Veil protests present Iran with its “Berlin Wall” moment, activist says

Veil protests present Iran with its “Berlin Wall” moment, activist says


Iran may use the Islamic veil as a tool of repression, but the hijab is also the weakest pillar of an embattled regime trying to forestall its own “Berlin Wall” moment, a New York-based Iranian-American activist tells AFP.

Masih Alinejad, 45, who fled Iran in 2009, rose to prominence in 2014 after launching a social media campaign called, which encourages Iranian women to protest their country’s obligation to wear hijab.

Iranian women’s rejection of the mandatory hijab, she believes, will have an impact similar to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.

The journalist and activist now has 500,000 followers on Twitter and eight million followers on Instagram, where she posts dozens of photos or videos of Iranian women taking off their hijab or pictures of the violent repression in her homeland every day.

She has become a voice in exile for the protests that have rocked Iran since their first spark: the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of Tehran’s morality police.

Alinejad’s public profile increased significantly in mid-2021, when US prosecutors charged four “Iranian intelligence agents” with plotting to kidnap her in 2018 and bring her back to Iran, where one of her brothers was also being held.

Iran denied any involvement in the system.

– ‘The Weakest Pillar’ –

“For me, the mandatory hijab is like the Berlin Wall. If we tear down this wall, the Islamic Republic will not exist,” Alinejad told AFP, while a flower peeked out from her curly and voluminous hair.

The comparison to the fall of the Berlin Wall is dear to her heart, apparently stinging Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who said in a speech this week “US political elements “didn’t get tired of the analogy for the death of a young girl.” , but instead have broader political goals.

“This actually shows you that the compulsory hijab is the weakest pillar of the Islamic Republic. That is why the regime is really afraid of this revolution,” Alinejad said.

She argued that if Iranian women manage to say no “to those who tell them what to wear, those women will be stronger to say no to (a) dictator”.

The crackdown on the demonstrations resulted in the deaths of dozens of people, human rights organizations say.

The hijab “is a tool to oppress us … to control women” and “to control all of society through women,” Alinejad said.

Iran’s TikTok generation protests against the use of women’s bodies as a “political platform for our government to let the Islamic regime write its own ideology”.

– ‘I’m not safe here’ –

Far from her native land, Alinejad has found employment hosting a program on the Persian service of Voice of America, the US government-funded broadcaster. She was also criticized on social media for her staunch opposition to any negotiations with Tehran on nuclear issues. Some see it as serving US interests and fueling Islamophobia.

She offers a sharp reply that brings tears to her eyes: “I invite you all to go to Afghanistan, to go to Iran, to live under Sharia.”

She regularly denounces Western heads of state for wearing headscarves when visiting Iran, notably former French minister Segolene Royal or former European Union representative Italian Federica Mogherini.

“The hijab can only be a choice on the day when all women around the world can choose what to wear,” she said.

Alinejad says fear has been a constant presence both in Iran and abroad. Speaking figuratively for Iranian women at large, she said: “From the age of seven I could (not) go to school if I didn’t cover this hair. I get lashes. i’m going to jail I will be killed.”

Life in exile in the United States has its own perils. “I’m not safe here in America,” she said, recalling the 2018 kidnapping attempt against her.

Recently, in late July, a man was arrested after loitering around her home in Brooklyn. The FBI found a Kalashnikov in his car. Since then, the activist has had to move.

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