A powerful woman, a protest movement, and the political interests impeding them.

I mages of Iranian women standing on utility boxes and ripping off their mandatory hijab have become the lasting image of ongoing protests in the Islamic Republic. And yet, as officials in the Trump administration have embraced those images and vocally supported the women, the discomfort that Western liberals have the idea of regime change in the country, and how that affects their interpretation of hijab protests, has been on full display.

A recent memoir by Masih Alinejad, The Wind in My Hair, shows us just how misguided that cynicism is. Covering her head against her wishes was one of the simpler cruelties she endured in the Islamic Republic. She was kicked out of high school for asking witty questions of her teachers, later imprisoned, and separated from her son by a retaliatory custody arrangement followed by forced exile from the Islamic Republic.

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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.

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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.

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