Get ‘Gershad’ to dodge the morality police in Iran
I was overjoyed the other day to hear that Iranian youths have developed a mobile app that helps people dodge the patrols of Ershad, Iran’s morality police. The Ershad check whether Iranian citizens’ outfit or makeup undermines the social order: If a woman’s headscarf reveals too much of her hair, for example, she gets told to cover up properly.
There are two types of governments in the world: Governments that send around mobile traffic police patrols and governments that send around mobile morality police patrols. The first is a service to the people; the second is an attempt to control them. Unfortunately, governments in our region have a fascination with sartorial habits. The Kemalists were allergic to headscarves and made people wear Western-style hats; the Islamists infamously try to regulate the length of women’s skirts. Either way, the police are forced to interfere with people’s wardrobes. Turkey has let off on this in recent years, but Iran, Saudi Arabia and others still have morality police patrolling the streets.
I was in Israel about five months ago and there I found out about Waze, a crowdsourcing app that tells you where the mobile police patrol is waiting for you. I was fascinated by the idea of citizens collaborating against the police, and quickly became a “Wazer” myself. After all, the app also gives you information about any traffic congestion on your route, thanks to information provided by fellow Wazers.
Now with the new Iranian app Gershad, you can do the same on the streets of Tehran. Recall that Periscope, a live video streaming app, was also developed right after the Gezi protests in Turkey. If you ask me, all this is the same concept: Creative use of mobile phones to empower the individual against oppressive governments.
These apps indicate the growing needs of society. Waze was sold to Google for $1.1 billion in 2013. Gershad is probably going to have a harder time attracting that sort of money. There aren’t many countries left that still have morality police, and those that do aren’t very wealthy. Still, necessity is the mother of invention, and there certainly is necessity in the Middle East. The Gulf might be a source of revenue for such apps. Perhaps one day an app will warn female Saudi drivers of approaching police.
Somebody wrote a note on Gershad.com asking for anonymity in providing info about checkpoints. “You never know when they could get you,” the note says. It seems that this information age of ours is a challenge to all control freaks of the world. This is the age of empowered individuals. But that also creates new security threats - better get used to it.