The Islamic Republic of Iran takes its ban on alcohol, which goes back to a few months after the 1979 revolution, so seriously that taking a drink here can get you publicly whipped. Last week, one Iranian couple, who had endured 80 lashes each on their first and second alcohol convictions, got the death sentence for their third.
But Iranians still drink. They drink smuggled booze — an estimated 60 to 80 million liters came over the border last year alone, mostly from Iraqi Kurdistan — and they drink homemade booze, often the ouzo-meets-moonshine aragh saghi, made from raisins. They drink at home, drink at the corner shops that double as clandestine liquor stores, and apparently they drink behind the wheel: when Tehran police administered random alcohol tests to city drivers, a staggering 26 percent turned out to be drunk.
So many Iranians drink to excess that health officials there are now warning of a national threat to public health, citing a spike in alcohol-related ailments. Police are confiscating 69 percent more alcohol than they did last year, according to an Iranian newspaper.