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Opinion by Roya Hakakian

Roya Hakakian is the author of the memoir “Journey From the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran.”

Last fall, Iranian authorities arrested Alireza Alinejad, a 45-year-old father of two, who has not broken any laws, not even according to the officials who jailed him. There would be nothing newsworthy about yet another unwarranted arrest in Iran, except that this one involves an unusual story of familial love, with a brother making a profound sacrifice for the sake of his sister.

Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Iran has temporarily freed more than 50,000 prisoners to combat the disease’s spread in the country’s crowded jails, but Alinejad remains in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, vulnerable to covid-19 infection. At his first court hearing last week, the judge would not specify the charges against him and refused to grant parole. According to Alinejad’s defense attorney, the judge’s questioning focused on his sister’s activities.

His sister is Masih Alinejad, an exiled journalist and prominent critic of the clerical regime’s human rights abuses. She fled Iran in 2009 and has lived since 2014 in New York, where she hosts a TV show on the Voice of America’s Persian service. Her followers on social media, 3.5 million on Instagram alone, outnumber those of the country’s president and the supreme leader combined.

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Masih Alinejad is spearheading a broader movement that both unifies and amplifies the disparate strains of dissent now percolating within Iran.

by Ilan Berman

In late July, Mousa Ghazanfarabadi, the conservative head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, announced publicly that the Iranian regime had identified a new “hostile government” with whom interaction was henceforth banned, punishable by up to a decade in prison. That entity wasn’t the Trump administration, which has launched an escalating campaign of economic pressure against the Islamic Republic over the past year. That entity wasn’t Israel, which Iranian officials have blamed over the years for everything from promoting global homosexuality to using pigeons as nuclear spies. Rather, the target of the blacklisting was a petite forty-two-year-old Iranian-American activist named Masih Alinejad.

At first glance, Alinejad may not seem like a particularly formidable political adversary. Slight and demure, she is unfailingly polite in person and easygoing in demeanor—at least when she isn’t speaking about the Iranian regime. A former reporter who worked for reformist news outlets before becoming fundamentally disenchanted with clerical rule, her personal story is similar to that of many others who have chosen—or been forced—to flee Iran in the four decades since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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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: Gretchen Mullen


In mid-summer of 2017, a social media campaign called White Wednesdays began sharing through Facebook a coordinated effort among Iranians to protest the compulsory hijab by wearing a white hijab on Wednesdays. In this way, women and men who were like-minded could recognize one another by the symbolic color. From there, it has progressed to women sharing photos without their hijabs and now even walking down the street hijab-free and sharing videos of their experiences.

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