How A Small Peck On The Cheek In France Has Stirred A Big Controversy In Iran

An Iranian actress who angered religious authorities after she kissed the president of Cannes Film Festival on the cheek now faces a call that she be publicly flogged.

Cover image via BBC

According to its Wikipedia entry, flogging (also referred to as flagellation, whipping or lashing) is:

"the act of methodically beating the human body with special implements such as whips, lashes, rods, switches, the cat o' nine tails, the sjambok, etc. Typically, flogging is imposed on an unwilling subject as a punishment; however, it can also be submitted to willingly, or performed on oneself, in religious or sadomasochistic contexts."


And flogging is common in Iran!

A cartoon depicting the state of flogging in Iran

Image via staticflickr.com

Adultery, kissing in public, theft, homosexual acts, drinking or selling alcohol, and blasphemy are all grounds for flogging in Iran. Offenders are usually sentenced to between 10 and 100 lashes across the back, carried out with a one-metre (three-foot) whip. The pain is so severe that they often faint after seven or eight strokes, says Anicee Van Engeland, a specialist in Iranian law at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies.


Currently, a campaign has begun in Iran to get the actress of an Oscar-winning fim "A Separation", publicly flogged — all for a kiss on the cheek

Leila Hatami pecked the director of the Cannes Film Festival and was quickly denounced as a sinner by hardliners at home.

Image via bbcimg.co.uk

Leila Hatami, the first Iranian woman to sit on the jury of the Cannes film festival, is long practiced in the art of appearing on the international stage without offending hardliners in her home country.


She has never appeared in public without some form of head covering, be it a hat or elegantly arranged headscarf, and has even walked the red carpet of major festivals wearing a simple shaw or manteau-like dress. In Cannes this week she observed the Islamic Republic’s dress code as well, her sleeves reaching her wrists, her collar high, and a shawl over her hair arranged like a hat.


Despite her modest appearance, intended to preserve her ability to act and work freely in Iran, photographs of her greeting the octogenarian festival director Gilles Jacob have sent Iranian conservative politics into a tailspin. Hardline media have roared their disapproval and prominent conservative politicians have joined in.


A few days later, a group of female Iranian students wrote to Tehran’s minister of culture and media, Al Jannati. “We ask actress Leila Hatami be sentenced to one to ten years imprisonment and flogging,” the petition read. “We refer you to article 638 of Islamic Penal Code, which deems punishment for those who commit a sin in public. Leila Hatami, who is a beloved public personality in our Islamic nation, did not observe the proper Islamic attire and intentionally, and with full knowledge of her actions, volunteered to kiss a foreign non-Muslim man.” The group signed the petition the “Student Sisters of Hezbollah.”


"Leila Hatami kisses a strange man" ran the caption that many hardline media outlets in Iran used to accompany the pictures

The picture of her seemingly innocent kiss quickly made the rounds and Iranian officials accused her of flouting Iranians' "chastity" and the country's religious beliefs.

Image via mshcdn.com

The hardline newspaper Kayhan accused Hatami of mocking her country’s culture and used the occasion to recycle the old news about Asghar Farhadi, the director of the Oscar-winning A Separation, shaking hands with Angelina Jolie.


The first official reaction was a quiet scolding from Deputy Minister of Islamic Culture Hossein Noushabadi

He told the Iranian parliament’s website that “Iranian women, artists and non-artists, have always been a symbol of chastity and purity. The inappropriate things that happened at the Cannes festival are not in line with our religious beliefs.”


Iranwire reached Noushabadi for comments, but he declined to speak to non-domestic media. In his published remarks, he also spoke on behalf of 70 million Iranians, noting: “The Iranian nation would not tolerate the presence of artists in international festivals if our social and moral values are ignored.”


Early Saturday, Hatami issued a letter of apology to Iran's cinema organization, according to Iran's state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency

Image via mshcdn.com

"I am so sorry for hurting the feelings of some people," she wrote in a letter to Iran's cinema organisation, cited by IRNA. Hatami underlined her respect for Islamic rules of behaviour in public, but festival president Gilles Jacob, 83, "had forgotten the aforementioned rules, which comes with old age". "My pre-emptive action of hand shaking was fruitless," Hatami wrote, explaining the kiss.


"Although I am embarrassed to give these explanations, I had no choice but to go into details for those who could not understand the inevitable situation that I was stuck in," she said. "In my eyes, he is certainly like an old grandfather who was also my host."


Laleh Eftekhari, one of the handful of women in Iran’s parliament, told IranWire that "such behavior is utterly inappropriate"

"Our artists must be good role models for Muslim women and not behave like Westerners." The Ministry of Culture, she said, "must clarify its position vis-à-vis these artists who do not respect the place of Iranian women outside the country."


Eftekhari vowed to raise the matter with the parliament’s Cultural Commission. “Such behavior demeans the blood of our martyrs,” she said. “These people have benefited from the resources of the system but they have brought it shame.”


Perhaps Gilles Jacob did not anticipate the world of trouble he would create for Leila Hatami when he brought his face forward, but it’s clear she did. A video from the opening ceremonies of the festival shows Hatami’s discomfort clearly.

The Kiss No One Missed

Image via imgur.com

She is standing on the red carpet next to other jury members when Jacob enters and proceeds to greet each one in the European manner. Each jury member steps forward, embrace Jacob and kisses him on the cheek. Hatami is standing behind the others and when it is her turn she extends her hand but Jacob puts his hand on her shoulder and lowers his head toward hers.


Hatami hesitates briefly and then does the same, like many Iranian actors and directors who have faced such moments in the past, choosing civility over professional expedience. The isolation and uncertainty is clear in her eyes, and the conflict she faces displayed in her expression. A woman recognized by the world of film, presiding as judge at Cannes, is still forced to fear the Islamic fundamentalists back home.


It’s worth noting that then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced similar criticism when he embraced the grieving mother of Hugo Chávez at the Venezuelan president’s funeral in March 2013

Image via imgur.com

Ahmadinejad was allowed to finish his term.


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