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Iran's Ayatollah: West Abuses Women, Islam Honors Them
By Terence P. Jeffrey Editor in Chief
January 14, 2008

( - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who rules over a nation where men are allowed to have four permanent wives and as many "temporary" wives as they like, declared in a recent lecture to Iranian students that Iran honors women, while the West abuses them.

The ayatollah said one indication of this is that women in Iran are forced to wear the hijab -- clothing that covers much or all of a woman's head, face and body -- while women in the West are not forced to wear it.

In the West's "sensationalism concerning women's affairs, they blame us by saying: You have made hijab compulsory," the ayatollah said in a January 3 lecture to a conference of Iranian students. "They themselves have made lack of hijab compulsory."

Khamenei, whose remarks were broadcast on Iranian national television and translated by the BBC, may have been alluding to a controversial 2004 French law that banned wearing "conspicuous" religious symbols in French schools. The ban encompassed large Christian crosses and Jewish yarmulkes, but was understood to be targeted at female Islamic clothing, such as the hijab.

In October 2006, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair caused a stir when he advocated that Muslim women in Great Britain should voluntarily decline to wear veils. "No one wants to say that people don't have the right to do it," Blair said. "That is to take it too far. But I think we need to confront this issue about how we integrate people properly into our society."

Khamenei told the Iranian students' conference that in the Iranian vision of Islam, it was determined that poor women should be compelled to cover their entire bodies and faces in order to honor them and make their dress conform to the style adopted by aristocratic women. This policy, he said, logically followed from the conclusion that men have an "inborn desire for sexual violence."

In ancient Iran, aristocratic women used to wear hijab," he said. "Women from lower classes did not bother. But when Islam came, it rejected such instances of discrimination. It said that all women must wear the hijab. In other words, it wanted to honor all women. This is what Islam says. Now, they [in the West] behave as if we are doing something wrong and they are doing the right thing! No, they are in the wrong. They must answer why they have been treating women like a commodity in order to gratify their own lust.

"I received some statistics yesterday," the ayatollah continued. "According to those statistics, one third of women in the world are beaten and battered by men. In my opinion, this is very heart-rending; it makes one tearful. And these instances of abuse mainly happen in the industrial countries of the West. This stems from men's inborn desire for sexual violence.

"In their sensationalism concerning women's affairs," he continued, "they blame us by saying: You have made hijab compulsory. They themselves have made lack of hijab compulsory. They do not allow girl students to enter university, if they wear a headscarf. Yet they have the audacity to question us by saying: Why have you made hijab compulsory?"

Wearing the hijab, he said in answering his own question, "is aimed at honoring women, whereas that [the practices of the West] aim to abuse and insult women."

As evidence for this argument, the ayatollah told the Iranian students to consider the way women are used in Western advertising. "They have exploited women as a tool to sell various products," he said.

"In effect, they have been treating women like a commodity, like another of their products. If you were to look at the magazines, which are published in the West, you would see that they advertise a commodity for sale next to the naked picture of a woman. Can you imagine a bigger insult to women? They [the West] must be answerable [not Islam]," he said.

"Giving the hijab amounts to honoring the person who wears it. A woman's hijab is a symbol of respect for her."

According to the March 2007 State Department report on human rights practices in Iran, a woman can be whipped in Iran for not wearing the hijab. "The penal code provides that if a woman appears in public without the appropriate Islamic covering (hijab), she can be sentenced to lashings and/or fined," said the report.

Under Iran's Islamic code, a man may marry four regular wives and innumerable temporary wives. "Prostitution is illegal, but sigheh, or temporary marriage, is legal," said the State Department report.

"The country's Islamic law permits a man to have up to four wives and an unlimited number of temporary partnerships, based on a Shi'a custom in which a woman may become the wife of a Muslim male after a simple religious ceremony and a civil contract outlining the union's conditions. Temporary marriages may last for any length of time and are used sometimes by prostitutes. Such wives are not granted rights associated with traditional marriage."

Also a woman's testimony is not considered equal to a man's in Ayatollah Khamenei's Iran. Nor is a crime committed against a woman considered as egregious as a crime committed against a man. Nor can a woman leave the country without a permission slip from her husband.

"The testimony of two women equates with that of one man," says the State Department report. "The blood money paid to the family of a female crime victim is half the sum paid for a man. A married woman must obtain the written consent of her husband before traveling outside the country."

As Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei has direct command over Iran's armed force and indirect control over its internal security forces, the State Department says.

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