Since 2014, Masih Alinejad has published videos of Iranian women removing their head scarves. When a twenty-two-year-old died last week in the morality police’s custody, the country exploded.

By Dexter Filkins

September 24, 2022

Women from across Iran are pulling off their hijabs and lighting them on fire, flouting the country’s gray-bearded theocrats in dramatic scenes of a population struggling to set itself free. Of all the astonishments pouring forth from the Islamic Republic, perhaps the most remarkable is the fact that Iran was brought to this point, at least in part, by an unpaid forty-six-year-old mother working from an F.B.I. safehouse in New York City.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist who was driven into exile thirteen years ago, has helped galvanize the country’s women, amassing some ten million followers on her social-media sites and spurring them to trash the most potent symbol of the regime’s legalized gender-apartheid: the hijab, the hair covering mandated for every adult woman.

Most of Alinejad’s followers live in Iran, making her one of the country’s most powerful voices. Since 2014, she has worked a simple formula to devastating effect. She has called on women inside Iran to record themselves defying the hijab rule and to send her the evidence. Thousands of women have obliged, and Alinejad has posted videos and photos of them showing their hair to accounts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Those sites are blocked by the country’s dictatorship, but, by making use of virtual private networks, many Iranians have seen them anyway. Millions have been able to witness the bravery of their fellow-citizens and to see how widely their views are shared—which, in the stifling environment of modern Iran, would otherwise be impossible.

Last week, when protests exploded following the death of Mahsa Amini, who appears to have been beaten to death by the regime’s morality police, Alinejad saw years of organizing finally coming to fruition. Some of the videos from Iran have been electrifying, with women dancing and pirouetting before tossing their hijabs onto bonfires. “It’s happening—it’s really happening—and women are leading the way,’’ Alinejad told me when I met her this week. “The hijab is the tool the regime uses to control the women and, through them, Iranian society.”

Karim Sadjadpour, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in Washington, D.C., told me that as the popular legitimacy of the Iranian regime has crumbled, its leaders have clung to antiquated concepts of female modesty to prop it up. “There are three ideological pillars left of the Islamic Republic,” he told me. “Death to America, death to Israel, and the hijab. Masih understands that the hijab is the weakest pillar of the three. Not even Iran’s partners in Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, or Caracas will defend it.”

Iranian law dictates that any woman who has passed puberty must cover her hair down to the last strand and wear loose-fitting clothing. The morality police routinely arrest women for not wearing a hijab or for not wearing one properly; Amini, whose death sparked the protests, was taken into custody for purportedly allowing a few pieces of hair to slip out. Officials claimed that Amini, who was twenty-two, died of a heart attack while in custody. Her father told the BBC that Amini had been in perfect health. “[The authorities] are lying,’’ he said.

In 2014, she moved to New York, and began to pressure the Iranian regime from the outside using social media. That year, she launched her first campaign, called “My Stealthy Freedom,” in which she encouraged women to videotape themselves doing harmless but prohibited things, such as taking off their hijabs. Her efforts expanded from there. “For three decades, Iranian women endured daily indignities and had no recourse,’’ Sadjadpour said. “Today, they can film their harassers and abusers and send it to Masih, and millions of people will see it.”

The regime has been watching, too. In July, 2021, the F.B.I. arrested an Iranian national in California for plotting to kidnap Alinejad and take her to Venezuela, where she would have been transferred to Iran, presumably to face imprisonment or death. A year later, F.B.I. agents arrested a man carrying a Kalashnikov rifle outside her home, in Brooklyn; he was allegedly sent by the regime to kill her. Alinejad and her husband, Kambiz Foroohar, a former reporter for Bloomberg whom she married in 2014, have been living in F.B.I. safehouses ever since. They have had to switch locations seven times.

Alinejad now rarely appears in public. Earlier this week, she led a crowd protesting the arrival of the Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, at the United Nations. The next day, she met me in a coffee shop on a busy corner. The F.B.I. is so worried about Iranian agents stalking her that they regard any encounter with another Iranian as a cause for alarm; when a friendly Iranian recognized her inside, Alinejad greeted the man warmly and then motioned for me to go. “Let’s get out of here,’’ she said.

The Iranian regime has also tried to squeeze Alinejad from inside Iran. In 2018, her sister Mina disavowed her on state television; Alinejad told me that Mina is married to a Revolutionary Guard officer and a true believer in the Revolution. Soon after, Alinjead’s brother Ali was arrested and imprisoned for refusing to cooperate with government-backed efforts to kidnap her. In 2019, Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, the head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, announced that sending a video to Alinejad was a crime punishable by up to ten years in jail. She is routinely denounced as a traitor and a stooge of foreign powers on state-television programs. “I have never taken any money from a foreign government,” she told me. (Alinejad works for Voice of America, which is funded by the U.S. government, but she says her activism is separate from her work for the organization.)

When I sat with her, Alinejad was distracted by the deluge of videos and texts she was receiving from supporters in Iran. She showed me her phone and scrolled through some of the day’s offerings: a video of a young girl lying in a pool of blood after having been apparently shot, another of a protester being beaten by police, and another of a woman throwing her hijab onto a fire.

The regime is stepping up its efforts to crush the protests, much as it did in 2017 and 2019, when similar outbursts appeared to threaten its hold. On-the-ground reports have been difficult to verify independently; cell service and Internet access have been cut off or slowed down in many parts of the country. Videos have shown crowds confronting police and the Basij, the regime’s plainclothes militiamen, chanting “Death to the Supreme Leader!” and “We don’t want an Islamic Republic!” Hundreds of protesters have been arrested, including many journalists. One video showed a crowd defacing a billboard depicting Qassem Suleimani, the famed commander of the Quds force and a national hero, who was killed in a drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump in early 2020.

The scenes captured on video echoed my own experience during a trip to Iran not long after Suleimani’s assassination. Among the dozens of Iranians I spoke to, the regime appeared to have lost almost all legitimacy. The little support that existed seemed to come almost entirely from people, such as government employees, who benefitted directly from the regime’s largesse. Checkpoints run by Baji militiamen, who stopped and searched cars and people randomly, were ubiquitous.

I asked Alinejad whether she felt responsible for any of the deaths, or for the treatment of the many women who have been beaten and imprisoned. “It is very difficult,” she said. “So many women are going to jail because of what I urged them to do. I can’t believe I am doing this.” She began to cry. Soon, though, she was checking her phone again, and the videos and messages were rolling in. “I’m leading this movement,” she said, standing outside the coffee shop. “The Iranian regime will be brought down by women. I believe this.” ♦

This article has been updated to include details about Masih Alinejad’s work for Voice of America.


By The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — The tears come quickly to Masih Alinejad when she talks about the messages she’s received in recent days from women in Iran protesting against their government after a young woman died in police custody over a violation of the country’s strict religious dress code.

They talk about the risks, possibly fatal ones, in facing off against government forces that have a long history of cracking down on dissent. They share stories of saying goodbye to their parents, possibly for the last time. They send videos of confrontations with police, of women removing their state-mandated head coverings and cutting their hair.

According to a tally by The Associated Press, at least 11 people have been killed since protests began earlier this month after the funeral of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in custody after being detained by Iran’s morality police. State media has said the toll could be as high as 35.

“I feel the anger of people right now through their text messages,” Alinejad told The Associated Press in New York City, where the 46-year-old opposition activist and writer in exile has lived since fleeing Iran following the 2009 election.

“They have been ignored for years and years,” she said. “That is why they are angry. Iranian women are furious now.”

Amini’s death spurred this latest explosion of outrage. She had been detained Sept. 13 for allegedly wearing her hijab too loosely in violation of strictures demanding women in public wear the Islamic headscarves. She died three days later in police custody; authorities said she had a heart attack but hadn’t been harmed. Her family has disputed that, leading to the public outcry.

Protests started after her Sept. 17 funeral, and have taken place in more than a dozen cities. The Iranian government has pushed back, clashing with demonstrators and clamping down on internet access.

Alinejad shares the outrage of the protesters; for more than a decade she has been an outspoken critic of the theocracy that rules the country and its control over women through the required wearing of the hijab and other measures. In 2014, she started My Stealthy Freedom, an online effort encouraging Iranian women to show images of themselves without hijabs.

“Let me make it clear that Iranian women who are facing guns and bullets right now in the streets, they’re not protesting against compulsory hijab like just a small piece of cloth. Not at all,” she said.

“They are protesting against one of the most visible symbols of oppression. They are protesting against the whole regime.”

Alinejad, who grew up following the rules on religious coverings in the small Iranian town where she was born, began pushing back against being forced to don certain garments when she was a teenager.

But even she, who now displays her full head of curly hair as a matter of course, didn’t find it easy to overcome a lifetime of conditioning.

“It was not easy to put it away, like overnight,” she said. “It took three years for me, even outside Iran, to take off my hijab.”

She said the first time she went out without a religious covering, in Lebanon, she saw a police officer and had a panic attack. “I thought the police are going to arrest me.”

Her activism has made her no fans among Iranian officials and supporters of the government.

Last year, an Iranian intelligence officer and three alleged members of an Iranian intelligence network were charged in federal court in Manhattan with a plot to kidnap her and take her back to Iran. Officials in Iran have denied it. In August, an armed man was arrested after being seen hanging around Alinejad’s Brooklyn home and trying to open the front door.

She’s committed to her cause, though, and supporting those in Iran, women and men, who are engaged in the protests. She would love to see more support from those in the West.

“We deserve the same freedom,” she said. “We are fighting for our dignity. We are fighting for the same slogan — My body, my choice.”

She worries what will happen to the demonstrators in Iran as the government takes action to remain in control and shut down dissent, if there is no outside pressure.

“My fear is that if the world, the democratic countries don’t take action, the Iranian regime will kill more people,” she said, scrolling through her phone to show images of young people she says have already been killed in the current wave of protest.

She called the women in the protests warriors and “true feminists.”

“These are the women of suffragists risking their lives, facing guns and bullets,” she said.

But even if, as has happened in the past, the government exerts enough control to quiet the protests down, it won’t make the dissent go away, she said.

The “Iranian people made their decision,” she said. “Whether the regime cracks down on the protests, whether they shut down the internet, people of Iran won’t give up. … The anger is there.”


Viewers in Iran three weeks ago were treated to spectacle worthy of George Orwell’s 1984. On three separate nights, four women were brought on the main channel of the State-owned TV to confess. These confessions had many similarities: the women’s faces are blurred, as if they are common criminals; they are wearing headscarves fully covering their hair; and they all express deep regret and redemption for removing their compulsory hijab and resisting hijab enforcers in public.

Forced confessions are part of the tool kit of the Islamic Republic of Iran to cower and intimidate the population. It’s not unique to the regime in Tehran but it is used by dictators and autocrats everywhere from Russia and China to North Korea and Venezuela. But here, there was a difference: not only the words were forced, but also the headscarves. As the crime, here, was resisting compulsory hijab.

The Islamic Republic has forced women to wear hijab for 43 years but every year the opposition to its enforcement gets more determined. The clerics and the security forces are treating compulsory hijab as a life-and-death matter for the whole edifice of the Islamic Regime which wants to control women’s bodies. But women have resisted for 43 years. The first major demonstration against Islamization of Iran happened on the International Women’s Day, when 100,000 women in 1979 said no to the introduction of compulsory hijab. Since then, many campaigns have passed the baton of resistance from one generation to the next. Yet, in the past few years, women have become bolder, thanks to campaigns such as White Wednesdays and Girls of the Enghelab Street. A recent #No2Hijab campaign called on women to remove their hijabs in public on July 12, 2022, to challenge the regime’s newly minted “Hijab and Chastity Day”.

The regime also took a hard line. They arrested tens of women, who participated in the campaign and brought four women to TV for forced confessions.

Sepideh Rashno

These four women were not famous, but their videos of resistance had gone viral. As Iranian social media users, we already knew of these women, having savored their acts of resistance. But we only learned other crucial details, like their names and faces after their arrests and during their confessions.  

It felt like being punched in the gut, seeing Elham Farshad, looking cowed and apparently demoralized, sitting limply in a straight-back chair, her face covered in purple bruises. In her video, which was seen by millions, she screams at a cleric ordering a woman to wear her headscarf, with colorful language: “I piss on your turban.”

On a following night, we saw Sepideh Rashno, pale-faced with bruises under her eye, being forced to confess she regrets confronting a hijab enforcer on a bus and filming this confrontation. In the pictures from her Twitter, Sepideh is a beautiful and energetic woman, who is a writer and artist. Sepideh became a hero to millions of women for her resistance.

Many of us saw ourselves in these outraged women. We didn’t have their courage, but we felt their anger and aspired to be as brave. These women were not heroes. They were ordinary women just like millions of us. Their only crime was to resist against the regime’s collaborators—cogs in the Islamic Republic’s war on women.

Social media is battleground of ideas. The forced confessions hit a nerve; it was an offense against all of us. We repeated their names in tweets and put their faces on our profile pictures, not just to spread the news, but to show they are not alone. The tone of most of the tweets making #Where_Is_Sepideh and #We_are_all_Sepideh (in Persian) trending was one of outrage.

Sepideh Rashno

And it is this outrage that is at the center of the televised confessions. “Unfortunately, I got angry” is the common refrain of these women’s forced confessions. They were made to express regret for their outrage. An outrage that spread far and wide with their viral videos—videos that are but the two most recent examples of a trend. The “My Camera My Weapon” campaign, launched by Masih Alinejad, is a call for and a visual collection of such outrage-laden courage against compulsory hijab. The daily death threats against Alinejad are a testament of how much this regime fears women. Indeed, in the televised confessions, the narrator kept repeating that Alinejad was the master criminal “provoking” and “manipulating” these women to act out.

Although such televised confessions have been common in the I.R. regime, this is the first time they pertain to compulsory hijab. Formerly, the accused were to confess to espionage for Israel, affiliation with MEK, and so on. Recently, however, the regime’s fight against women has come to the forefront: A fight against their bodies, clothes, and their cellphone cameras. Their cameras, because the regime is admittedly frightened about the propagation of outrage among social media users and beyond. With these forced confessions, the regime wants to replace this outrage with fear. To make examples out of these women for everyone to see.

As the number of women acting more courageously increased, and as the #No2Hijab campaign picked up momentum, spreading from Twitter to Instagram to the street and back to social media, the regime has started suppressing it more violently. Their goal is to replace outrage and courage with fear. But what these forced confessions show is the regime’s own fear—fear from women’s autonomy over their bodies, from their cellphone cameras, and from anonymous social media users who echo their voices. What these televised confessions are provoking in many Iranians, who see traces of pressure and even torture in the voices and faces of the arrested, is but more outrage. As many protestors have repeated these days: “Our outrage will one day become bigger than your power!”

Update: On August 20, after around three weeks from the forced confessions, a photo of Sepideh was published on the IR official news agency website showing her reading a document in front of a black-worn bearded man (seemed a judge) along the news that Sepideh has been charged with “collusion to disrupt national security”, propaganda against Islamic Republic”, and “promotion of prostitution”—all for her viral video of resistance against a hijab enforcer. Iranians on Twitter are guessing that these charges can lead to a sentence of 15 years imprisonment for her.

Mahya Ostovar is a women rights activist and lecturer of Business Information Systems at NUI Galway, Ireland.

Maish Alinejad survived two assassination plots in as many years. She talks to Richard Hall about her work and living in safe houses.

when Masih Alinejad first heard the news of the attack on author Salman Rushdie, she had more reason than most to be concerned.

“I was screaming in my safe house,” she tells The Independent. “Of course … I was traumatised. I was like, wow, that can happen to me.”

Alinejad, an Iranian-born journalist and women’s rights activist, knows what it is like to live under the threat of assassination. Like Rushdie, who was the target of a fatwa issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, she too has been hunted by the Iranian government.

Alinejad has been the target of two plots against her life in as many years. The first, which came to light in 2021, was an operation directed by the Iranian intelligence services to kidnap Alinejad and take her back to Iran and an uncertain fate. Then last month, police arrested a man who had spent two days outside Alinejad’s Brooklyn home, once trying to open her door, while in possession of a loaded AK47.

In this undated photo provided by Masih Alinejad, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, Alinejad, an Iranian opposition activist and writer in exile in New York City, poses for a picture. Authorities have charged a man with lurking near Alinejad’s home with an assault rifle, a year after she was identified as the target of an alleged kidnapping plot.

When she arrives for an interview with The Independent, Alinejad is flanked by two FBI protection officers, having come from a safe house where she now lives with her husband and stepchildren. She moves between those safe houses regularly and her appointments are made in coordination with federal agents.

“Of course, the kidnapping plot and then the assassination plot just turned my life upside down,” she says. “Every day I put a mask on my face to be strong, powerful, don’t show my frustration, my fear — but it is scary.”

“Just imagine if the guy with an AK-47 gun in front of my house had opened fire, who knows how many of my neighbors would’ve been killed? Who knows, my stepchildren?”

Activist targeted by Iran says attack on Salman Rushdie left her ‘heartbroken’

Alinejad was born in a small village about 90 miles north of Tehran and became an activist at an early age. Her frustrations as a young girl living under the strict conservative rules of the Islamic Republic would foreshadow the work she now does later in life, at 45-years-old.

“I didn’t have any clue at the age of seven about feminism or activism or even discrimination, nothing. But I had a little brother who was able to sing, to dance, to jump in the river in my beautiful village, to go to a stadium, to ride a bicycle, to show his hair, my God, all the basic rights. But I was banned from doing all these activities just because I was a girl,” she says. Those early frustrations turned her into a “troublemaker,” she adds.

Alinejad went on to become a journalist, covering Iran’s parliament for a reformist newspaper in the capital Tehran. Her first major run-in with the government came when she uncovered a story about bonus payments being given to MPs. In 2009, she took a trip to the US in an effort to interview Barack Obama. While she was there, large-scale opposition protests roiled Iran and her newspaper was shut down. Fortuitously, she met her future husband at the same time and decided to stay in the US.

Today, she hosts a show on the US government-funded Voice of America’s Persian language service, but she is better known for her campaign against Iran’s compulsory hijab law, which she launched in 2014. Her campaign began with the White Wednesday movement, which encourages Iranian women to wear white headscarves or discard them entirely in protest of the law. More recently, she launched a social media campaign called #notohijab in which she shares videos of Iranian women protesting the compulsory hijab. It’s a full-time job.

“I wake up every morning with the news of Iran, checking the news of Iran. I go to bed by reading the news, by posting about Iranians on my social media,” she says. “So basically I don’t see myself in America. I am in Iran.”

Alinejad’s campaign against the compulsory hijab, and against Islamism more broadly, has drawn allegations of Islamophobia from some in the West — a charge she rejects.

In this July 13, 2005, file photo, outgoing reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami talks on the phone with the mother of female journalist Masih Alinejad, right, after meeting with journalists in Tehran, Iran.
(AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

“I don’t have any problem with those women who choose to wear hijab like my mom. But when I talk about compulsory hijab, when I talk about Islamic ideology, when I talk about gender apartheid, some of my fellow feminist activists in the West don’t want to even touch the issue,” she says.

“I’m happy to be here as a woman who lived under Sharia, who has experienced the violence, and now I can talk directly to the Western feminist, Western politicians and tell them that you should not keep silent.”

Her activism has also provoked fury among Iran’s hardline rulers, and she receives almost daily death threats because of it. The Iranian government has used her family against her, pressuring them to publicly denounce her from afar. As a result, she hasn’t been able to visit home in more than a decade.

“It’s not just arrest. On Iranian state television, you can actually hear that Masih Alinejad should be executed. You can see my picture in Friday prayers, everywhere being hanged. So basically, yes, I can go back, but definitely I’ll be executed,” she says.

“I’m a village girl and in the village we used to meet each other every weekend. We hug each other a lot in the village. So I miss home. Sometimes I even forget the face of my mother. I haven’t seen her for 11 years. For what? I’m not a criminal. I mean, just in 21st century, I’m being banned from hugging my mom, my brother, my family, just because of practicing my job as a journalist, as an activist,” she says.

Some of those threats she saw as a predictable consequence of her work, but the kidnap plot was something different. She remembers learning about it when the FBI turned up at her home.

“When they came to my house in Brooklyn, they told me that you’re not safe here. I didn’t take it seriously, because as an Iranian activist I’m used to getting death threats every day on social media. I’m used to receiving death threats from Iranian officials. But they said, Nope, this time is different,” she says.

“They even showed me how the Iranian regime hired someone to take photos of my movement, of my house, my stepchildren, my husband, my beautiful garden. I was like, wow, so they here they’re that close to me, they’re watching me. Then they moved me to the different safe houses.”

Four Iranian nationals were charged for the kidnapping plot. According to assistant director Alan E. Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, the Iranian government directed a number of state actors “to plot to kidnap a US-based journalist and American citizen, and to conduct surveillance on US soil — all with the intention to lure our citizen back to Iran as retaliation for their freedom of expression.” The Department of Justice said the intelligence network behind the plot has researched methods of transporting Alinejad by military-style speedboats from New York to Venezuela. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh called the charges “baseless and absurd” at the time.

Alinejad was put under protection following the plot, but continued her work. Not a year had passed when a man turned up at her door with an Ak-47. She shared a video from her doorbell camera of the man, Khalid Mehdiyev, trying to open her front door.  She was then moved to a safe house, where she has lived ever since.

At the same time as Alinejad was receiving greater government protection here in the US, Rushdie was starting to live a normal life again after decades of living in hiding. Speaking to the German news magazine Stern just two weeks before the attack he said: “A fatwa is a serious thing. Luckily we didn’t have the internet back then. The Iranians had to send the fatwa to the mosques by fax. That’s all a long time ago. Nowadays my life is very normal again.”

Rushdie’s attacker, Hadi Matar, stabbed the 75-year-old author 10 times before he was restrained. Rushdie suffered serious injuries and is likely to lose an eye. Mater subsequently praised Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini in a jailhouse interview with the New York Post, and said of Rushdie: “He’s someone who attacked Islam, he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.”

Alinejad says she knew right away what, if not who, was behind the attack. As far as she sees it, she and Rushdie are fighting the same regime, and the same ideology.


By Masih Alinejad

Masih Alinejad is an Iranian journalist, author and women’s rights campaigner. A member of the Human Rights Foundation’s International Council, she hosts “Tablet,” a talk show on Voice of America’s Persian service.

Sign up for a weekly roundup of thought-provoking ideas and debates

My heart goes out to Salman Rushdie. I’m deeply appalled by the attempt on his life and extremely relieved that he survived.

The attack on Rushdie was an act of terrorism. That’s what President Biden and other Western leaders should call it. The media in Iran have been celebrating it, regretting only that the assailant didn’t manage to kill Rushdie. The brutal regime in Tehran has a history of encouraging acts of violence to undermine our freedoms. Why aren’t we taking a stronger stand?

The attack on Rushdie struck especially close to home for me. I, too, have been repeatedly targeted by the vicious regime in Tehran for my criticisms of its hateful policies against women. Two weeks ago, I got a lucky break: Police arrested a man with a loaded AK-47-style rifle in his car after he made a failed attempt to enter my house in Brooklyn. The incident recalls another plot foiled by the FBI in 2021, when federal prosecutors charged four alleged Iranian agents with conspiring to kidnap me and take me back to Iran. At the time, I had to go into hiding for a while; now the FBI has put me under its protection again.

Eugene Robinson: My dinner with Salman Rushdie

Now I find myself living in a safe house with featureless white walls adorned with replica modern paintings; this is where I was when I learned about the attack on Rushdie. It might be safe, but it’s not my home. Until two weeks ago, I lived in a beautiful house in Brooklyn surrounded by loving neighbors who, since my unwilling departure, have been watering my flower beds in solidarity with my plight. Since the attack on Rushdie, the official Telegram channel of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and others in Iran on social media have been praising the would-be killer. They’ve also been saying that I should be next.

Rushdie himself knows only too well what this situation is like. After Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for the author to be killed over his book “The Satanic Verses” (which Khomeini deemed offensive to Muslims), Rushdie ended up living in a safe house for most of the next 10 years. That lifestyle took its toll. By around 2001, he was sick of the living in the shadows and began making public appearances again. He even wrote a memoir about his experience. Everything seemed fine.

This article was featured in the Opinions A.M. newsletter. Sign up here for a digest of opinions in your inbox six days a week.

After years on the run, Rushdie might have concluded that he had regained his freedom. Now that assumption is over. In fact, Khomeini’s threat against him was never lifted; Iran’s current supreme leader affirmed the original fatwa on Twitter as recently as 2019, and the bounty for killing Rushdie now stands at more than $3 million. Apologists claiming there is no link with Iran should consider the headline with which the main state newspaper in Tehran celebrated Mr. Rushdie’s wound: “Satan’s eye has been blinded.”

I have often thought of Rushdie and his plight over the past two years when my own journey in and out of safe houses first began. I often wondered how Rushdie coped with the physical and mental hardships of enforced imprisonment. To be in a safe house is like being back in quarantine — except that there seems to be no vaccine against the fanaticism of the Iranian regime.

Matt Bai: The attack on Salman Rushdie is a warning about where we’re headed

The fact that a religious fundamentalist regime issues fatwas against those who criticize them is not surprising. What is shocking is the lack of action from democratic governments around the world, which should be categorically denouncing these actions. In the sleepy town of Chautauqua, N.Y., Rushdie was about to lead a discussion about the role of the United States as a haven for exiled writers and other artists under threat of persecution. The irony is not lost on me.

I have no intention of disappearing from public view. The activist in me wonders how many more times someone on U.S. soil will be a target of the Iranian regime and its supporters before concrete action is taken. The other part of me wonders whether I will be able to do banal, normal things such as walking to the local bakery or sitting outside on a winter day and drinking hot chocolate.

What has driven so much of the intensity of my activism is a sense of obligation and camaraderie with the many women, journalists and human rights activists who have stood up for liberal values inside Iran and paid a steep price. I owe it to them to use the freedoms I have enjoyed in Western democracies to give them a voice. I do not want to die and will have to take precautions, but I intend to live a life free from fear, with a garden and loving neighbors, no matter what it takes. I hope Rushdie recovers quickly. One day I’d like to thank him — and maybe even show him our flower beds.

The Washington Post

Your donation can make a huge difference. Together we are stronger.