Iran officially became an Islamic democracy in 1979, when the country was unified under the new supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini and the clerical elite, who took over the reigns in politics, state and media as the previous ruling monarchy was overthrown.
The revolution of 1979 terminated rule of the Shah, who had been returned to power in 1953 after exile in a highly-suspicious coup d’état where CIA and American influences were involved. By the time he was overthrown, the Shah had alienated nearly every sphere of society. This was due to his insistence on converting the country to modernization and Western practices while suppressing all opposition.
Iran used to be known as Persia until it was renamed in 1935. The Persian Empire had been one of the greatest empires in history and Iranians are proudly aware of this heritage. Iran has over 70 million people who mostly adhere to the Shia interpretation of Islam.
The country has recently been in the news over an internationally orchestrated agreement to roll back its nuclear program but what are some of its darkest secrets?
Let’s find out.
15. Polluted capital
When people think about highly polluted cities, most will indicate China’s recent heavily industrialized cities as some of the worst examples of air pollution on our planet. What most won’t know is that Iran is, unfortunately, not too far behind China. Iran’s capital and largest city, Tehran, is one of the worst cities for air pollution in the world.
Estimates point to 27 people dying every day as a result of air pollution-related diseases. The situation is so dire, several Iranian MPs protested by wearing medical face masks at Parliament in 2015 after several residents and school children had to be hospitalized due to the city’s polluted air.
14. US embassy attack
In 1979, Islamist students and militants took control of the United States embassy in Tehran. In a show of support of the ongoing Iranian revolution, they demanded that the United States hand over the former leader Shah Pahlavi, who was dying of cancer and receiving medical treatment either in the United States or in Panama (reports are mixed).
It was the longest hostage crisis in history which only came to an end after 444 days. Only a few minutes after President Ronald Reagan was sworn into office, the hostages were released and the crisis finally came to an end. The relationship between Iran and the United States hasn’t been the same since.
13. A 3 million dollar bounty on Salman Rushdie
On the 14 February 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran issued a fatwa (legal decree) calling for Salman Rushdie. Another Iranian organization offered a reward of $3 million to anyone who was able to kill Salman Rushdie.
Salman Rushdie was the author of The Satanic Verses, a magical realism novel which was in part based on the life of Muhammad. This book hinted that some of the verses of the Koran might not be real revelations from God and that the devil disguised himself to give Mohammed false ideas. To Muslims everywhere, this was too sacrilegious of an affirmation, even in the context of a novel.
12. One of the only condom factories in the Middle East
The Keyhan Bod plant is a two-hour drive from Tehran and is the only condom factory in the Middle East which is supported by the state. It produces over 45 million condoms a year, in 30 different shapes, colours and flavours, with 80% of its production going to the Health Ministry.
The progressive nature of this installation is definitely a step in the right direction. Contraceptives are free in Iran, no questions asked. There is still hope for the Islamic Republic, although in the next couple of entries we’ll see Iran still has a long way to go when it comes to women’s rights.
11. Women are oppressed in every sphere of society
While the previous entry on this list might have left you thinking of Iran as a progressive country, this one will dissipate any doubts. There are several incredibly absurd considerations about the role women are supposed and expected to play in society.
Women get no custody of the children in the event of a divorce, as children are considered as “the substance of the male” while the female merely incubates them. Iranian women are also not allowed to watch sports with men, which leads many of them to cross-dress (the women, not the men). Finally, women can’t wear bathing suits when men are around.
10. When a girl is raped her mother is to blame
Unfortunately, the previous entry is merely a sample of what’s to come. In Iran, if a girl is sexually abused or harassed in any way, the blame will not be solely (or mainly) attributed to the man who abused her. No, the blame will usually fall on the girl’s mother for having failed to protect her daughter.
Here’s a suggestion: perhaps the man who carries out the rape, abuse or harassment should take all of the responsibility? It’s hard to think how some parts of the world operate in this barbaric manner, as this is the ultimate manifestation of the “she was asking for it” mentality, which is absolutely disgusting. It’s 2017 people!!
9. Rapists and their victims can be forced by police to marry each other
Following from the previous dark secret, it turns out Iranian authorities have at least tried to find some sort of rape deterrent. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it might be the worst idea on the planet. What ingenious solutions have Iran’s top legal minds come up with?
Well, in Iran divorced women will have an easier time finding a husband than unmarried women with ruptured hymens. So, when a woman is raped in Iran, the police can force both the rapist and the victim into getting married. Only then, the man will be given the chance to divorce her. Throughout this whole ordeal, women don’t get a say – even after they’ve been raped.
8. Women are legally inferior to men
Depending on how you decide to interpret the last three dark secrets, this entry, unfortunately, follows from or precedes the previous three. Since the 1979 revolution which officially declared Iran as an Islamist republic, women are considered by the law to be inferior to men in every way.
In addition to the abhorrent implications in the event of rape, women suffer from lack of true legal representation across every layer of society. As they’re viewed as little more than property, polygamy is legalized. While I clearly run the risk of repeating myself, this can’t be said enough: wake up, it’s 2017 people!!
7. Iranians love illegal alcohol
Although there is an official ban on drinking alcohol in Iran, between 60–80 million litres of alcoholic beverages are smuggled into the country for consumption every year. The official penalty for consuming alcohol in Iran is a cruel 80 lashes. Regardless of the severity of the punishment, millions of people drink in what’s a beautiful declaration of love for the booze.
These retrograde laws were first put into place in 1979 after the authoritarian Shah was deposed, and the just as authoritarian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini came to power. Alcohol sustains an industry which brings in $700 million dollars worth of booze into Iran every year. Not only is alcohol being smuggled into Iran, it’s also being made illegally inside the country.
6. Iran is a hub for human trafficking
For experts in the field of human trafficking, Iran’s record is no secret. Since 2006, the Islamic Republic of Iran has had the worst record for handling human trafficking in the entire world. Hundreds of thousands of people have been trafficked in Tehran where they’re forced to work on all sorts of illegal operations the traffickers have going – from begging in the streets to sweatshops, among many others.
The United States State Department has already condemned the practice and the international community is well aware of the fact Iran is a safe haven for human trafficking. A lot of the groups engaged in these illegal activities have intimate ties with Iran’s corrupt religious elite which explains the authorities unwillingness to tackle this issue.
5. Child prostitution went up 600% in recent years
Recently child prostitution has risen 635 percent in Iran, as every day dozens of Iranian girls are taken to Arab countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh in order to be sold as sex slaves. According to government sources, they are raped within 24 hours of being kidnapped.
In spite of the attention recent international coverage has brought attention to this issue, Iran’s authorities have been slow in tackling this issue. With over 250 brothels in Tehran, there are an estimated 80,000 girls working as prostitutes, many of them forced through a short-term marriage mechanism called sigheh – a Sharia law mechanism which provides a convenient loophole for the prostitution industry in this Islamic country.
4. Executed scientist for revealing too much info in 2016
Scientist Shahram Amiri was executed in 2016 by Iranian authorities. The Iranian government announced in August that it had executed an Iranian nuclear scientist who had given the United States information about the country’s highly discussed nuclear program.
Amiri had disappeared a few years earlier on a religious pilgrimage and there was more rumour than fact in stories surrounding the scientist. Some reports claimed he was paid $5 million by the CIA while Amiri said to Iranian authorities he had been kidnapped by the Americans while on a trip to Mecca. Iran did not release any information regarding trial proceedings, with authorities merely announcing that he had been executed.
3. Iran-Contra Scandal
During the Iran-Iraq War, the United States government officially supported Iraq and put pressure on other countries to stop them from selling any kind of weapons to Iran. This made perfect sense as the United States had taken Iraq’s side and, given its status as a global superpower, it could force other countries not to sell weapons to the other side, which would mean Iraq would have a better chance of winning the conflict in the long-run.
However, in what was a tour de force of hypocrisy, the United States was found to have been quietly selling weapons to Iran behind everyone’s back. This is now referred to as the Iran-Contra scandal, as the money from selling weapons to Iran was channelled to fund the Contras in Nicaragua.
2. The US overthrew an Iranian democracy for oil
If you thought the war with Iraq was the first time the United States invaded another country in order to help American companies plunder that country’s national resources, think again. In 1953, the CIA was involved in a covert operation named Operation Ajax which aimed to overthrow the democratically elected Iranian government of Prime Minister Mossadegh who had nationalized the country’s oil industry.
When the operation succeeded, the re-installed Shah rewarded the United States with a 40% stake in Iran’s oil industry. With good reason to do so, the Iranian people have distrusted the United States since.
1. Secret nuclear program
In the recent presidential election, Iran’s nuclear program was a much-debated topic. President Barack Obama managed to negotiate a deal with Iran’s now moderate regime. However, in 2002, Iran admitted that for the previous 18 years, it had worked on a nuclear energy program hidden from the eyes of international regulation. It had done so for nearly two decades with help from Russia.
Iran’s then President Ahmadinejad was an extremist who maintained the country’s nuclear ambitions were peaceful and that Iran had an “inalienable right” to produce nuclear fuel. This was, of course, the same excuse given by Kim Jong Il from North Korea to President Bill Clinton when he managed to get American help to build nuclear reactors for the Pyongyang regime.
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