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Growing Public Hatred Of Religious Leaders Unnerves Iran Regime

An increase in public protests has sounded the alarm bell for Iranian officials and clerics. But public discontent runs much deeper than discontent over wages and water. There are also signs of nostalgia for the monarchy that ruled the country before the 1979 revolution.

Growing Public Hatred Of Religious Leaders Unnerves Iran Regime

In front of the Jamkaran Mosque in Qom

Recently quoted by Iran's government news agency, IRNA, Taghi Rostamvandi, the country's deputy interior minister, addressed a subject that had long gone unspoken: "People are moving in a direction where the religious government is no longer addressing their problems." He said they may seek the solution to these in a "secular or non-religious system."

Rostamvandi told a Tehran seminar on social problems on Jan. 16 that people's interest in secular models of governance should be taken as "sounding the alarm" for the Islamic Republic.

He referred to an "increased inclination" to protest among Iranians, either through gatherings or through antisocial behavior. "In recent years, with an increase in economic and material pressures, people have gradually run out of patience." Other officials prefer to downplay the gravity of such discontent. A member of parliament for Tabriz, a city in north-western Iran, most recently attributed "93% of all significant protests in the past two years" to labor-related issues. In other words, there was no ideological component to them.

Clerics losing respect

On Jan. 13, a senior jurist from Qom in central Iran, Ayatollah Hashemi Hosseini-Bushehri, said that promoting spirituality was a principal goal of the country's 1979 revolution that toppled a Westernizing monarchy. Today, he said, clerics should not be revising that goal "for material problems, and ask, 'why did we have a revolution?'." With the Islamic revolution, he said, "we proved that religion is not separate from politics."

Theology students try not to wear their clerical garb, as people will mock or insult them

But state officials and clerics know of the discontent brewing among Iranians. This awareness is the reason for the ruthless suppression of protests, which happened recently in Isfahan, central Iran, as well as the considerable sums of money being spent on propaganda against protesters and all secularizing or liberal opinions.

Another cleric teaching in Qom, Mohammadtaqi Fazel-Meibodi, recently said "people take a poor view" and "blame the clergy" for their difficulties. He also pointed out that when theology students (tollab in Persian) "go to the market to shop for something... [they] try not to wear their clerical garb, as people will mock or insult them."

More generally, he continued, clerics felt "uncomfortable" wearing their robes in public. People, he said, "mock them in taxis. They blame them for inflation and every other problem."

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praying

Iranian Supreme Leader's Office/ZUMA

Monarchy support

Faezeh Hashemi, a former legislator and daughter of a former Iranian president, said in an interview on Jan. 10 that "right now, we're doing worse things than Israel, America... and anywhere else we may denounce." She told the website Dideban-e iran that given Iran's role in the deaths of half a million Syrians, by backing the sitting president Bashar al-Asad, "we've killed a good many more Muslims than Israel."

More recently, Supreme Leader Khamenei's niece Farideh Moradkhani was arrested on her way home, apparently for praising Iran's final empress, Farah Pahlavi, on her last birthday. Her brother Mahmud Moradkhani told the Prague-based broadcaster Radio Farda that she had not been charged, but authorities had compiled a "thick dossier" of offenses, including defending political detainees.

A good many, if not all, of the protests in recent years began around specific issues like fuel prices, wages or water shortages, and quickly grew into vociferous, anti-regime demonstrations. The authorities often blame this mutation and oft-recurring slogans like "Death to the Dictator" on infiltrators. Perhaps the worst of it for them is the enduring memory of a monarchy the regime was confident it had consigned to history's trash bin.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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