K and I are invited to a wedding. We don’t know the bride or groom. We only know a few relatives.
A few nights ago, our good friend who got us invited to the wedding, went to the pre-wedding party, a kind of rehearsal dinner for family only, in a private garden outside of Tehran far from other people. “You should have seen all of the women, they were so chic. I looked like a slob next to them.” There were tables of food, a good band, and about 250 “just family” there.
About 2 hours into the party, my friend heard shouts of “Scarves! Manteaus! The religious police are here!” The women ran for their manteaus. The band disappeared. The men went to the door to bribe the two religious police at the door. After about five minutes, they were successful and the two bearded guards of Islam left.
45 minutes later, however, the religious police were back. This time it was a different group with about 20 18-year old representatives of the religious police charging in with guns and rifles ready. These guys did not want to be bribed; they wanted to make arrests. The shouts were more panicked this time: “Run! Run!” The women crowded into a bathroom together. The men came in with their manteaus and scarves. “I saw the fear on their faces,” my friend said. “It was terrible. The worst thing was that I saw that people did not help each other. They only thought for themselves.” The women who were working at the party were dressed traditionally in black manteaus and black hooded scarves. They were in the bathroom changing into western clothes. “It would have been worse for them to be caught working at the party. That’s why they were changing.”
Meanwhile the religious police were on their radios calling for buses to come and pick up all of the women and all of the men at the party. “We can’t get buses at this time of night,” the response came from their command center. Other police were inside the party smelling the glasses and checking for alcohol. “Thank god we didn’t have any,” my friend said. Still another set of bearded 18-year-olds was terrifying the groom, who was not Iranian. My friend’s brother was helping the groom by translating for him. “My brother threw off his coat and tie and went to the groom’s side. He told the religious police that the groom had a heart condition and that if they continued to frighten him that he might have a heart attack. He told them that then his blood would be on their hands.” Apparently that line worked, and they stopped harassing the groom. Some of the men finally succeeded in bribing the police, but not before the father of the bride and the owner of the garden were arrested.
“The young women weren’t scared,” my friend said. “They were saying that they had been arrested several times recently and that it wasn’t so bad. They told us that you could not show any fear. You have to stand your ground. The minute you show fear, they know they have you. The older women, on the other hand, were scared. They did not want to be arrested again. It’s the humiliation that scared them. They weren’t afraid of being hurt, just of going through the whole process of being humiliated.”
The rest of the party was quiet. The food went untouched. The women remained in their hijabs. Now the parents of the bride have to find a new location for the party since they are not allowed to have it in the private garden anymore. Plus they have to find guards (preferably from the religious police) for the party and notify 500 guests and all of the staff and caterers of the new location.