One day back in 1957, when I was living in Paris, I stumbled on the following dispatch in The International Herald Tribune:
IRAN BUREAU BANS PRETTY TYPISTS
TEHRAN, March 13 (AP) — Beautiful stenographers have been banned in the Iranian Ministry of Agriculture. The order issued yesterday by the minister, General Hassan Akhavi, ruled that pretty secretaries and typists should not be employed. Under the new rule, a girl who came first out of 110 applicants for a typist job has been turned down because of her beauty.
The general was probably a practicing Muslim. But in those days he could not impose the chador on female employees. Instead he came up with his own interpretation of Islamic mores. After all the veil is nothing but a way to prevent men from being sexually aroused. Probably without being aware of it, the general invented a secular version of the hijab to keep his male employees from being distracted: No pretty secretaries!
Twenty years ago the mullahs ascended the Peacock throne and expunged all the “modernizing” laws of the Pahlavi era. Once again Iranian women hide their features behind black fabric. They look like giant ants or permanent mourners.
In fact, the hijab, which never disappeared in the ultra-conservative Arabian peninsula, has made a rapid comeback in more advanced Muslim countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia, etc. As a matter of fact, Muslim societies have remained male-oriented and dominated by men . Everything is devised for the comfort and satisfaction of Adam's sons. On the sexual level, men are not asked to control their urges; but women are instructed not to arouse them!
In their recent book (A Natural History of Rape.Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion, MIT Press , 1999) biologist Randy Thornhill and anthropologist Graig Palmer recount an incident which happened in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country: when the cook of a primatologist was raped by an orangutan, her husband said it was nothing to be concerned about because the perpetrator wasn't human! To boot, nobody asked the woman how she felt!
In the dawn of the 21st century and the third millennium, is it not high time to split the task (and burden?) of sexual morality and behavior equally? Why should not men also exert some restraint on their sexual urges?
Freud once said sexual control and discipline has been the engine of Western civilization. Iran and other Muslim countries should think about this. After all it won't imply a lot of capital investment. All you need to do give young and not so young men (including the proliferating class of mullahs) a crash course on how to curb sexual desire.
Fereydoun Hoveyda was Iran's ambassador to the United Nations from 1971 to 1978. To learn more about the Hoveydas, visit www.hoveyda.org.