Saturday, May 20, 2006

On the possible Iranian law

Doubts are being cast on the story from Iran about requiring distinguishing clothing for Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians.

It is interesting to me that those who comment on this possible law always draw the comparison to the Nazis, who required Jews to wear the yellow star. The supposed Iranian law, at least as stated in the articles I have read, requires it rather for adherents of the three religions that have "protected" (dhimmi) status under Muslim religious law, who live according to the so-called Pact of Umar, which dates to the 9th century C.E. The Pact requires members of the dhimmi peoples to acknowledge the superiority of Islam and act in a humble manner towards Muslims. For example, according to the version I've just linked to, Christians were not supposed to build new churches. Christians were not to "imitate them [Muslims] in [their] dress, either in the cap, turban, sandals, or parting of the hair." In exchange for agreeing to these terms, Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians were permitted to practice their religions and within certain specified conditions, to live freely under Muslim rule. They also had to pay the jizya, a special poll-tax that guaranteed them safety under Muslim rule. Other limitations were that dhimmis were not supposed to hold government office with control over Muslims, but in the Middle Ages this provision (as well as others) were often ignored.

Other Iranian laws that are in force seem to be inspired by the rules of the dhimma. The last paragraph in the New York Sun article says:
Iran's constitution already carves out special status for non-Muslims. For example, it prohibits non-Muslims from obtaining senior posts in either the army or government. A national ordinance made into law in 2000 and 2001 requires all non-Muslim butchers, grocers, and purveyors of food to post a form in the window of their place of business warning Muslims they do not share their faith. At the time the code was defended in order to enforce Islamic dietary law. Muslims in Iran officially enjoy preference over non-Muslims in terms of admission to universities and colleges.
Professor Laurence Loeb's book, Outcaste: Jewish Life in Southern Iran (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1977), describes the strict dhimmi rules that Jews in Iran, based on notions of the impurity of non-Muslims, lived under until the 1920s:
Professor Laurence Loeb’s seminal analysis of dhimmi Jews under Muslim suzerainty in Iran documents the social impact of Shi’ite najas [impurity] regulations, beginning with the implementation of a “badge of shame [as] an identifying symbol which marked someone as a najas Jew and thus to be avoided. From the reign of Abbas I [1587-1629] until the 1920s, all Jews were required to display the badge.”
See also this article on the history of the impurity regulations in Iran as applied to Jews and Christians. (I am hesitant to link to these two articles, which were published in Front Page Mag, but I have read Loeb's book and his conclusions are as described in these articles).

While the supposed law is vile, it may be a real historical mistake to point to Nazi influence - there is plenty of historical precedent in Iran prior to the rise of Nazism for this kind of invidious singling out of non-Muslims for prejudice and discrimination.

Another denial that the proposed law would refer to Jews, Christians, or Zoroastrians comes from the AP:
Iran's conservative-dominated parliament is debating a draft law that would discourage women from wearing Western clothing, increase taxes on imported clothes and fund an advertising campaign to encourage citizens to wear Islamic-style garments....

In Tehran, legislator Emad Afroogh, who sponsored the bill and chairs the parliament's cultural committee, told The Associated Press on Friday there was no truth to the Canadian newspaper report. ''It's a sheer lie. The rumors about this are worthless,'' he said.

Afroogh said the bill seeks only to make women dress more conservatively and avoid Western fashions. ''The bill is not related to minorities. It is only about clothing,'' he said. ''Please tell them (in the West) to check the details of the bill. There is no mention of religious minorities and their clothing in the bill,'' he said.

Iranian Jewish lawmaker Morris Motamed told the AP: ''Such a plan has never been proposed or discussed in parliament. Such news, which appeared abroad, is an insult to religious minorities here.''

At Iran's mission to the United Nations, a diplomat, speaking anonymously because he was not allowed to make official statements, called the report ''completely false... We reject that. It is not true. The minorities in Iran are completely free and are represented in the Iranian parliament,'' the diplomat said.

According to the bill, a joint committee of the parliament and Cabinet ministers will decide on the tax increase on imported clothes and other details. ''Promotion of Western and spontaneous styles has become a cultural problem in major cities. It needs national attention,'' Mahmoud Hosseini, spokesman of the cultural committee in the Majlis, or parliament, has said in comments broadcast live on state radio.

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