Hard-line Iranian clerics determined to reverse the trend of what they regard as "badly veiled women" took aim Friday at an unlikely target: conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In a televised interview last week, Ahmadinejad suggested a "cultural campaign" against interpretations of Islamic dress that have been deemed improper by authorities rather than the humiliating high-profile police crackdown already underway.
His comments came weeks after law enforcement agencies stepped up efforts to curb what many within the regime see as a threat to the ruling ideology. Morality police have been stopping cars carrying women and shutting down stores that sell clothing considered immodest.
But Guardian Council chief Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told worshipers during his Friday sermon that to stay silent on the issue of improper hijab, or veil, amounts to a mortal sin. He likened women whose hair peaks out from under their scarves to hardened criminals.
"Drug traffickers are hanged, terrorists are executed and robbers are punished for their crimes, but when it comes to the law of God, which is above human rights, [some individuals] stay put and speak about cultural programs," Jannati said, referring to Ahmadinejad.
"Shall we let badly-veiled women be free in the society corrupt our youth?" he added.
Jannati called on other clergy in Iran to join his campaign, and at least some were heeding the message. In the city of Mashhad, Ayatollah Ahmad Alam Hoda said that improperly veiled women represent "a corrupt minority."