This past weekend, the Iranian “morality police” shut down several restaurants and coffee shops due to immoral and un-Islamic behavior. According to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), 87 cafes and restaurants were raided in a single district of the capital of Tehran on Saturday.
The Tehran police official Alireza Mehrabi stated, “These places were shut for not following Islamic values, providing hookah to women, and lacking proper licenses.” Islamic laws prohibit women from smoking hookah and water pipes in public.
Mehrabi also added that the raid came as part of a plan to provide “neighborhood-oriented” security, and would continue in other parts of Tehran.
About 10 years ago, there were only a handful of coffee shops in Tehran. However, the coffee shop culture has flourished recently. These coffee shops offer wireless Internet, snacks, hot drinks, and a place to hang out for Iranian youth in a country where there are no bars or Western chain restaurants or cafes.
Nima Manzouri, 24, said, “The coffee shops are our hideaways. If we hold hands on the streets, we can be arrested. So we come here, spend 10,000 tomans” – about $8 – “and chat.”
In 2007, Tehran police closed down 24 Internet cafes and other coffee shops in 24 hours, detaining 23 people. Additionally, in 2010, dozens of officers raided the Déjà Vu café in Tehran, loading customers in vans and taking them to interrogation centers. Many received fines, said the shop’s former owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
Hadi, one of the café’s owners, said it would be impossible to turn back the clock. “The authorities have to tolerate us,” he said. “Young people need to be able to unwind from the everyday pressures at some place. Here, they can.”
This trend has been highly criticized by conservative Iranians who consider it a cultural imposition from the West and incompatible with Islamic values. The government periodically cracks down on behavior it considers un-Islamic, including mingling between the sexes outside of marriage.
I hope someday that there will be a place where the Iranian youth can go to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee.
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