Thursday, October 19, 2006

Defending Titles

It's been a while since I've offered any updates from my favourite vacation spot, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and I think it's high time that we take a peek at the recent flagrant human rights violations shenanigans carried out there in the name of Allah. I could talk about the pair of brothers who were hanged 3 weeks ago for launching an attack on a local City Hall to avenge the previous execution of their 3rd brother (ensuring a not very Happy Mother's Day for Madame Z), or the recent sentencing of a man to a de-occulation, 74 lashes & prison time for blinding another man in a scuffle. Or the 18-year old boy who was hanged for a crime he committed as a child. Or the decision to arrest anyone found eating in public during Ramadan and sentencing them to digging graves, that they might have ample opportunity to reflect upon "the prospect of death and the afterlife".

Then there's the new "Youth Police" which has been established in schools across Tehran
to prevent any possible "crimes" - speaking of schools, did I mention that male teachers have just been banned from teaching in female institutions? (As an aside I might note that prior to President Ahmadinejad's ascendancy to national politics, as mayor of Tehran one of his first acts in office was to segregate the elevators in City Hall upon gender-lines. I bet the "his" elevator plays better muzak.)

But on second thought, maybe I don't want to limit myself to the 11 executions that were held in the last 4 weeks. Maybe it's high time I de-demonize the country & highlight something quirky, unconventional and - dare I say - positive? Let us consider 29-year old doctoral candidate Laleh Seddigh who has been raising eyebrows and making headlines as Iran's First Lady of car racing. I don't use the term First Lady lightly - not only is she the first Iranian female race car driver to compete against men, but she is also the first female athlete to compete against men in any sport since the days of the Shah.

Being breathtakingly beautiful probably doesn't hurt either. I know that it's helped me over the years.

Since her request was amazingly granted, she has seen many occasions to leave her chromosome-challenged competitors choking on her dust, and went on to win the National championship where,

"she received a reminder of her status in the form of an order from the Iranian motor-racing body that she behave 'appropriately' when on the winner's podium. 'I was told to wear my manteau [a long Iranian coat designed to conceal the outlines of the body] over my racing outfit and not to talk or laugh with the male competitors.'"

... which also satisifies the fatwa (yes, there is one) that declares that there is no religious prohibition against women racing against men provided that the former adhere to the Islamic dress code. Her talent on the racetrack has attracted the likes of Subaru who offered her a sponsorship deal. She declined because it would necessitate an overseas move. Cat in Rabat would have had her bags packed before the ink was dry. In a country where some 70% of the population is under 35, she is a breath of fresh air and an avatar for young women in Iran and the world over.

And she's pissed off a lot of others along the way.

Amazed and slightly perturbed that you should be reading such an uplifting posting? Don't be. She's been banned from competing.

This is what I get for trying to be quirky, unconventional and positive. Never again.

Dismissing the "security problems" that the racing federation cited for pulling her from a recent championship race (and effectively not allowing her to defend her national title), Ms. Seddigh contends that,

"Most of the federation members were not happy to have a female champion and would have preferred a man," she said. "Since I won, they have even eliminated the winner's podium. They were afraid that I would win again and they would be obliged to show me on the podium."

Racing federation VP, Hossein Shahryari said,

"Women are speaking highly of themselves and that causes men who sacrifice their lives in this sport disappointment. Women are not champions in this sport, they are only participants. If they observed Islamic regulations more they would not have such problems."

Phew! Now this is the Iran that I know. My faith in the Republic has been restored. Ms. Seddigh may not be able to defend her title but the Islamic Republic of Iran is back on top as the biggest spoil-sport on the planet.

Tune in again next week for an itemized list of Iran's hangings.

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