The Iranian Newspaper Kayhan has called Carla Bruni Sarkozy a prostitute and an "immoral" woman," a "decadent singer and actress" who caused the breakdown of Nicolas Sarkozy's second marriage. These comments came after Bruni supported Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman sentenced to death in Iran for adultery. The Iranian newspaper even said that, like Ashtiani, Bruni deserved to die. Of course, as expected, the Iranian foreign ministry tried to do some damage control by announcing that Iranian media should refrain from insulting foreign leaders and dignitaries. However, the Iranian foreign-ministry spokesperson conveniently forgot to mention that the editor-in-chief of Kayhan newspaper has been appointed by Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader and is very much inline with the Iranian government.
Iranian authorities have a habit of trying to distract the world from the terrible disregard for human rights in their country, and the attack on Bruni is another example of that policy. In addition, for more than thirty years, Iranian authorities have interfered with all the aspects of the lives of Iranians, from their bedrooms to the streets. Iranians cannot wear what they want and cannot say what they think. Women cannot sleep with whom they wish and cannot date the person of their choice. Iranians are warned not to dance or sing and not to read Western novels. The comments in Kayhan directly reflect this way of thought: it is the government that decides how people behave in private and in public -- and if citizens don't follow these extreme, intrusive rules, they would deserve to die. As simple as that.
When I read the Kayhan comments, I laughed out loud. The men whose views this newspaper reflects are fanatic members of the Iranian society and are by no means a majority. Many of them have multiple wives, some of whom are underage children who have been forced into having sexual relations with men many times their age. I was one of those underage brides. In Iran there is something called "sigheh," which is a temporary marriage. In sigheh, a man marries a woman for a limited amount of time, which can be from minutes to years. The marriage ends automatically as soon as the time expires, and the woman has absolutely no rights. Men are allowed to have as many sigheh wives as they wish. If the Iranian authorities believe that Bruni is a prostitute, then what should we call the men who rape underage girls without a second thought, get away with it, and are even encouraged by Iranian law?
Marina Nemat is the author of Prisoner of Tehran. Her second book, After Tehran will be published this September.