I am a woman of color. A woman from the Middle East, from Iran. I immigrated to the United States to be free. I know writing these words will make me politically incorrect in today’s media but I am going to write them anyway as they are the truth and the truth must be told.

“As a women who lived under Sharia law for 28 years, I am afraid of Islam.” There. I said it. 

This is what Middle Eastern women have been tiptoeing around in the #LetUsTalk campaign on Twitter in the past two weeks. It has been like walking on eggshells. Some women in our campaign are afraid to say these exact words because they work in academia and they are worried of being sacked. The journalist who initiated our campaign, Masih Alinejad who has 7 million followers on Instagram and three hundred thousand on Twitter has been shadowbanned on both platforms. 

Yet what we say is just the truth. We, the women, were forced to wear hijab starting at the age seven. We could not get education without wearing hijab. We would have been arrested, lashed, and prisoned if we didn’t wear hijab in public. We were not allowed to sing and dance. We could not travel abroad without the permission of our husbands. Our testimony was worth half a man’s. We inherited half of what a man did. We were not guardians of our children, only their fathers and grandfathers were. Yes, as a women I am afraid of Islam as it as inherently a misogynistic religion. I have experienced it first hand for 28 years and I am not the only one. Millions of women from the Middle East can share personal stories of oppression with you.

I have been told my experience is not of Islam but the extermists ruling in Iran. To those, I say listen to the women who suffered the same in Muslim communities in Canada and the US. Read Yasmine Mohammad’s story. Watch Unorthodox. Even though Unorthodox is about a Jewish woman in New York, she went through the same oppression that we Middle Eastern women did.

But, why does this all matter, you might ask. Because we see a trend to embrace hijab as a symbol of diversity in the West and we, the small minority who escaped Islamic countries are hushed with the excuse of Islamophobia.

As an American I cherish freedom of religion, free market and freedom of speech. I enjoy seeing people of different religions living peacefully together. I can see that as Christians build churches and send their followers to missions, Muslims build mosques and advertise hijab. Yet criticizing Islam has turned into a politically incorrect topic while I am free to criticize Christianity all I want.

February first is Hijab day. Hijab is a symbol. A symbol that women do not have the same freedom as men. It is a symbol of oppression. I know most people who use it as a symbol of diversity are well intended. But they are not well informed. After all, how many of them have worn a scarf for twenty years?

Passport photo of me and my brother, 5 and 6 vs me how I want to look like.

By Elnaz Sarbar

Elnaz Sarbar is a women’s rights activist based in California

By INNA SHEVCHENKO
Charlie Hebdo

This is the #MeToo of clothing harassment. Voices of Middle Eastern women living in the West—or not—who had to wear hijab—or still do—are rising. They claim that the Islamic veil is not a harmless trivial garment and even less a freedom for women. Hoping to be heard by some feminists who repeat like a mantra that the veil is a choice.

It all started as a new episode of intellectual cowardice and capitulation to accusations of Islamophobia. After the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a photo of children on its cover in which a little girl was wearing hijab, pediatric surgeon Dr. Sherif Emil sent a letter to the editorial team entitled “Do not use an instrument of oppression as a symbol of diversity and inclusion.” The doctor takes issue with the commonplace use of such images in Canada’s largest medical journal: “It has become ‘liberal’ to see hijab as a symbol of diversity and inclusion… Hijab, niqab and burka are instruments of oppression for millions of girls and women around the world who are not allowed to make a choice.” The National Council of Canadian Muslims called for the immediate removal of the text from the journal’s website. The letter was immediately removed and the editor in cheif apologized for making the doctor’s “wrong, hurtful and offensive” words public.

This time, however, the cowardice of some has revealed, in contrast, the bravery of many others. Many Middle Eastern women living in the West reacted to the incident, launching a major campaign on social networks and demanding that they be listened to on issues that affect their lives, such as the religious dress code. The #LetUsTalk campaign went viral within days.

“In Iran I was told if I don’t wear hijab, I get kicked out from school, I get jailed, lashes, beaten up, and kicked out from my country. In the West I’m told, sharing my story will cause Islamophobia. I’m a woman from Middle East and I am scared of Islamic ideology. Let us talk.” It is with this tweet that the famous Iranian activist against the mandatory hijab, Masih Alinejad, reacted to the censorship of the doctor’s letter. With these words, accompanied by a childhood photo of herself wearing hijab, she inspired an avalanche of similar confessions. Her tweet was liked by more than 30,000 people and the hashtag #LetUsTalk began to spread.

“I used to secretly remove my hijab just to feel the air in my hair. This ideology stole my life,” tweeted an exiled Saudi woman, Rana Ahmad. “Another day in Germany, where I walk under the sun without this hijab that makes me feel like a second-class citizen, like I did when I was in Saudi Arabia…,” wrote another exiled Saudi woman, Loujain. “In Yemen, I was forced to wear the hijab at the age of six and the niqab at the age of thirteen, and when I decided to take it off, half of my family abandoned me, and then when I took off the hijab and the abaya, I lost everything,” confesses Basma Nasser, who now lives in France.

Hundreds of similar stories are now being posted and shared on Twitter, contradicting both the defenders of Islamism, who stage Islamophobia trials, and some Western feminists, who have blindly adopted the mantra “hijab is a choice.”

To be honest, I didn’t expect my message to create such a wave around the world,” Masih Alinejad confessed to Charlie. This time it’s not just Iranian women speaking out. I see how this campaign has united many women from Muslim countries or Muslim communities in the West. All these stories are full of pain. We are trying to make the rest of the world understand that we, the women who have lived under Sharia law, are the ones who know the most about Islamic ideologies and that we have the right to be afraid of all the brutality we have suffered. I have the right to tell my story!”

They want to be able to tell their stories without being accused of Islamophobia.

But they also want to be heard by Western feminists, many of whom have taken up sexist religious rules of modesty and disguised them as symbols of “empowerment”. “#LetUsTalk is aimed at Westerners, especially feminists, asking them to stand in solidarity with women oppressed by Islamic law,” another Iranian woman, who resides in France, Aghdas Khanoom (pseudonym), tells Charlie. “I have been silenced in my country, and now in the free world. And it is even more painful.” A sentiment also shared by Shammi Haque, a Bangladeshi journalist exiled in Germany: “I decided to participate in this campaign in the hope that Western feminists would understand our pain and suffering, that they would understand what the veil/hijab really means and stop promoting it. In the name of diversity or to protect minorities, German feminists are blinded by their privilege.” Basma Nasser, a Yemeni student exiled in France, also insists that “there are some political currents in France that consider hijab as a choice and see it as an Arab culture, which is not true; how can we say that hijab is a ‘personal choice’, if there are no other options, if rebellion against hijab is a crime in many countries.”

And while in the West rebellion against hijab is not a crime under the law, confessions posted via #LetUsTalk reveal that many women do not experience hijab as a “choice” in Western countries either. “I converted to Islam when I was 28. I fully accepted all the rules and practices. Hijab was never an option. I never questioned it until the end of my marriage, when I started to take it off sometimes when I was alone. When my husband found out, he told me it was grounds for divorce,” tweets Deborah from the UK. “In Canada, I was forced to wear hijab at age 9, the niqab at age 19. I was disowned and threatened with death because I choose what I wear on my body,” says Yasmine Mohammed, who escaped a forced marriage and became a women’s rights activist. She points out that in the West, women in Muslim communities can be forced to cover themselves not by law but by devious methods, “including being told that only whores don’t cover themselves and being threatened with burning in hell for eternity.”

Indeed, while Iranian women continue to be imprisoned for removing their hijab, while Afghan women resist the Taliban who are once again erasing women from public space, in the West we are busy promoting the wearing of hijab, in fashion, in advertising, and in the media, all the while patting ourselves on the back for our tolerance… And Middle Eastern women in the West who dare to speak out against the dress code of modesty are silenced by the Islamists on the right, and by the “progressives” on the left. Let them speak!

CHARLIE HEBDO

Date: December 13th
Time:
 6:15 pm EST
Location: Online via Zoom
Host: John Avlon
Speakers: Senator Chris Coons, Garry Kasparov, Masih Alinejad




Global democracy is facing its greatest threats since the Cold War. Freedom House reports that for the 15th consecutive year, dictatorships are on the rise. Please join the Renew Democracy Initiative on December 13th, at 6:15 PM EST for a discussion on how democracies can unite to turn the tide of authoritarianism after President Biden’s international “Summit for Democracy”. What impact will the summit have on the fight for global freedom? How can free nations come together to fight back against encroaching authoritarianism? 

John Avlon, anchor for CNN’s morning news segment New Day, will host this conversation with U.S. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, RDI and Human Rights Foundation chairman Garry Kasparov, and Iranian-American journalist and broadcaster Masih Alinejad.


Meet the Speakers

John Avlon is senior political analyst and commentator at CNN. Between 2013 and 2018,  he was the editor-in-chief and managing director of The Daily Beast, during which time the site’s traffic more than doubled to over one million readers a day. Avlon is the author of numerous books including Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics, Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America, and Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations as well as co-editor of the acclaimed Deadline Artists anthologies of America’s greatest newspaper columns. Avlon won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists award for best online columnist 2012.


Chris Coons is a U.S. Senator from Delaware, a position he’s held since winning election in 2010. In office, he has partnered with Republicans and Democrats alike to address key issues facing Delaware and the country. Chris serves on the Senate Appropriations, Foreign Relations, Judiciary, Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and Ethics committees. He is the chair of the Ethics Committee and the senior Democrat on two subcommittees: The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and Law and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations (SFOPS).


Masih Alinejad is an Iranian American author, TV broadcaster, human rights campaigner, and journalist who was forced to flee Iran for her safety in 2009 after criticizing lawmakers and political figures, including former President Ahmadinejad. Because of her advocacy work, she became the target of a kidnapping attempt by Iranian intelligence agents while living in the U.S. in 2021. Described by The New York Times as “the woman whose hair frightens Iran,” she has been a leading voice in the campaign against compulsory hijabs in Iran. Masih is the founder of My Stealthy Freedom and is the author of the best-selling memoir The Wind in My Hair.


Garry Kasparov is a World Chess Champion, political activist, and outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He fled Russia when Putin won a third term, fearing prosecution when Putin began conducting sham investigations into political activists involved in Russia’s mass protests of 2011. Garry was a prime target as the founder of the United Civil Front, an organization devoted to preserving electoral democracy in Russia, and as a former candidate for Russia’s presidency. Garry initially rose to stardom as the youngest World Chess Champion in history at age 22. He leveraged this fame for a distinguished post-chess career promoting liberal democracy in Russia and abroad. In 2017, he founded the Renew Democracy Initiative and has been an outspoken advocate of human rights & freedom around the world.


RDI

Democratic Senators Ben Cardin and Republican Pat Toomey introduced legislation on Dec. 2, 2021 that would propose sanctions be placed on the Islamic Republic over the foiled plot to kidnap Iranian-American journalist and women’s rights activist, Masih Alinejad.

Both senators said their legislation would seek to hold Tehran accountable for a plot to kidnap Alinejad. They also said it would help prevent any other attempted kidnapping on U.S. soil by foreign adversaries.

“If you dare to attempt to come to our nation and kidnap an American citizen, there will be dire consequences,” Cardin said at the news conference. 

The lawmakers added they will do everything possible to have the bill passed and sent the desk of President Biden to sign it into law. 

The current path of the proposed bill is unclear, according to a report by Reuters, though Toomey offered some optimism.

“I am cautiously optimistic,” Toomey said at the news conference. 

The Department of Justice charged four Iranian nationals in July with conducting a plot to kidnap the Brooklyn-based Alinejad for publishing material that was critical of the country’s government. 

In a statement, the Department of Treasury said in September that the four Iranian intelligence operatives will be sanctioned for their failed plot attempt, Reuters reported. 

“I was honored to join @senatorCardin and @SenToomey as they introduced the bipartisan “Masih Alinejad Harassment and Unlawful Targeting Act,” Alienjad wrote in a tweet on Thursday. “More senators are lining up to support. It’s time to punish Islamic Republic terrorism and threats against journalists and activists.”

NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE Journalist and activist Masih Alinejad is the voice of millions of Iranian women rebelling on social media against the forced use of the hijab. Exiled in the United States, Masih uses her freedom to lead one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in today’s Iran and amplify the protest in her home country. Filmmaker Nahid Persson (Prostitution Behind the Veil; The Queen and I) follows Masih as her courage is tested when violence and oppression threaten her own family members. – Thom Powers

This screening will be followed by a Q&A with subject Masih Alinejad.

EVENT DETAILS

All guests & staff will be required to comply with our Health & Safety protocols while attending DOC NYC events. For the latest information, please review our policies here.Director: Nahid Persson
Producer: Nahid Persson, Setareh Lundgren
Cinematographer: Nahid Persson, Kambiz Foroohar, R.H. A.F.
Editor: Nahid Persson, Rostam Persson
Music: Natali Noor
Language: Farsi, English
Country: Iran, USA, Sweden, Norway, UK
Year: 2021

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