Iranian draft law to encourage women to wear Islamic clothing

A draft law being considered by Iran's parliament encourages the wearing of Islamic clothing to protect the country's Muslim identity, according to a copy of the bill obtained by The Associated Press on Saturday.

The 13-article bill, which received preliminary approval a week ago, makes no mention of requiring special attire for religious minorities.

On Friday, a Canadian newspaper, The National Post, quoting Iranian exiles, said the law would force Jews, Christians and other religious minorities to wear special patches of colored cloth to distinguish them from Muslims.

The report brought immediate criticism from the United States, which is locked in a standoff with Iran over its nuclear program.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said any such measure would be "despicable" and carry "clear echoes of Germany under Hitler." He would not comment further, saying he didn't "have all the facts" on the bill.

The bill raised fears among women that the hard-line government led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is planning to crack down on social freedoms won in Iran during the previous, pro-reform government.

Laws in place since the 1979 Islamic Revolution require women to wear "chador" meaning a headscarf to cover their hair and a long overcoat the hide their shapes.

But in the past decade, enforcement has grown lax, and women particularly in the capital, Tehran commonly wear scarves that leave almost their entire heads bare and short, form-fitting jackets instead of overcoats.

The bill makes no specific mention of women but says it aims to "encourage the public to abstain from choosing clothes that aren't appropriate to the culture of Iran," according to the copy received from the parliament's press office.

It tasks the Culture Ministry and state media to promote Iranian styles of dress and to discourage clothing "that does not conform with Iranian-Islamic culture."

It also would give economic incentives to producers making Islamic-style clothing and impose tariffs on clothes imports.

The bill does not call for police or other bodies to enforce stricter styles of dress for women. In the past, religious police and paramilitary militias would castigate women in the streets if any of their hair was showing or if their clothes were too revealing, though such enforcement has been rarer in recent years, reports AP.

O.Ch.