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Conservative Iranian Officials Outraged That Little Girls Were Allowed to Dance at Women's Day Event

Source: Center for Human Rights in Iran

Iran’s ultra-conservative prosecutor general has demanded that the organizers of a Women’s Day event in the capital city be punished for allowing little girls to dance on a stage. His demand has been echoed by religious hardliners around the country but some liberal commentators have pointed out that the issue has been blown drastically out of proportion.

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“Information has been received regarding an event to celebrate Women’s Day organized by the Tehran Municipality at the Milad Tower in which acts of public indecency were displayed against the pure and chaste traditions of Fatima,” said Montazeri in a written order to Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi on March 7, 2018, the day after the event.

The event at Milad Tower was held in the presence of 2,000 spectators, mostly municipality employees, who were there to honor their female colleagues on Iran’s Women’s Day, which in the Islamic Republic is tied to the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad’s sister, Fatima.

“While expressing our dismay, it is necessary to investigate this matter as soon as possible and put those responsible under judicial pursuit,” added Montazeri.

According to Islamic law, females are not allowed to dance for anyone except their husbands. At the event in Tehran, all the dancing girls were under the age of nine.

Images and video shared on social media networks show the girls spreading flowers around the stage while twirling and dancing to traditional Iranian music.

Conservative politicians and news outlets in Iran have chastised Tehran’s reformist mayor, Mohammad Ali Najafi, for not shutting down the event.

On March 7, Najafi issued a statement requesting that the organizers of all “cultural and artistic” events in the city do so in accordance with Islamic laws.

“We do not believe that Islam is a religion of sorrow,” the mayor said. “Islam is a happy religion. It’s joyous and lively. But the joy should come within a framework of norms and that in itself is an art. Therefore I ask all my colleagues to pay attention to these important points in organizing cultural and artistic programs.”

But the conservative, state-funded Mehr News Agency criticized the mayor, claiming he appeared to have enjoyed the show.

“The publication of a short clip showing an event celebrating women working for the Tehran Municipality in which several girls were dancing and women were singing and playing music in front of the mayor, has drawn many protests,” said an unsigned commentary piece published on March 7.

“In the clip, you can even see the mayor of Tehran applauding the performers at the end of the program, which was undoubtedly without precedent in the history of this institution,” added the commentary.

It continued: “If Najafi was concerned that the program was against Islamic norms, he should have left at that moment and ordered disciplinary action against the organizers.”

Najafi told the Iranian government’s official newspaper, Iran, that he did not agree with the dance routine but saw no reason to leave the event at the time.

“The people who organized the event said that all the girls who were performing were under nine-years-old and therefore there was no problem from a religious point of view,” Najafi said. “I attended the event to honor the 2,000 municipality workers in the audience... There has been some criticism of the dance and it was best if it was left out of the program but I did not see a reason to leave.”

“Something Out of Nothing”

Fatemeh Rakei, a reformist politician and the Tehran municipality’s director for women’s affairs, told the Iran newspaper that conservatives were blowing the issue out of proportion.

“These malicious critics are trying to make something out of nothing because there have been dozens of these artistic programs staged by official permit in the country and they have even been shown on state television where performers have made movements in accordance with Iranian cultural traditions,” Rakei said.

“The performance was not a dance and the performers were not mature girls,” she added. “All they did was spread flowers with artistic movements. That’s neither a crime nor a sin.”

But in the Shiite holy city of Qom, the ultra-conservative Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamadani called on the faithful to show their outrage against the event’s organizers.

“The families of martyrs should come forward and protest against such actions because we owe our security and our revolution to the blood of the martyrs and it’s regrettable to see such things happening in our revolutionary society,” he told the families of Iranian war veterans on March 8.

The previous day, Hamid Rasaee, a conservative member of Parliament, attacked the organizers for allegedly failing to honor the Prophet Mohammad’s sister.

“Obviously, there was no connection between this program and the character of Fatima, a woman whose qualities and beliefs have inspired a week of celebrations in honor of mothers and women,” Rasaee said on March 7.

“Moreover, we should remind the dear people of Tehran that the problems facing the city such as air pollution, traffic congestion, urban deterioration and corruption in the municipality will not be solved by those who believe in such debauched and lecherous ideas.”

Nahid Khodakarami, a reformist member of the Tehran City Council and a professor at the Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, said the criticisms were rooted in sexism.

“It’s unfortunate that even our small children are not safe from such poisonous, sexist views on women. If you had worried about the plunder of the public treasury, instead of girls dancing and being happy, then the municipality would not have been 52 trillion tomans [approximately $13.8 billion USD] in debt,” she tweeted on March 7.

On March 8, Azar Mansoori, who describes herself as a reformist, tweeted: “I wish a little bit of this hoopla and cries to save Islam’s reputation over a bunch of girls happily dancing and women singing in a chorus would have instead been directed at financial corruption scandals that involve numbers with so many zeros that they wouldn’t fit on a page.”

Iranian twitter user Shirin Fazaeli wrote, “You react against 8-year-olds dancing but you have no objections when they are forced to get married at that age, or when they have to go to work or when they get raped. Your only worry in this country right now is dancing girls.”

Journalist and researcher Hossein Bastani pointed out that the same judicial officials who blocked the imprisonment of a Quran reciter who was accused of sexually abusing male students in Iran were now trying to investigate a “few innocent girls.”

“The same judiciary that wants to investigate a few innocent girls has for years blocked the prosecution of individuals such as Saeed Tousi,” he tweeted on March 7.

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