Iran's 'morality police' cracks down on Barbie

Little girls in America may look forward to their first Barbie doll, but in the eyes of Iranian authorities, they might as well be devil dolls.

The Islamic nation's morality police is cracking down on Mattel's popular toy, shopkeepers in Iran said Monday, the latest in an ongoing effort to rid the country of Western influence and anything that might go against strict Muslim teaching.

"About three weeks ago, they came to our shop asking us to remove all the Barbies," a toy shop owner in northern Tehran told Reuters, which noted that this isn't the first time the doll has been a target. The country's rulers declared Barbie "un-Islamic" in 1996, though stores continued to sell the doll.

The increased scrutiny of a classic American export comes amid escalating tension between the U.S. and Iran over Iran's nuclear program and its threat to block the strategic Strait of Hormuz if provoked.

But Iran's morality police has been pestering Iranians for some time now. Last year, authorities tried to stop an outbreak of water-gun fights, carried out by young people who dared to have fun.

“This is a warning to young people that we will not accept these types of organized activities and unacceptable behavior anywhere in our country,” the head of Tehran's morality police, Ahmad Roozbehani, said at the time.

About 70 percent of Iran’s 70 million population is under 35, and it is common for young people in Iran to be questioned for their clothing, hairstyles and even choice in music.

Earlier last year, the morality police reportedly deployed to the streets of Tehran to crack down on men wearing necklaces and women for wearing loose-fitting head scarves, tightened overcoats and shortened pants that show skin.

But making an example of Barbie doesn't make the doll any less popular.

"My daughter prefers Barbies," a 38-year-old mother named Farnaz told Reuters. She said her daughter thinks the other dolls on sale "are ugly and fat."