Color coding by religion in Iran?

I’ve written a lot before about the current President of Iran and his anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, as well as the religious fanaticism of the regime he leads. Here’s more evidence of where theocracy can lead:

While the Iranian economy appears to be heading for recession, one sector may have some reason for optimism. That sector is the garment industry and the reason for hopefulness is a law passed by the Islamic Majlis (parliament) on Monday.

The law mandates the government to make sure that all Iranians wear “standard Islamic garments” designed to remove ethnic and class distinctions reflected in clothing, and to eliminate “the influence of the infidel” on the way Iranians, especially, the young dress. It also envisages separate dress codes for religious minorities, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, who will have to adopt distinct colour schemes to make them identifiable in public. The new codes would enable Muslims to easily recognize non-Muslims so that they can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake, and thus becoming najis (unclean).

The new law, drafted during the presidency of Muhammad Khatami in 2004, had been blocked within the Majlis. That blockage, however, has been removed under pressure from Khatami’s successor, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The new law replaces the one passed in 1982 dealing with women’s clothes. That law imposed the hijab and focused on the need to force women to cover their hair in public. The emphasis on the hijab was based on the belief that women’s hair emanates an “evil ray” that drives men “into lustful irrationality” and thus causes harm to Islam. The new law cannot come into effect until consensus is reached on what constitutes “authentic Islamic attire.”


When a reader sent this story to me, at first I was very skeptical about it, because I only saw it on one news agency, and a seemingly questionable one at that, but now the UPI has picked it up and is running the story:

WASHINGTON, May 19 (UPI) — Iran’s parliament passed a new law this week that would force the country’s Jews, Christians and other religious minorities to wear color-coded ID badges to designate them as non-Muslims in a move that heralds broader faith-based persecution.

Iranian expatriates confirmed reports the Iranian parliament, or majlis, has approved a law that would require the roughly 25,000 Jews living in the Islamic Republic to attach a yellow strip of cloth to their clothing; Christians would wear red badges and Zoroastrians would wear blue ones.

The law further mandates that non-Muslims adhere to a dress code under which they wear “standard Islamic garments” that remove ethnic and class distinctions, the Canadian National Post reported Friday. The purpose would be to prevent Muslims from shaking the hands of “unclean” non-Muslims in public.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader and highest authority, must approve the law for it to take effect. If ratified, it could take effect as early as next year.

Great. If this is true, the Iranians have apparently decided to combine the worst of two totalitarian dress codes: an individuality-crushing uniformity in dress as seen in China during Mao’s reign ( with drab-colored “standard Islamic garments” substituted for the famous “Mao jacket“) and a badge to allow the quick identification of Jews at a glance seen during the Nazi regime.

I’m still fairly skeptical, though. As Allah Pundit mentions, the original story only stated that Iran wanted to impose an “Islamic dress code,” without mentioning anything about religious minorities. He wonders if the Post‘s sources were guessing what might happen based on the history of Persia:

The battle of Nehavend in 642 A.D. and the defeat of the Sassanid by Arab-Muslims ended the independence of Persia after nearly 12 centuries and it became a part of the Arab-Islamic entity. The Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs of Damascus and Baghdad controlled Persia. Arabic words infiltrated the Persian language, and Islam replaced Zorastrianism as the state religion.

These changes had a profound impact on the many religious minorities within Persia. Through a covenant of Omar (a Sunni Muslim leader), non-Muslims were deprived of social and political equality, and became, in effect, second-class citizens. Jews were made to wear a yellow ribbon on their arms and Christians a blue ribbon to distinguish them from Muslims.

Professor Amnon Netzer of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem told RFE/RL that the yellow patch as a distinctive mark for Iranian Jews reappeared a number of times through Iranian history, most recently at the beginning of the 20th century.

Also, the story seems to have originated from Iranian exiles, a group that is very much opposed to the current government, and a Jewish MP in Iran has explicitly denied that badges for Jews were part of the plan for an Islamic dress code. Even the Anti-Defamation League is hedging its bets.

Even so, given the religious fanaticism of the regime, I wouldn’t put it past Iran to try something like forcing Jews and other religious minorities to wear a badge or some other clothing that identifies them as non-Muslim (i.e., infidels). I simply await more evidence, because the story still sounds moe than a bit fishy to me.

No doubt President Ahmadinejad probably wonders at why Jews are raising such a fuss over this proposed religion-based dress code or stories (whether confirmed or not) of yellow badges for Jews. After all, he believes that the Holocaust is a myth. No doubt he thinks the uproar is just a case of Jews trying to make him look bad using comparisons to what to him is a fictitious historical event.

Even if the part about the yellow badge for Jews turns out to be completely untrue, the passage of a law mandating an Islamic dress code is bad enough. This whole incident simply shows the madness to which theocracy leads, to the hair-splitting and strange perversions of logic that lead to arguments over the minutiae of what constitutes “Muslim dress.” For example:

Although the final shape of the uniforms is yet to be established, there is consensus on a number of points. The idea of adopting an Arab-style robe (known as dishdash) for men has been rejected along with a proposal that men wear a form of turban.

“Iranians have always worn trousers,” says Mostafa Pourhardani, Minister of Islamic Orientation. “Even when the ancient Greeks wore woman-style dresses with skirts, the Persians had trousers. We are not going to force Iranian men to do away with trousers although they predate Islam.”
What men will wear on top is not clear yet.

Some Islamic experts want a kind of long, almost European-style, jacket known as “sardari” and used in Iran for centuries. Others propose only a waistcoat.

On colour schemes, however, there seems to be consensus.

Islamic legislators are unanimous that Islam is incompatible with “gay, wild, provocative colours” such as red, yellow, and light blue, which are supposed to be favoured by Satan. The colours to be imposed by law are expected to be black, brown, dark blue and dark grey.

Some Majlis members have been trying to lift the ban on green, which is, after all, the colour of the Bani Hashem, the family of the Prophet Muhammad, and thus regarded as the colour of Islam. The majority view, however, is that green is not “serious enough” to underline the gravity of a Muslim man’s position.

And:

During the committee debates on the new law, some Majlis members tried to include articles determining the shape and size of men’s beards and mustaches and impose an Islamic standard for male facial hair. But it was agreed that the issue be tackled in another bill to be presented to the Majlis next year.

This sounds a bit more believable, that the legislators would be arguing over what constitutes “Islamic clothing, “Islamic colors,” and proper “Islamic” facial hair. In reality, as in all totalitarian regimes, it’s all about control and conformity:

One aim of the new law is to impose a total ban on imports of clothes and dress designs from the West. The Majlis hopes that all jeans will disappear from the Iranian scene within five years. The boutiques selling haute couture Western gear for men and women will also be closed over the next few years. A total ban on designer items, marked by logos, will come into force by the end of the year.

“There is no sense in a Muslim man or woman wearing something that is, in fact, an advertisement for an infidel designer or clothing merchant,” says Pourharandi.

Another aim of the new law is to abolish the chador, the overall piece of cloth that Iranian women have tucked themselves in for centuries. The reason is that the chador existed before the Khomeinist revolution and thus cannot be regarded as “properly Islamic.” Women must wear clothes that would, in fact, transform them into advertising billboards for the regime’s ideology.

Even if this law doesn’t mandate different badges for minority religions, it would in effect have close to the same effect. If non-Muslims aren’t required to wear the uniform, they become very easily and instantly identifiable as not Muslim, unless they decide to wear it to blend in. If they do that or if they are required to wear the uniform by law, the effect becomes one of making non-Muslims conform to Muslim edicts, becoming in effect yet another tool for putting those pesky “infidels” in their place.

ADDENDUM: The Post has in essence retracted the part about religious minorities having to wear identifiying badges. It looks like that part was rumor or intentional disinformation.