Iran's morality police: not disbanded
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here and a Quick Take to kick off your week. There's plenty to talk about around the world but I wanted to focus a little bit on Iran. We've had over two months of demonstrations across the entire country, grassroots, mostly young people, led by women in opposition to the morality police and the incredibly oppressive treatment that women in particular have in that country, not least of which, the forced wearing of the hijab under penalty of arrest.
Now, it's very interesting that over the course of the weekend, there was all sorts of headlines put out that the Iranian government announced that they were abolishing the morality police, and if that were true, it would be a big deal. Remember, Iran, for over two months, the only response to the demonstrations has been repression, and the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, came out just a week ago and said that he would not listen to the voice of the people. He absolutely rejected that, and instead, what we've seen is more arrests and increasingly, we're seeing harsh sentences being put against those people that have been involved in demonstrations. In some cases, even the death sentence.
If the morality police were actually abolished, that would be a big deal and there were major headlines in the New York Times and the BBC and Reuters and others that indeed made that announcement. Unfortunately, that's not what actually is happening. This was one government official who said that it was closed in response to a press conference question, the morality police, as opposed to suspended or abolished. And in that regard, it doesn't mean that it was disbanded.
Indeed, when this what they call guidance force, that's the literal term of the morality police, became a part of the law enforcement force under then President Ahmadinejad, you remember the Member's Only jacket guy with the beard, it was then renamed as a police force for social security. So for all we know, the statements that were made could literally be made that they don't have guidance police/morality police anymore because they've already used that name change. In other words, there's nothing thus far that shows that there is any change in actual policy or enforcement on the ground in Iran, and certainly just even today, we've seen more harsh repression against demonstrations. There's no reason to believe that.
Now, I pointed that out to the New York Times yesterday and asked them to clarify or take down their headline. They have thus far refused to do so. It feels too cute by half. It makes it seem as if the Iranian government is responding to the demands of the demonstrators, that the demonstrators are winning. That's not at all the case on the ground. I wish it were but we need the major newspapers and media outlets in the world to be honest, and when they make a mistake, admit that they make a mistake.
And I'm quite disturbed actually that this has been handled this way, especially because there are all sorts of bad actors and political actors that are willing to take a mistake like this and run with it and say that these media organizations are no good at anything. And of course, the mainstream media across the board, whether it tilts left like the New York Times or it tilts right like Fox or the Wall Street Journal, have been losing a lot of credibility over the course of the last years, especially given the preponderance of social media actors, and so this doesn't help, doesn't help at all. So we don't know about what's happened, if anything, to these police.
There is an open question as to whether or not there will be any shift as to behaviors that are tolerated, specifically the hijab. And as of right now, harassing women on the streets is an important way, a critical way that the theocratic regime in Iran exhibits its power and I think giving that up permanently will be incredibly difficult for the Iranian government to do. Now, if they were to do that, that would be a big deal. That would be an enormous win. It would weaken the theocracy significantly and it would create much more capacity for rank and file Iranians, especially women, to live their lives in a normal way, but I personally doubt it, especially in a systematic way.
I think the question of the hijab goes well beyond the morality police and it's actually turned into a barometer, a quick way of understanding who is a believer, an insider, and who is a nonbeliever, an outsider. It's a tool through which the citizen's willingness to submit to the practices that it finds oppressive and abhorrent is tested every day and imposed, from getting a driver's license to a passport to entering government buildings, women have to practice the ritual of a correctly donned hijab, and I think that that level of imposed ritual is incredibly important to the perceived legitimacy and power of the theocracy.
It is the core of what they are fighting over right now, even if that's not what they're saying on the streets, and as a consequence, I will be enormously impressed, you'll hear it from me, I'll be very happy and the outpouring of emotion that we see around the world in sympathy and alignment with these women on the streets that are taking their lives in their own hands by yelling and screaming for freedom and taking off their hijab, I think it's a huge deal. But so far, no reason to believe that the Iranian government is changing its behavior and I will believe it when I see it.
So that is where we are right now on the Iranian situation on the ground. We'll do our best to continue to get you everything we know and analyze those things we're not certain of, and we'll talk to y'all real soon. Thanks and be good.