Iran closes shops selling Barbies to slow Western influence

Iran is working to ban Barbie, which it says is too Westernized

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian police have closed down dozens of toy shops for selling Barbie dolls—part of their decades-long crackdown on signs of Western culture in the country, the semiofficial Mehr news agency reported Friday.

Mehr quoted an unnamed police official as saying police confiscated Barbie dolls from toy shops in Tehran in a "new phase" of its crackdown against "manifestations of Western culture."

Barbie dolls, which are sometimes sold wearing swimsuits and miniskirts, are sure to cause a stir in a society where women must wear head scarves in public, and men and women are not allowed to swim together. A ban on the sale of Barbie dolls was imposed in the mid-1990s.

In 1996, an Iranian government-backed children's agency called Barbie a "Trojan horse" sneaking in Western influences like makeup and revealing clothes.

Authorities launched a campaign of confiscating Barbie dolls from toy shops in 2002, denouncing what they called the un-Islamic characteristics of the doll. The campaign was eventually dropped. That same year, Iran introduced its own line of dolls to compete with Barbie—twin dolls Dara and Sara. The dolls were designed to promote traditional values with modest clothing and pro-family stories. The dolls, however, were unable to slow the demand for Barbie dolls.

Despite Iran’s bans on many Western books, movies, satellite TV channels, music, haircuts and fashions, young people maintain their interest in Western culture.

Even channels of Iran's state TV broadcast several Western and Hollywood films every week. Islamists have repeatedly tried to fight what they see as a Western cultural "invasion" since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ousted a pro-Western monarchy.

Since then, importing Western toys has been discouraged by a regime that seeks to protect Iranians from what it calls the negative effects of Western culture. In 2008, the Iranian judiciary warned against the "destructive" cultural and social consequences and "danger" of importing Barbie dolls and other Western toys.

Despite the regime’s push, Iranian markets have been full of Western toys aimed at Iranian children. One-third of Iran's population of 75 million is under 15 years old.