- By Sylvie SteinSylvie Stein is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.
There’s conflict brewing between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs in Iran — and this time, the battleground is fashion.
It’s hardly the first time the leaders of the Islamic Republic have embarked on a fatwa tirade against the perceived glitz and glamour of Western styles; but now a visible division of opinion regarding the legitimacy of the fatwas has appeared among Iran’s leadership — one that may leave a lasting fissure in its wake.
In this classic debate, the typically ultraconservative Ahmadinejad plays the part of the hip, chest hair-bearing nonconformist campaigning for more leniency and modernity in Iran’s outlook on permissible appearance; opposite him, we have the old school, uptight enforcers played by Team Ayatollahs — who relentlessly demand that every button be button and every hemline be lengthened. The two have disputed the propriety of rowdy hairstyles, unshaven countenances, and "badly veiled women" in the past. The former — our surprisingly panache president Ahmadinejad — has repeatedly declined to endorse the ayatollahs’ prohibitions, and even went so far as to altogether denounce the police crackdowns used to enforce them.
So what’s the latest incendiary style to drive the fashion-conscious chasm? Neckties.
In the latest such controversy, Mr Ahmadinejad, who never wears a tie in public, has gone on record as saying that no religious leader has banned the tie, which since the 1979 Islamic revolution has been regarded as a symbol of Western culture.
He was criticized by Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, normally close ally of the Iranian president, who said: "I say to him that many religious dignitaries believe ties should not be worn.
"The supreme guide (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) himself has said in a fatwa (religious edict) that the wearing of ties or bow ties is not permitted."
The tie has in past years been making a comeback in Iran, especially at events such as weddings and funerals.
The age-old adage stipulates that if you pull the string, the whole thing will unravel. If Mahmoud continues to pull the necktie, will the whole head of the Iranian government come toppling off, too? Or will the ayatollahs simply come to appreciate the magic that ensues when a world leader meets with the right piece of neckwear?