Call it freedom, if you like, although it goes by another name around these parts.
Here, we call it bacon, and the salty strips are so addictive that the average American scarfs down 18 pounds of the cured pork belly each year.
In Iran, a taste for bacon has caught on, spawning a large underground market in the theocracy, despite severe consequences if caught.
Pork and alcohol are illegal for Muslims in Iran to consume. The Christian minority — made up of about 300,000 Armenians and Assyrians — can buy pork in certain stores. But for Muslims, the consequences can be severe if they are caught with a slice of bacon in their mouths.
According to Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies:
If you get caught by the modesty patrol, the religious police, you face fines, potentially corporal punishment. There are unpleasant consequences for people getting caught … it has to do more with how strict the enforcement [of the] modesty patrol is.
Authorities tried to deter people from consuming pork with propaganda, including a recent physicians report that pork consumption leads to miscarriages among women.
The morality police patrol the streets to make sure everything is in order, but that won’t stop some Muslims from enjoying a taste of freedom.
Underground restaurants, where people can get a break from Sharia law, have popped up in the capital of Teheran. There, people can dress more freely, have a glass of wine … and chow down on pork.
“Compared to normal restaurants, prices are a bit higher, but not excessively so,” an anonymous customer at an underground restaurant in Teheran told France 24 in April, 2015. “It certainly isn’t cheap for the restaurants owners to buy forbidden products. For me, this taste of freedom is worth the price!”
Several large shipments of pork have been detected in Iran in recent years, including 50 tons from Brazil in 2011 valued at approximately $28,000. The pork usually gets smuggled into the country by “tourists” on commercial flights, according to custom officials.
What can and can’t enter the country illegally is heavily regulated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of Iran’s armed forces.
The IRGC has consciously expanded Iran’s underground economy in recent years, as it’s become more profitable. The weak rule of law in Iran makes it easy for smugglers to prosper with the right connections.
“Everybody knows that’s what they do,” Ottolenghi told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “They go out and take a cut from the drug cartels in exchange for smuggling to the territory of Iran without being caught.”
Iran’s Ministry of Finance estimates 20% to 25% of Iran’s GDP goes untaxed. This estimate makes the total value of Iran’s shadow economy $100 billion — a conservative measure.
This report, by Jacob Bojesson, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.