Many in West misunderstand Iranian women’s protests
For the third consecutive week, demonstrations are taking place across Iran following the murder of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old from Iranian Kurdistan, by the so-called morality police in Tehran. Amini collapsed at a detention center, where the police had detained her for violating the strict law forcing women and girls to cover their hair with a hijab or headscarf.
Of course, by now, most of the world knows what the role of the morality police in Iran is. Basically, they roam the streets in their vehicles, monitoring about 40 million women and girls and punishing them if they violate the oppressive rules. Can you imagine a group of powerful men stopping women and girls in the middle of the road to examine their outfits, hair, the length of their clothes and even how much makeup they are wearing?
Denouncing the killing of Amini, thousands of women and girls in Iran have shown unparalleled courage, burning their headscarves or cutting their hair to show their rage.
This is not the first time women have expressed their rejection of an oppressive regime that imposes a specific dress code and punishes them with imprisonment, torture or even death if they violate these strict teachings.
Their bravery has impressed the world and inspired millions of people around the globe to march in solidarity with this movement. Worldwide rallies have expressed support for the free people of Iran in their struggle against their autocratic regime. Pro-Iranian women’s rallies spread from the US to England, France, Germany and Australia. Even the women of Afghanistan, who are suffering from similar religious fascism, expressed their solidarity with the Iranians.
People posted hundreds of videos online of people in Iran and abroad burning thousands of scarves as a symbol of oppression.
The White House quickly imposed sanctions on the country’s morality police. According to the New York Times, it also approved activating satellite links and other internet services to help the protesters communicate, despite the Iranian attempts to block internet access in the country.
Since the beginning of the protests, Western media outlets have praised the bravery of the female demonstrators and sought to anticipate the fate of the Iranian regime if the protests were to continue.
However, many in the West have suggested that the headscarf is a tool of Islamic oppression and have portrayed the events as a protest against Islam and religious restrictions. That is where they have gone wrong. Reducing the Iranian women’s struggle and uprising just to removing their hijab is unfair to them.
The West needs to understand that these women are fighting for their freedom of choice, freedom of faith and freedom to determine their future and lifestyle. That narrative could include several countries around the globe.
Since 2014, Iran’s women have been posting photos and videos on their social media accounts of themselves not wearing a hijab. The practice was part of an online protest campaign called “My Stolen Freedom,” which inspired several other movements, including “White Wednesdays” and the “Revolutionary Street Girls.”
The concept of women covering their hair by wearing a veil or hijab for religious purposes has been practiced by all three major monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — as well as other faiths and cultures.
Discussing the issue of women wearing headscarves or not has become a global political argument, rather than being about radical Islamist governments that force their ideologies on women.
Although I am a non-practicing Muslim woman, I feel the need to defend other women who choose to wear the headscarf and explain why they might do so.
I have spent all my adult life fighting for women’s rights: To free them from the grip of men who dictate their decisions; those who think that a woman’s education, clothes, future and the way she should live all belong to a male ruler or religious leader, a father or a husband.
Reducing the women’s struggle and uprising just to removing their hijab is unfair to them.
I expect to be respected and accepted for my choice not to wear a hijab; other Muslim women should likewise be respected and accepted in the West no matter their choice.
Having said that, the real issue here is not whether women should cover their hair or not. It should be about women’s right to choose, whether in Iran, the wider Middle East region or even Europe.
I want to remind readers of what the American author and social theorist Thomas Sowell once wrote: “Freedom ultimately means the right of others to do things you do not approve of.”
Dear Mahsa, rest in peace, I am hoping that you and the other Iranian heroines shall not have died in vain.
- Dalia Al-Aqidi is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi