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IRAN: Ahmadinejad's newspaper in fight with hardliners over hijab

August 16, 2011 |  8:32 am

Iran
Iran's ultra-hardliners have gone after a newspaper that acts as a mouthpiece for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after it published a supplement on the Islamic dress code for women in what is perceived as a battle for the loyalty of the country's middle class.

Police officers were reportedly assigned to protect the staff of the daily paper, Iran, on Sunday, a day after publication of the supplement titled Khatoun, Persian for lady.

A Tehran prosecutor was said to be drawing up charges against the paper.

The 259-page special section on the history of the dress code, or hijab, recalled practices in pre-Islamic times, cited anti-Islamic social theorists such as Bertrand Russell and Sigmund Freud and traced the headscarf's transformation throughout history.

Conservatives condemned the supplement and accused the paper of "promoting permissiveness and religious laxity" in an effort by Ahmadinejad's press advisor, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, to increase his boss' street cred among the middle classes who despise him.

The supplement has been pulled from the paper's archives and largely blocked online. 

"We usually upload the supplements on the Internet, but this Khatoun. ...I do not think it will be uploaded soon," said a newspaper employee who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

In its Monday edition, the newspaper responded to the criticism, saying, "There was no concrete evidence in the supplement that can be quoted as an insult to hijab  or the chastity of women."

A reading of the hard-to-find supplement shows it is actually supportive of the Islamic headscarf. It was probably vilified for daring to adopt a new approach in imagining the future of the headscarf by placing Islamic tradition in a historical context. 

"I think that when you read the history of sacred things such as the hijab, then it will no longer be sacred and that means politicizing the hijab and undermining the Islamic regime," a Tehran intellectual told Babylon & Beyond.

The supplement is ripe with political overtones and sends an implicit message that the president is intent on separating himself from the traditional class from which he emerged.

Javanfekr himself used the issue of the Islamic headscarf to criticize the morality police for failing to use proper methods to maintain social order, blaming their repressive practices for the massive rallies that erupted after Ahmadinejad's 2009 reelection, which were dismissed as fraudulent by most independent observers. 

The latest battle between Ahmadinejad and his conservative rivals comes as he tries to appeal to the middle class in an effort to widen his constituency for coming elections. 

Political rivals have attempted to discredit the president by accusing him of being out of line with the values of the Islamic Republic.

"Three months ago, I became the manager of the Iran Publication Institute and the distinguished public prosecutor of Tehran has filed three lawsuits against me," Javanfekr was quoted as saying. 

-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Roula Hajjar in Beirut

Photo: An Iranian woman views mannequins dressed in traditional attire during an "Iranian Islamic Fashion Show" event in Tehran. Credit: Vahid Salemi/Associated Press

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