Morality Policing: A Menacing Specter Haunting Women Across Iran, Afghanistan, and Syria

The union of political and religious authority gives rise to a corrupt and extremist governing system, fixated on perpetuating prevailing social issues and exacerbating them for heightened control and power

The various branches of the “Morality Police” vividly illustrate this fixation by asserting control over women’s bodies and dictating their choices, all under the guise that “the virtue of the nation is mirrored in the virtue of its women.”

Syria’s Idlib under the scrutiny of morality police

The Syrian province of Idlib is currently under the grip of the “Public Morality Police,” as the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) works to impose a strict social framework in the areas under its control in northwest Syria.

This comes after the HTS successfully solidified its rule in these regions by marginalizing other factions in recent years.

The “Rescue Government,” formed by the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in 2017, has leaked a new draft law titled “Public Morality Law”.

This extensive law consists of 128 articles, introducing the establishment of a “Public Morality Police” and inviting both men and women to enroll. The HTS has previously mandated the wearing of the hijab for girls aged 12 and above.

The proposed law included a package of taboos and prohibitions, including the prohibition of mixing between the two sexes, unless proven to be “Mahrams” (family members), and the prohibition of music and audio-visual performances “contrary to religion and decent taste.”

The draft stipulates in Chapter One of Part III the powers entrusted to the Public Morality Police, including censorship of the media, means of entertainment and recreation, commercial, industrial, and service institutions, roads, and public facilities. The police are tasked with preventing violations of public morals and taste within these domains.

A shared suffering: women facing extremist rule

The law grants the Public Morality Police the authority to prevent, regulate, or remove violations, apprehend violators, and close non-compliant establishments. According to the law, the police are required to conduct patrols, the frequency of which varies depending on the situation but should not be less than three patrols per day.

According to Chapter V, the specialized police (Public Morality Police) are authorized to apprehend violators and issue reports, promptly notifying the judge with a warrant.

Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham has taken steps to introduce a public morality law, notably by issuing a directive last year through the Rescue Government’s Ministry of Education. This directive was aimed at private educational institutions, mandating the removal of drawings and pictures from school walls. Additionally, it required students in basic and secondary education stages to adhere to a loose Islamic dress code.

The circular also emphasized the obligation for female staff to wear loose Islamic attire and implemented a complete separation of male and female students in basic and secondary education.

Besides banning students from using phones, restrictions on music and shows that are considered inappropriate and go against Sharia guidelines on social media platforms of educational institutions were imposed. This applies to events organized by schools, whether inside or outside their premises.

This radical shift foretells a dire situation for women and girls under such regulations, jeopardizing their freedom and individual choices. It echoes the distressing experiences of women in Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Sudan, who faced lashings, arrests, and unjust penalties for going against the patriarchal norms imposed by extremist governments.

Taliban escalates crackdown on Afghan women

The Taliban recently arrested several women in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on the pretext of wearing an “inappropriate hijab.” The extremist government issued a statement through the Minister of the “Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” stating that: “The arrests targeted those wearing an inappropriate hijab, and these few women who spread the inappropriate hijab in Islamic society have violated values and religious norms.” He threatened, “Arrests will take place in every province for those not wearing the hijab.”

The number of detained women, the nature of the trial, and the punishment they will face are yet to be determined. However, such measures are typically uniform, indicating a recurring brutal crackdown on unveiled women, reminiscent of the heinous crimes against non-veiled women in Iran.

It is noteworthy that the Taliban has imposed numerous restrictions on women since taking power, barring them from continuing education beyond the primary level, traveling without a male guardian (Mahram), closing all beauty salons, and prohibiting women from attending public parks and entertainment venues.

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