WASHINGTON — The photos, disseminated on Iran’s semiofficial news sites, look ordinary enough: young men with short haircuts, some with 1950s-style quiffs and a touch of gel on top.
But these haircuts are not just a summer fashion. They are being promoted by Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance as Islamically permissible models, part of an effort "to halt the spread of unconventional styles and promote Islamic culture."
More styles are set to be unveiled Sunday as part of the ministry’s Veil and Chastity Day festival.
The haircut catalog is part of the Iranian government’s long-running battle against Western cultural influence. Every summer, the country’s morality police renew their crackdown on "un-Islamic" dress and styles, including loose veils on women and long hair or ponytails on men.
This year the crackdown appears to have been especially harsh, perhaps in part because of the government’s efforts to foil any renewed protests on the June 12 anniversary of the disputed presidential election last year. Special police squads have stopped or arrested unmarried couples, women wearing too much makeup and people playing Western music.
The haircut guidelines appear to be aimed at balancing the more aggressive enforcement with a softer promotion. On Monday, the director of the Veil and Chastity Day festival, Jaleh Khodayar, appeared at a news conference with hundreds of barbers and hairdressers to release the haircut posters and explain the campaign.
"We do not intend to reverse the culture," Khodayar said, according to the semiofficial ILNA news agency. "We want to preserve our culture and respect Iranian tradition and come up with hairstyles that confront Western cultural invasion."
Curiously, not one of the young men in the photographs is wearing a beard, long considered a mark of Islamic orthodoxy in Iran. One appears to be wearing a necktie, long eschewed by Iranian leaders as a Western fashion.
Iran’s hard-line rulers have previously tried to counter what they see as decadent Western trends. There have been Islamic fashion shows, calls for a national uniform and even an Islamic counterpart to Barbie. But there is rarely much follow-through, largely because so many Iranians resent having their private choices dictated to them. Last month, rising public resentment against the new morals crackdown led President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to distance himself on national TV from any excessive or unfair enforcement.