Iran's morality police have launched a new crackdown on a seemingly harmless foe: Barbie. The ban on the curvaceous, careerist American doll was officially imposed in 1996 as part of the Islamic republic's "soft war" against foreign cultural influences. But many defiant shop owners kept stocking Barbies — until officers showed up over the last few weeks to pull the toys from shelves. And Barbie's not the only irritant. Here, six supposed signs of decadence that Tehran's rulers have tried to stamp out:
1. Squirt guns
Last August, hundreds of boys and girls escaped the summer heat in a Tehran park by joining in a water-pistol fight, organized via Facebook. Religious conservatives protested, and some participants were arrested. Males and females unrelated by blood are not supposed to mix this way in Iran. "They acted against social norms," decreed Ahmad Rouzbehani, head of Tehran's morality police. One boy who got hauled in reportedly admitted that the wetness war "was much more intimate than it should have been."
2. Dancing in kindergarten
Last summer, Iran also reportedly banned dancing lessons in kindergartens. Welfare Organization head Ahmad Esfandiari told the news website Aftab that teaching small children to twirl and hop was immoral and flouted Islamic values. He warned that schools violating the new rules would lose their licenses, and suggested they become more "Koranic" by increasing their religious instruction instead.
3. Ankle unveilings
In 2010, a YouTube user posted a video that apparently depicted two morality cops trying to arrest a woman who'd ventured out in public wearing an outfit that revealed her ankles. The woman, her head covered as per custom, fought back and was eventually released.
4. Chic clothes
Members of the morality police frequently chastise and even arrest women for wearing clothing they deem indecent. Last November, 70 fashion designers were rounded up and more than 400 shops were shut down for selling "improper" dresses. A graphic designer who would only identify herself by her first name, Asal, tells The Washington Post that hardliners must realize fashion trends are changing, whether they like it or not. "First, we were not allowed to wear boots, but now many women wear them," Asal says. "They said that we always had to close our coats, but now we keep them unbuttoned. These are big changes in our traditional society."
5. Snow skiing
As ski season opened this year in Iran's Alborz mountain range, the morality police circulated a new warning banning women and girls from skiing unless accompanied by a husband, father, or brother. It's part of a hardliner effort to roll back reforms made under former President Mohammad Khatami, which the current government says led to flouting of religious dress codes and other traditions. Iran's ski resorts acted as "something of a haven from the Islamic dress code — and from laws against boys and girls mixing," says Thomas Erdbrink at The Washington Post. One catch: Wealthy young Iranians ski much better than the morality cops do, so it's hard for agents policing the slopes to keep up.
Barbie is considered a prime example of "pernicious Western culture eroding Islamic values," says Mitra Amiri at Reuters. So Iranian authorities instead push the Sara and Dara dolls, which sport traditional clothes. One 38-year-old Iranian mother says her daughter considers Sara and Dara "ugly and fat," adding "[she] prefers Barbies." One Tehran shopkeeper tells Reuters that "we still sell Barbies, but secretly." And we put traditional Iranian dolls "in the window to make the police think we are just selling these kinds of dolls."