Iran’s lawmakers have a thing about dogs. They want to ban them in public because they are considered “impure” in Islamic tradition and their ownership is deemed a decadent Western import. But Iranians who own dogs, and a great many do, love them as much as anyone in any culture.
Stray dogs, some of them feral and menacing, are shot on sight. That is not new. But the real threat to the Islamic Republic’s sense of order, it would seem, is what one cleric has called “short-legged” and “holdable” dogs.
So when the government is in a get-tough mood its enforcers have been known to grab Fido right off the street, off the leash, even out of the owner’s arms. If the government is in a “reformist” mood, the pooches and their owners can breathe a little easier. But you never know how long that will last.
Like so much in politics, the issue seems to come up in the Iranian parliament at the most improbable times, as if the purpose were to distract attention from other rather more pressing issues.
Thus, last November a bill was proposed that would ban dogs (and monkeys, for that matter) in public. This was at the same time that Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the United States and five other powers had hit a wall and had to be extended, raising questions about whether they would ever reach a conclusion, or, indeed, whether their failure might lead to war.
Meanwhile pollution was suffocating, rats infested the streets, drug addiction was rampant, random violence had grown—internationally, nationally, and locally there were no end of problems to be addressed, but 32 parliamentarians introduced a bill, still pending, that would penalize anyone who bought or sold pet dogs with a hefty fine and up to 74 lashes.
A citizen journalist in Iran has just produced this little animated video to suggest just how preposterous this whole anti-puppy campaign has become.
And IranWire’s interview with Ahmad Salek in November, one of the parliamentarians who sponsored the anti-pet law, is especially revealing. Excerpts:
Mr. Salek, your bill would ban people from walking their dogs in public, and from keeping pets at home. Why?
In the name of God. Our Islamic Revolution is based on religious, divine and humane values. ... Look, people who keep dogs do not believe in these values. They don’t get enough affection, are lonely or want to imitate Europeans and a Western way of life. Naturally this behavior is not appropriate for the social environment of our cities.
Why do you think some people still want to follow a Western lifestyles?
Cyberspace and foreign media—radio stations and websites—try to teach people many things, including association with dogs. Some people in Iran are influenced by these teachings and think that keeping animals such as dogs will give them peace. This belief is very wrong.
So the main reason for proposing the bill is to encourage people to avoid a Western lifestyle?
No, there are other reasons. For example, health reasons. When animals live at people’s homes it is natural that they pollute them and transmit diseases. The second reason is religious. A person who owns such an animal cannot pray, because when a dog’s hair sticks to their clothing, that clothing is unclean.
According to critics, the Quran does not deem dogs to be unclean. There is no mention of it anywhere in the Quran.
Who says these things? These sentiments come from foreign media. … Islamic jurists agree that dogs are unclean. There is no disagreement on this.
If your bill becomes law, people who take dogs to public places will be fined and face up to 74 lashes. Do you think these punishments will be enforced?
Punishments are preventive. People will try to change their behavior.
Why do you and other MPs feel it is necessary to punish the media?
Some domestic media outlets are influenced by foreign propaganda and produce content that is not appropriate for the Islamic Republic. They promote this unconsciously. If a punishment is stipulated, then they will smarten up and not fall into the trap set by foreigners.
The authorities will have to come up with a list of banned animals within three months of the bill’s passage. What kinds of animals are going to be on the list?
Whatever the animal, it has no place in a home. For example, a dog should be kept in a field or in a police station or next to a herd, not in a tiny apartment in violation of hygiene standards and religious beliefs. There are other kinds of animals as well. For example, I have heard that some people keep lizards at home. Animals that are religiously unclean, threaten health or disrupt people’s peace will be added to the list.
This article was adapted from two that recently appeared on IranWire.