Friday, July 9, 2010

Regime's populist riposte to bazaar strike: 'Merchants sell rugs adorned with pictures of Angelina Jolie and half-naked women'

Following three days of strikes in Tehran's Bazaar over increased taxes on tradesmen, a semi-official news site launched an attack on rug merchants because they allegedly sell decorative carpets with pictures of female movie stars and bare women in an article posted on Thursday, July 8, 2010. (The photos of the 'offensive rugs' are courtesy of Jahan News)

The regime has long depended on the support of the bazaar and the current unrest which was triggered by reports of a 70% tax hike and has spread to at least two other cities, Tabriz and Khorramshahr, has provoked concern in the government. Rug merchants, along with gold, home appliance, shoe and textile traders, have played a central role in organizing the strikes.

Yesterday, Jahan News, widely considered to be a mouthpiece for the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), published a report entitled 'Angelina Jolie and half-naked women instead of traditional rug designs.'

The author of the piece bemoaned the fact that in most stores in Tehran's rug bazaar 'there were wall carpets bearing half-bare women and girls, and the faces of [Indian superstar] Aishwarya Rai, Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, and some Iranian actresses were more prominently displayed than [traditional rug designs].' But there were more sinister signs of moral decay, according to Jahan News. 'Regretfully, master rug weavers, who in the old days would not sit before their looms before performing ablution, now weave pictures of skulls and swastikas of Satanist groups into Iranian carpets. And even more regretfully, the bulk of rug traders' orders to weavers consists of vulgar pictures of women in various poses.'

Jahan News did not publish any photos of rugs with Hollywood stars or Satanic symbols in its article.

While one merchant told the reporter that he was merely following the shifting tastes of customers -- 'People aren't willing to pay anything for a picture of a vase full of flowers any more.' -- Jahan News pointed an accusatory finger at rug merchants. 'The main culprits are the leading rug traders and merchants who order such carpets in large numbers,' Jahan quoted an anonymous weaver and designer.

Jahan News expressed anger at an alleged CD of designs that rug traders gave to weavers. The CD, according to Jahan, contains designs of Koranic verses and holy cities such as Mecca and Medina along with 'designs of bare women and girls and famous vulgar Bollywood and Hollywood actresses.' Perhaps a digital curtain should have been placed between the sacred and the 'vulgar.'

The editors of the Jahan site took this opportunity to take a jab at the Cultural Heritage Organization. Though the organization is not mentioned in the piece, the title of the post was preceded by the line 'The Cultural Heritage Organization is asleep.'

The CHO was formerly headed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief-of-staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, who was in charge of the arts at Tehran's City Hall when Ahmadinejad was mayor. Rahim Mashai, not a choirboy himself, has been the focus of attacks by some regime hardliners, including portions of the IRGC, and anti-Ahmadinejad Principlists (The reasons for and history of this enmity are too convoluted to explain in this short post). Last year, a majority of Majlis representatives managed to block Ahmadinejad's efforts to name Rahim Mashai first vice-president. Ahmadinejad subsequently made him his chief-of-staff.

Rahim Mashai was often faulted for his lack of cultural and historical knowledge. He was replaced at the CHO by one of his proteges, Hamid Baghai, who is an IT specialist and whose main qualification for the post appears to have been his close relationship with Rahim Mashai.