The Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance's new dictate on acceptable male hairstyles might seem absurd, even silly. The government agency has drawn international attention by requiring Iranian men to choose from a handful of "Islamic" haircuts. But the restrictions, another in a long line of Islam-touting regulations on the daily life of Iranian citizens, are no joke. That they are arbitrary and bizarre is precisely the point.
Whatever you think of the Iranian leadership's judgment, it's unlikely that they feel particularly threatened by spiked hair or frosted tips. While the regime often cites religion in such laws, Koranic scholars will find little in Shia doctrine forbidding hair gel. The regime's chief goal is control of the public sphere, which it has aggressively pursued for years. Westerners will be most familiar with the clunky black chador forced on Iranian women by the often violent Islamic police. There are also tight controls on the media, on who may attend private social gatherings, and even laws forbidding unmarried, unrelated women and men from publicly interacting. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sees these restrictions as essential for maintaining , and the more that Iranians agitate for democracy the more he will respond by grinding personal freedoms into the sand.