OPINION: The refusal of the Iranian agricultural delegation to New Zealand to shake Jo Luxton’s hand in Parliament on Thursday was not a sign of disrespect.
I have spoken out against the Iranian regime harshly in the past – on its record of oppressing women and minorities with particular viciousness, disappearing them into torture chambers for failing to observe its imposed ‘moral’ standards, and treating them as worth half that of men before the law.
But the behaviour of that regime in forcibly imposing Islamic law is quite separate from Muslims peacefully observing that law by choice.
One example is of Islamic men not touching or, in some cases, even looking directly at women who are not immediate family.
In fact, this is the flip side of the rule of Hijab for Islamic women.
This means that while the Quran calls on women to dress modestly (often interpreted as covering their hair), it imposes a converse obligation on Islamic men not to ogle women and not to touch them in any way unless they are married or immediate blood relations.
This is to provide safety and respect for women interacting with men.
Whether or not we agree with these rules, whether they are paternalistic or unduly restrictive and need ‘modernising’, is a question for practicing Muslims.
It is not open to those of us outside that culture to interpret these rules beyond their intent in Islam.
So while in western culture refusing to shake hands is a huge sign of disrespect, in the Muslim world touching strangers of the opposite sex is hugely disrespectful and a breach of Islamic law.
This rule really can’t be mixed in with the many ways the Islamic regime does in fact oppress women living under its rule.
To do so would be to bring a prejudiced perspective, always expecting the behaviour of Muslim men to be demeaning of women, even while they strive – as they did when meeting Jo Luxton in Parliament on Wednesday – to be extra respectful.
Golriz Ghahraman is a Green MP. Her family left Iran when she was nine years old and was granted asylum as political refugees in New Zealand