Covering the statues is not all about ‘modesty’

Diana Moukalled

Published: Updated:

Italy’s decision to cover up ancient nude statues during Iranian President Hassan Rowhani’s visit to a museum in the country recently shocked many Italians and sparked a controversy. Critics argued as to how a country, which brags about its artistic and architectural heritage and ancient cities, can be ashamed of nude statues that are hundreds of years old. These statues, they insisted, made Italy an icon of global art.

This sudden and unusual “decency”, reserved for Rowhani’s visit to the museum, didn’t go down too well in all quarters. In fact, Italian authorities probably regretted the move following a campaign launched to mock the decision. The aftermath was also felt in Paris, Rowhani’s second stop, where activists held protests. Some of them posed nude, took photos and registered protest against Rowhani and Iran’s practices.

Redefining ‘modesty’

It is difficult to ignore the fact that Rome did not display any regret whatsoever while signing 17 billion Euros worth of business deals with Tehran, the newcomer to the world’s greedy markets. It had no problem accommodating Iranian president’s feelings and “modesty” and decided to cover up nude art and hide sculptures in wooden boxes.

What the Italian officials were keen to express was modesty of a different kind. However, this doesn’t resemble the regret one is supposed to feel towards the president of a country which suppresses opponents, incarcerates them and influences sectarian divisions and conflicts in other countries.

Hypocrisy lies in dealing with a regime that recruits children and sends them to fight in Syria

Diana Moukalled

What happened in Italy, an important western country, is not just a passing incident. It points to the European intent with regard to its trade deals with Iran while overlooking the country’s human rights record and its interference in more countries than one.

This doesn’t amount to respecting privacy or belief as much as it’s about apparent hypocrisy. Many western countries have done this earlier i.e. overlooked the injustice of authorities or regimes and made empty verbal condemnations while making financial deals.

This has gone on for decades and even exposed on several occasions. The Iranian case just appears to be more audacious. We don’t know if a similar standard can be applied if ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi looks to seal profitable deals with Rome. We can mock the Italian authorities just like the thousands of sarcastic Twitter users in Italy and around the world.

Human rights

Ironically just as this controversy was about to recede, Human Rights Watch issued a report saying that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has recruited thousands of undocumented Afghans to fight in Syria alongside the Assad regime. Shamefully, no remorse has been expressed over this.

It is like giving two options to the refugees – either fight and die in Syria or return and die in Afghanistan. The report is based on testimonies and interviews with Afghan young men who have been forced to fight in Syria.

The hypocrisy lies in dealing with a regime that recruits children and sends them to fight when all that matters to them is covering up statues and making financial gains. Our countries have been at the receiving end of these double standards.

A society may allow disrespectful statements, drawings, movies or even personal choices and those angry may voice their condemnation. However, the same cannot be applied to an authority that humiliates its people, imprisons and oppresses its opponents and fails to use the same standard for a woman who dares to adopt a bold look or because a writer voices a free opinion.

Italian officials’ decision has highlighted the double standards that are part of repressive regimes like the one in Iran. And yes, it is not at all about modesty.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 01, 2016.

Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

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