Just like Lent, only compulsory


It’s good to live in societies where religion is a private matter, isn’t? Though as a substitute, a whole range of secular ideas about everything from gender to the environment is being increasingly held and imposed on the general populace with a religious-like fervour, which hardly represents progress for human freedom. But back to religion:

Men in Iran have been ordered not to look at women during Ramadan as part of a round of draconian restrictions imposed by the increasingly isolated regime.

In a sign of frustration with growing civil discontent and economic pain caused by US sanctions, hardliners in Iran’s government are forcing through unusually strict social diktats to bring people into line.

The country’s judiciary has announced that those eating in public during the fasting period are also in breach of laws and will be prosecuted.

“My personal advice to women is to respect the hijab even more than before and gentlemen must avoid looking directly at female passersby,” Gholam- Hossein Esmaili, a judiciary spokesperson said.

“Anyone ignoring these instructions during the Ramadan will be committing an offence and should expect some punishment from the law enforcement units.”

When religion is a matter of personal belief, as it is for Christians worldwide, occasions like Lent give one an opportunity to voluntarily give something up in the spirit of renunciation, reflection and penance. When you live in a theocracy, on the other hand, it’s the state that makes you to give up things.

But as I was saying, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the religious and secular impulses – particularly when their targets are virtually the same:

Iran’s morality police: “Gentlemen must avoid looking directly at female passersby.”

Victoria’s anti-family violence statutory authority Respect Victoria: “‘Sexual harassment’ is any form of unwelcome sexual behaviour that can be offensive, humiliating or intimidating. It can be obvious or indirect, physical or verbal, repeated or one-off. On public transport, sexual harassment may include staring or leering.”

“There’s a big difference between eye contact and leering,” says Respect Victoria. Maybe. But the mullahs have the right idea: just to be on the safe side, don’t look at women at all.