Subverting the codes, one wedding at a time

No more a taboo:Melina Hashemi dancing with guests at her wedding, south of Tehran, in March this year.NYTARASH KHAMOOSHI  

A marriage party, celebrating the wedding of Amir Hashemi and Melina Hashemi, is well under way at the Emarat wedding hall. Men in tuxedos and women in revealing dresses with costume jewellery in their immaculately coiffed hair have hit the dance floor for a favourite tune, the pop classic “The Pretty Ones Have to Dance,” by the exiled Iranian singer Andy. Couples at the tables enjoy small talk as some sip from small plastic water bottles.

The celebrants are violating no fewer than six of the fundamental laws governing personal behaviour in the Islamic Republic: mixing of the sexes; women baring flesh and failing to wear headscarves; dancing; playing pop music; and, last but not least, consuming alcohol.

In another era, all these violations would be punishable with a lashing or jail sentences. Some, such as failing to wear the head scarf and drinking alcohol, still are.

A large industry

At traditional weddings, men and women celebrate in separate rooms and applaud from their seats. When they meet afterward outside the venue, they are not supposed to shake hands, as any physical contact is forbidden.

But the Hashemis’ wedding and many other equally relaxed social events illustrate how the old rules are giving way to the inevitability of change.

The events remain illegal, and at times the police still show up, sometimes to collect kickbacks, but mixed weddings have become a large industry here, and the venues host marriages almost every night.

Despite monopolising Iran’s politics, the educational system, the courts, the security forces and most news media outlets, Iran’s conservative leaders have long been in retreat. While the laws are rarely changed, the flagging public support makes enforcement of the rules increasingly complex, with many former taboos now tolerated by society.

Dress has long been a battleground between Iranians and their government. But Iranians have always found creative ways to bend and even flout the rules. While the morality police continue to roam the streets and at times arbitrarily arrest women they deem to be improperly veiled, the state has given up enforcing much of anything but the rules on headscarves and shorts.

The decade-long game of push and pull between society and the state is growing tiresome for many people. Sure, they are pleased with the freedoms they had wrestled from the state, said Hojat Kalashi, a sociologist, but what do those mean when you can still be arrested at a mixed wedding party?

“We are changing non-stop, but the ruling establishment has no theory or vision how to run the country,” he said. Ultimately, this will lead to collapse or explosion, he concluded.NY Times