“Iran has one of the highest drug addiction rates in the world” (huffingtonpost). It’s not ignoring it per se: the state seems to crack down on it with all the harsh means at its disposal, from seizing illegal drugs (many of which arrive through the porous border with Afghanistan), to arresting tens of thousands on drug-related charges (smuggling and consumption alike), to the usual recourse to capital punishment – even for those found to possess small amounts of narcotics.
Iran’s staggering execution rate is a cause for concern in and of itself, as Hamid Yazdan Panah reminded us all in a recent op-ed on Reuters: serving as a warning signal to Western powers that the recently-signed nuclear deal will not necessarily “usher in a new era of moderation and the development of Iranian civil society.”
But Iran’s drug problem (according to some analysts, the “worst in the world”) is just as much of a warning signal and indication that there is something gravely wrong with Iran – and its society – under the Khomeinist regime.
Take this recent scandalous video of an eight-year-old girl smoking opium. Islamic law strictly forbids the use of intoxicants of any kind, and it is also considered a criminal offense in theocratic Iran – one punishable by death. And yet drug use is widely prevalent in Iran across a wide spectrum of ages and economic backgrounds, for a variety of root causes – from high unemployment rates among youths, to frustration among educated women pressured by society to marry young and give up their professional aspirations.
The Iranian regime must not, and should not, be absolved from responsibility for these root causes (which blaming sanctions only goes some way towards) – nor for the moral decay – epitomized by by the sight of an eight-year-old girl addicted to drugs – running rampant in a society governed by clerics and patrolled by morality police, both of which are clearly ineffectual when it comes to the task of addressing the underlying issues at hand.
It is therefore quite ironic that, as the Guardian and the Huffingtonpost have remarked, the UN body, UNODC, is developing a multi-year and multi-million dollar project aimed at combatting the illicit drug trade in Iran, despite the mass executions and while ignoring the root causes.