Behind the Veil: The dual life Iranians live to dodge Islamist curbs

By Jaime Leon

Tehran, Nov 8 (EFE).- Many Iranians live two lives: one in public to conform with the Islamic republic’s severe restrictions, and one in private to avoid the curbs as thousands of people protest on the streets in a show of dissent.

The double life involves what in the west is normal. Like drinking, letting your hair down, listening to music, dancing, and riding a motorbike rather than drunken, wild celebrations or torrid depravity.

Music, alcohol, nightclubs, gambling, mixed sports, and sex outside marriage are prohibited in the Islamic republic, founded by Iranian political and religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.

To stop men and women from working in the same places, the nation has also established gender segregation restrictions in certain areas.

The curbs are harsher for women, who have to cover themselves in veils.

Women who do not wear headscarves are “naked,” said Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution of 1979 that brought seismic changes to Iran.

Women were also prohibited from driving motorbikes and bicycles, singing in public, or practicing some sports.

Years later, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, Khomeini’s successor, said riding bikes and bicycles “exposes society to corruption” and “contravenes women’s chastity”.

Some of the restrictions have been relaxed in recent decades. Iranian music is now permitted, ladies can perform for female audiences, and can be seen riding around the streets of Tehran.

Nonetheless, numerous limitations persist that many people in the country skip whenever possible.

“I attend underground heavy metal shows. I don’t wear a veil. I enjoy sex. I am an atheist,” a Tehran resident told EFE.

“Why do they have to tell me what I can or can’t do,” she asked.

A walk in Tehran on a Wednesday or Thursday night (the Iranian weekend eve) will unveil many house parties with musical celebrations, generally American, blaring out.

House rooftops are full of antennas for foreign TV channels, in theory, banned by the authorities. Some women drive motorcycles, hiding their bodies with baggy clothes.

It is also possible to ride a cab in Tehran and get immersed in a Julio Iglesias track and the driver making clear his admiration for the Spanish singer.

The duality of life in Iran is not novel. It is an ancient tradition that somehow explains why houses are surrounded by big compound walls to protect family privacies.

“(The) Iranians by habit operate in two worlds, the public and the private. Traditionally just about every-thing meaningful in both social and political life happens behind closed doors. That is the way Iran has always been, whether its leaders were kings or ayatollahs,” recalls journalist-writer Elaine Sciolino in her book “Persian Mirrors.”

“The contrast is much sharper, however, under the ayatollahs, who have set strict limits on what constitutes acceptable behavior in public and sometimes even in private spaces,” Sciolino writes.

“An outsider can’t just open the door and peer in. The only way to get the door to open is to be invited in first.”

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