‘Who Wears Short Coats?’: Encounters With Iranian Police

Regardless of how the media portrays Iran, the aggressiveness of the regime is much worse than what we see or feel in the West.
Phrases from the Quran are written on freeways, buildings and walls by the government. On streets and street corners are numbers of stations, not much larger than a porta-potty, with “Diplomatic Police” written horizontally in big, white, English block letters. Inside each sits an intimidating-looking man wearing a green military suit and holding a large rifle. This all is in the name of instilling fear for the sake of control.
Aside from sitting in stations looking fierce and bored, a crew of these policemen drives in patrol cars followed by large patrol vans driven by female police. Their task is to wait near a bazaar, restaurant, busy street, park or other hangout spot and watch people, namely women. They scan the crowds passing by and search for women who have broken the dress codes.
I had two direct encounters with the police due to the length of my “short” coat (mantoh), but both times I came out lucky.
The first time I was approached by the police, I was walking toward Darband, a collection of beautiful restaurants up a mountain trail in the North of Tehran. Two police—one man and one woman—approached me and told me that my coat was very short.
I was led into a van by the policewoman, and inside was another policewoman and a girl my age. The girl was wearing a skin-tight white coat, a pink shade on her cheeks and eyes and a reddish tint on her full lips. She was smiling, which confused me. She gave me a look that said, “Ha Ha, you too?”
I told the girl I did not know what was going on, and that I was from America. She laughed again and told me that she was from Dubai and that we would be fine.
“They won’t do anything,” she assured me. “Show them your passport.”
The policewoman finished copying the girl’s information onto a piece of paper and asked her to sign it. As the girl was getting out of the van, she looked back at me and smiled again. It was odd, but reassuring.
The policewoman then slid open the van door and asked my aunt why she would let me out of the house “like that.”
My aunt is one of those women with a gentle face and a sweet voice; she calmly explained to the woman that I was visiting from America and that she did not want to frighten me with unfamiliar laws and horror stories during my first week in Iran.
Although many police would have disregarded my aunt’s statement, this policewoman softened. Many Iranians are aware of the fact that Americans view them as hostile or hateful, and they try to undo that misconception. They dislike the fact that they are held to the views of, and statements made by, the Iranian government and religious leaders.
The truth is that though some Iranians do agree with the government’s views, just as many do not. In fact, many Iranians idealize America. They buy satellites — although it is illegal — in order to watch our shows or get our music. They dream of one day coming to America in order to escape the glass ceiling that is so cruelly placed above them.
The reality of it is that very few of them will make it into this country. The tension between the American and Iranian governments has turned the possibility of leaving into something that only may be.
Those who have a chance are either wealthy or have relatives in America, but the process involves years of interviews, citizenship exams and a lot of paperwork that requires constant traveling back and forth.
I was stopped a second and last time for my coat length. As soon as the policewoman began to say, “Come with us,” a small, old woman I did not know walked by, grabbed my cousin and me by the arm and said, “Come, babies, let’s go.”
While dragging us away at full speed, she turned and shouted to the policewoman, “Leave my daughters alone!” She led us far away into the crowd of a small bazaar called Tajrish.
After a minute, once we were out of the officers’ sight, she mumbled, “Idiot police. Why do you let them bother you? There is nothing wrong with you. You aren’t even wearing makeup. You are the fifth girl I have had to do this for. Be careful.” She released our arms and lost herself in the crowd.
My cousin and I, both stunned and scared, quickly found a taxi to take us home.