Barbie Needs a Burqa in Iran


TEHRAN, Iran – Barbie dolls are to disappear from Iranian stores, demands the country’s top prosecutor. As younger generations of Iranians revel in western culture, the conservative government fears Batman and Harry Potter will lead to a revolt against Islamic tradition.

Ghorban Ali Dori Najafabadi, the prosecutor general who urged the government to ban Barbie dolls from the country’s stores, said that Iran was the world’s third largest importer of toys. Much to the annoyance of authorities, among the toys bought most often are such symbols of western culture as the figures of Batman, Spiderman and Superman. “We need to find substitutes to ward off this onslaught, which aims at children and young people whose personality is in the process of being formed,” Najafabadi wrote in an essay published by Iranian newspapers on Monday and obtained by the Associated Press.

It is not the first time when an Iranian official has called for purging the country of western symbols. Similar attempts have been made repeatedly since 1979 when the Islamic revolutionaries toppled the liberal government of the Shah. But despite strict laws that regulate almost every aspect of life – from the type of clothes that are allowed to be worn to the books and movies broadcast by television – the majority of Iranians feel strongly attached to western culture. Foreign correspondents inform that even such pro-American pictures like Rambo make their ways to Iranian households, usually through the black market.

The conservative government, headed by controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, dreads that toys, movies and music may spark Iranians to an armed rebellion against the oppressive regime. In his Monday essay, Najafabadi warned that “[t]he displays of personalities such as Barbie, Batman, Spiderman and Harry Potter… as well as the irregular importation of unsanctioned computer games and movies are all warning bells to officials in the cultural arena.” After a brief period of relative liberalism in Iran started by President Khatami, his successor, Ahmadinejad, had reinstated the ban on satellite dishes and attempted – unsuccessfully – to censor the Internet.

Innocent as she is, Barbie is regarded more dangerous than Batman and Spiderman put together. The scanty clad doll revered by hundreds of thousands of young girls may give them the wrong impression about what are the standards of proper behavior in Iran. Until the Islamic revolution, the streets of Tehran had resembled those of Paris or London rather than conservative capitals of the Middle East. But since 1979, mini skirts and tight tops have given way to burqas covering women from head to toe. Some Iranian companies have started producing Barbie-like dolls dressed in traditional Islamic clothes, but they are no competition to ones smuggled from the United States and Europe.

The timing of the prosecutor general’s comments is not a coincidence. Only last Friday, on April 25, conservative politicians won a general election, garnering 200 seats in the 290-seat parliament. As the economic situation in the country gradually deteriorates – the unemployment rate oscillates between 12 and 20 percent – the government feels it must distract people from their every day problems. So far verbal attacks on Israel or the pursuit of nuclear weapons have failed to unite Iranians around the president.

Barbie cannot speak nor does she contain enriched uranium but hard-core Iranian conservatives fear her more than the entire arsenal of the United States.

Krzys Wasilewski, while living in Poland, completing his masters degree in International Relations, was seduced by English Literature.