When I was in Tehran, I learned about the odious practices of the morality police that hound women without proper head scarves, high heels, or immodest clothing.
Their practices and arrests of wrongdoers have been denounced widely as a case of Islamic authoritarianism and intimidation.
But then, we learned that Orthodox Jews have similar squads, perhaps without the power of the state behind them, to assure similar outcomes in their communities. Women are often the targets, but in certain Brooklyn neighbourhoods so are stores that violate the sensibilities of the religious enforcement patrols. They demand that shops showcasing mannequins take them down.
In Iran, there seems to be a lot of political acrimony, with politicians blasting each other and the President.
But in America, political differences are often deliberately muzzled as if there is an enforcement unit that operates to insure that certain subjects and points of view are verboten, beyond the pale of respectable debate.
Take the case of Chuck Hagel, the somewhat oafish Former Republican Senator and Vietnam war "hero" that President Obama named to head the Defence Department.
He was a conservative who left the reservation and began, or so it appeared, to think for himself, especially on issues that cross the red lines that make for ideological conformity transcending polarised party lines..
He didn't take a kneejerk approach to giving Israel everything it wanted, He questioned the impact of the Israel Lobby which does so much to keep American politicans in line as an echo chamber for whatever the government there wanted. He became critical of selective US military practices.
To many he looked like a refreshing alternative to the many politicians who slavishly do what they are told in fear of losing donors or becoming targets of the de facto enforcers with no tolerance for any ideological deviations, no matter how slight.
It was clear that researchers on the right were pouring over every comment Hagel had made over the years to turn him into a symbol of a betrayal of Israel by the Obama Administration.
They were sharpening their knives and anticipating a fight that could bloody the President and discredit his nominee,
They reached into their trick bag, first with a coordinated campaign aided and abetted by Fox News and right-wing radio with anti-Hagel message points. Then, they bought ads with the use of SuperPacs funded by anonymous super wealthy funders including gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson, a big donor to the Israel right. No doubt, this campaign was "coordinated" with the lobby and the right wing forces in Israel. A parallel campaign targeting liberals distorted Hagel's records on gay rights with flyers and direct mail.
Hagel tried to neutralise what he called distortions by doing interviews with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and other outlets to say his views were solidly pro-Israel.
The enforcers had forced him to get in line, reported the Daily Beast:
They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and while the Senate Armed Services Committee is hardly a warzone, it is proving to be the scene of a battlefield conversion for Chuck Hagel.
Obama's nominee for secretary of defence, who has spent the past eight years an avowed critic of what he saw as the wasteful militarism of the last Republican president, sounded at his confirmation hearing in Thursday like a tried-and-true neoconservative. He assured his former Senate colleagues that when it comes to Iran, "all options are on the table." "My policy is one of prevention, and not containment," Hagel said. This is quite a different tone for a man who said only a few years ago that he supported "unconditional and comprehensive talks" with the Islamic Republic.
The hearing - which, whatever his responses - is unlikely to stop Hagel in his tracks because Democrats control the committee and the Senate and will vote for him even after he was pummeled by his former Republican comrades, one of whom took a clip of him on Al Jazeera out of context.
Historian/blogger Juan Cole commented on the role played by the GOP's Morality police, noting, "What is important in Washington is willingness to conform orally, regardless of what one actually believes or how one acts."
"The confirmation hearing in the Senate for Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defence, was painful to watch because it displayed the tomfoolery, pretense, self-righteous know-nothingism, and embarrassing lack of contact with reality that dominate the landscape of America's broken democracy," he writes.
"It was like watching a Nebraska ordinary Joe set upon by circus freaks - a phalanx of moral midgets, stalking cat-men, vicious lobster boys and ethical werewolves."
So, from the streets of Iranian communities to the neighbourhoods in Brooklyn, the pressure to conform is pervasive, with "the righteous" using violence and intimidation with the complicity of many media outlets to narrow the range of debate and insure that the public and politicans walk the straight and narrow.
News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at NewsDissector.net and edits the newly relaunched Mediachannel.org. He hosts a show on Progressive Radio Network (PRN.fm.) Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.