- The Washington Times - Friday, June 18, 2010

In the early years of the Islamic Revolution, wearing red lipstick was considered “an insult to the blood of the martyrs.” Indeed, when the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979, the lives of women changed drastically, as they were forced to adhere to Shariah law, including its stringent dress code. Now, some protesters are fighting for their fashion freedom.

Tala Raassi is a 27-year-old fashion designer residing in Washington. However, it wasn’t always the case that she was able to wear clothes that made her feel sexy or feminine. She grew up in Iran, where the government gave her 40 lashes for her 16th birthday for the crime of wearing “indecent clothes.”

Tala’s friends had decided to throw her a Sweet 16 party. Thirty boys and girls gathered at one of her friend’s houses. Once inside the privacy of the home, Tala wore only a miniskirt and T-shirt. The teens enjoyed some innocent fun, listening to music and chatting. There were no drugs or liquor at the party.

A boy who had not been invited reported the party to the religious police. Without warning, the police barged into the house and started screaming. Tala ran out the back door. The religious police ran after her, threatening, “Stop or we’ll shoot you!” Realizing that they meant it, Tala stopped running. One policeman shoved his gun into Tala’s back so hard that she fell to the ground. Then he dragged her back to the house and handcuffed her. The teens were rounded up, pushed into a van and carted off to jail.

Once there, the boys and girls were separated. Tala and the other girls were thrown into a rat-infested, barren room. There were no beds, just cement. Already there was one pregnant woman lying on the ground, another woman with her baby and a third who had been dragged to jail straight from her wedding. Tala was informed that one of the women had been raped with a Coke bottle by the other prisoners. She watched the rats run around and listened to the screams of other prisoners being tortured down the hall. She wondered what her future would portend. She slept there overnight and was provided no food or water.

The next day, during the “adhan,” or call to prayer, which occurs three times a day in Iran, the guards ordered the prisoners to line up for their lashes. After the prisoners had stood for 40 minutes with no lashes executed, they were told to return to their cells. This routine continued for days.

On the fifth day, Tala and her friends were brought to court. They were not permitted to have an attorney or defend themselves. The court sentenced the boys to 50 lashes each and the girls to 40 lashes each. They were convicted of breaking Islamic rules by wearing “indecent clothes,” mingling with the opposite sex and listening to Western music.

Once back in jail, Tala and her friend were called in for their lashes by two middle-aged female guards dressed in black chadors. They were ordered to lie face down on mattresses. The girls were to keep their T-shirts on so that the material would dig into their wounds when bloody and burn even more than if the girls had been bare. The guards dipped their leather whips into water to ensure the maximum sting. Though the lashings seemed to take forever, in reality it was over in 10 minutes. Tala’s parents heard her screams down the hall.

Tala graduated a few months later, but she remained depressed and rarely left the house. The experience of being lashed changed her forever. Her parents decided it would be good for her to leave Iran. She came to America and decided to become a clothing designer because, to her, fashion equals freedom.

After arriving in the United States, Tala took a job at a boutique and began designing her own clothes. Five years later, at a party, a gentleman complimented her on her self-made shirt. He liked it so much that he became her first investor and helped her get her business off the ground.

Now Tala has her own line of clothes, called Dar be Dar, which means “door to door” in Persian. She specializes in bikinis and sells her designs to stores in the U.S. and Dubai and also through the Internet. She also had a show at Miami Fashion Week, an event many designers would covet.

Tala is planning to launch a new T-shirt line called Lipstick Revolution. It’s inspired by the new revolutionary movement in Iran. It specifically honors women around the world who are fighting for freedom.

Before 1979, women enjoyed a fair amount of freedom in Iran, but after the Islamic Revolution, Shariah law was implemented. The value of women’s lives was reduced to half that of a man’s; women were stoned for adultery, married at age 13 and held criminally responsible at the same age. It’s nearly impossible for women to obtain divorces, though men can do so arbitrarily. Custody and inheritance laws strongly favor men, and gender apartheid is in effect. Women are required to dress covered from head to toe.

Now, after 30 years of Islamic rule, a recently rigged election and massive riots, the protests in Iran continue. Some of the protesters include women who literally are dying for their fashion freedom. Tala Raassi’s Lipstick Revolution does pay homage to them.

Deborah Weiss is a lawyer and a regular contributor to FrontPage Magazine and the American Security Council Foundation.