While Western activists defend the right of Muslims to wear the veil, Iranian women are fighting for a bigger cause: choice.
The revolution that swept through Iran 40 years ago ruptured all diplomatic ties between Iran and the United States. This we know all too well. But another bond, one between Iranian feminists and their American counterparts, was also ruptured, which, unlike the other, occurred in virtual anonymity.
In March 1979, days after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini rose to power, the American feminist icon Kate Millett traveled to Tehran. On March 8, Millett looped arms with fellow women demonstrators to protest against Khomeini’s proposal to reinstitute a mandatory dress code for women, the hijab. If there were a moment that could stand for a perfect microcosm of all that was right about Iran then—and for all that was about to go wrong—it was that moment in March. Veiled women, alongside unveiled women, were throwing their fists into the air, demanding gender equality. When reporters asked the veiled women what they were protesting, since they themselves wore the veil, they unanimously said they objected to the eradication of choice.
By Masih Alinejad
With the U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal, Iran will soon face renewed economic sanctions, compounding a crisis that has seen its currency go into freefall. On top of that, the Trump administration has signaled its readiness for political and perhaps even military confrontation with the Islamic Republic. These are very real pressures, but I would argue that they don’t threaten the ruling mullahs nearly as much as a growing domestic development: the prospect of unveiled Iranian women.
The Islamic Republic’s key vulnerability has always been its oppression of women. Since coming to power in 1979, the theocracy has imposed compulsory hijab laws, requiring women to securely wrap their heads in scarves in public. Over the past four years, however, with little help or notice from Western powers pressing the regime on other fronts, Iranian women have countered the most visible symbol of clerical rule. They have begun to remove their headscarves in unprecedented acts of civil disobedience, fostering a crisis of self-confidence for the regime.
By Masih Alinejad
Masih Alinejad is a journalist and the founder of My Stealthy Freedom, a campaign to oppose laws requiring head scarves in Iran. She is the author of an upcoming memoir “The Wind in My Hair.”
About two weeks ago, I received a gruesome death threat from Hamid Reza Ahmadabadi, one of the more prominent figures of the Basij — Iran’s much-dreaded paramilitary arm. In his message, he said I’d be butchered because I had been insulting the sanctity of Iran’s revolutionary and Islamic values. He warned that one of his agents in the United States would cut out my tongue and slash my breasts before killing me. I was to be “slaughtered” in the same manner that former opposition leaders had been murdered abroad in the 1990s.
In a later interview with the BBC Persian service, he reiterated the same threats, making references to the assassination of Shahpour Bakhtiar, the shah’s last prime minister, and Fereydoun Farrokhzad, a dissident artist who was murdered in Germany.
By Masih Alinejad
Masih Alinejad is a journalist and the founder of My Stealthy Freedom, a campaign to oppose compulsory head scarves in Iran. She can be found on Twitter: @MasihPooyan.
I am an Iranian, a journalist, a campaigner against Islamic extremism and a 40-year-old mother. I was forced to flee Iran’s media crackdown with my teenage son, Pouyan, in 2009. I came to the United States as a green-card holder in in 2014 after being a political refugee in the United Kingdom for five years. Due to my work, I cannot go back to Iran.
After seven years of being in exile due to Iran’s repression, I feel as if I am facing another crackdown, thanks to President Trump. His executive order to suspend the flow of refugees into the United States for 120 days, and to halt immigration for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days, could prevent me from seeing Pouyan, my only child, who is a now a student in the U.K. We feel as if we are both in limbo. I am unsure if he can come see me, or if can I go visit him, without being deprived of the right to come back to the United States. If were unable to return, it would be the end of my life here as I know it. When I think about not being able to see him, I feel sick.