fashion police are determined to flatten (so to speak), is the
, aka the rooster. While in theory we agree that this hairstyle sucks balls, we don’t feel like anybody needs to have their hand chopped off over it. A simple stern talking to would do, no?
Tehran is considered the fashion capital of Iran, and hundreds of clothing stores and hair salons have the difficult task of picking up and translating Western fashion trends without upsetting the conservative government. Unfortunately, they usually fail, and a cop or a politician freaks the fuck out and shuts them down. One light-pink-polo-shirt-wearing shop owner we spoke to, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of inciting the government’s anger, told us defensively, “We are only providing what the young people want.”
But a short stroll through the streets of Tehran makes it clear that the Basij’s zero-wacky-haircut-tolerance policy is not doing enough to stamp out an evidently healthy faux-hawk black market. And after a long and thorough search, we found a salon in the northern part of the city that would allow us to photograph a “rooster” in the making. The recipient of the haircut was Hussan, a 21-year-old medical student. The hairdresser was Rodni, who has been cutting hair for over 20 years and was completely shocked by the recent “drastic actions” being taken against his industry. He told us that he had been kicked out of Jordan (a suburb of Tehran) by the government for giving these hairstyles, so he had relocated his work to the north.
The Tehran police are fighting the good fight as only they know how. Last month they held an (anti)fashion parade in an attempt to relate to the kids. There were no live models, but rather a demonstration on dummies of what was considered un-Islamic garb. They offered helpful suggestions regarding appropriately neat and arguably boring hairstyles as well as new, “outrageous” chador (the long black sheet worn wrapped around the body) designs for young women. When we spoke to Sergeant Sardar Ansar of the Iranian police force, he told us: “We want to guide our designers to meet the needs of our society. We don’t want them to get their ideas about fashion from satellite television.”
The Golestan shopping mall in northwestern Tehran is, like malls everywhere, a magnet for young guys who travel from all over the city to go shopping and hang out. In the courtyard outside the mall, there are six security guards keeping the peace in what appears to be a friendly setting. There’s no alcohol and no drugs, just Iranian youth sitting around sipping on freshly squeezed juice and watching girls walk by while playing with their hair. We asked them whether they’ve faced the wrath of the Basij, and a 16-year-old named Hameed told us that they are frequently harassed. “I was once arrested and taken to the Center for Combating Vice. They shaved my head, gave me a fine of 200,000 rials ($20), and called my parents to come pick me up. The police said next time they’ll throw me in jail!”
Across town, in Vanak Square, one of the most popular shopping areas, I find the Basij in action. They have three vans parked around the square, and each vehicle has three police in their distinctive green uniforms and two women in the all-encompassing black chador. Watching from a distance, I see them pull aside women to quiz them about the length of their
(overcoat) and how far back on their head a scarf is sitting. Those who are considered to be crossing the boundaries are taken into minibuses with tinted windows, labeled “Guidance Patrol,” for a longer chat. After a few minutes, they exit with an embarrassed look on their face, generally wearing a new, longer, and broader chador.
They soon focus on a guy who looks to be about 23. He is quizzed on why he has so much gel in his hair and what appears to be a deliberate rip in the knee of his jeans. He tells them he’s from the United States and that he did not know that there were laws against this. The explanation works and he evades retribution.
Next thing I know, the policemen are under fire from a middle-aged woman in a chador who angrily questions them and their whole operation. “Why don’t you go and tackle some real problems in Tehran, like traffic and crime?” The police reply unemotionally: “Normally the problem is resolved here. If not, and these cases are often those of reoffenders, the case is sent to the judiciary. I am just following orders”
Back in Rodni’s salon, in defiance of the crackdown, the stylist is working on starting a blog in the hope that it can help inspire Iranian youth to fight for their right to sport the same wacky haircuts worn freely by dipshits around the world. He wants his URL to be www.rodni.ir, but he doesn’t have much hope. They’ve got cyber vice police for that.