“We must either accept Western perspectives or Islamic ones, and there is no way in between,” he said.
Such arguments may have a certain appeal at a time when Iran is facing the strain of sanctions — imposed by the United States and other foreign powers — aimed at forcing it to halt its uranium enrichment program.
“Harking back to radical roots is a great comforter and proven survival strategy when positions on other, more substantial, issues are less clear cut,” said Rouzbeh Parsi, a research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies who specializes in Iran.
But the practice also risks spurring a backlash. Those arrested say they feel a growing sense of alienation in their own country.
Mahnaz and Mahin, sisters who are 28 and 29 years old, respectively, were recently arrested because Mahin was wearing a jacket that female morality police officers deemed too short.
“They were so rude to us,” said Mahnaz, who, like others, spoke on the condition that her last name not be used. “They told us, ‘If being arrested for having bad hijab bothers you, you should leave. This is an Islamic country, and we don’t want Western-looking people here.’ ”
Finding urban Iranians who support the program to enforce hijab is increasingly difficult. Many women who dress conservatively also find the patrols distasteful.
“Forcing people to dress a certain way is useless and won’t get the results that they want,” said Nafiseh, a 50-year-old mother of three who wears the tent-like chador. “I’m really against it, because these people aren’t really breaking Islamic rules.”
She said she often intervenes in arrests, knowing that, because of her strict adherence to the dress code, she is unlikely to be punished.
Mostafa, a 46-year-old marketing consultant, described how his 16-year-old daughter was arrested in a crowded shopping mall. “They coaxed her into the police van and told her they just wanted to talk to her,” he explained. “Once she was in the van, the whole atmosphere changed, and they said things that made her cry.”
After a brief time in custody, his daughter, Banafshe, was released. “Do you know what her response was to the whole episode?” he asked. “She said, ‘Dad, as soon as I finish high school, I’m leaving this country forever.’ ”