The Iranian regime critic Masih Alinejad also blames Western politicians.
taz on the weekend: Ms. Alinejad, your protests against being forced to wear a hijab have made you well known. Can you still remember when you had to wear the headscarf for the first time?
Iranian journalist, activist, critic of the regime. Lives in exile in the USA. Almost 8 million people follow her on social media.
Masih Alinejad: I grew up in a traditional home and had to wear the hijab at home from an early age. Whenever my father wasn't around, I took off my hijab and enjoyed my freedom, secretly, in secret. From the age of seven you can no longer go to school in Iran if you do not wear a hijab. My brother and I went to school together, I just wanted to be as free as him. I started my own revolution from my family's kitchen - not for freedom, but simply to be the kid I really was.
And when did you decide to go public with your revolution?
I never intended to leave Iran forever. But I had two choices: stay in Iran and practice self-censorship, or leave the country and get loud. I know myself: no one can shut me up. When I left Iran in 2009, my main focus as a journalist was political reporting. One day I was jogging and I posted a photo of myself on my Facebook page saying, "Wow!
Every time I walk in a free country and feel the wind in my hair, it reminds me of the time when that same hair was held hostage in the hands of the Iranian government.” Women who envied my freedom bombed me with messages. We need a women's revolution.
What do you mean?
We need to let women speak. We should not downplay their concerns, not say that we have to solve political problems first. So I decided to give them a voice. I launched an online campaign under the hashtag #mystealthyfreedom, and later there was also an offline campaign, #whitewednesdays.
Anyone opposed to the forced hijab are told to wear something white on Wednesday, be it an article of clothing or an accessory. In just one day, I received over 90 videos from participants. For me the hijab is not just a small piece of cloth. If we start taking it off, then the Islamic Republic will be no more.
How does Iran react to your activism?
The Iranian regime arrested my brother and imprisoned him for two years to punish me. It specially created a law that says that anyone who sends videos to me, for example as part of my hashtag campaigns, will be punished with ten years in prison. The government dragged my sister onto Iranian television to publicly disown me.
They tried to kidnap me from New York. Recently, the FBI arrested a man with a loaded assault rifle outside my home. But they failed to silence me. And I hope that they will not succeed in selling their narrative to leftists and liberals in the West.
1979 Revolutionary leader Khomeini issues the first decree forcing women to wear headscarves in government offices. This leads to the first protests against the forced hijab in the young Islamic Republic.
1981 The headscarf will be compulsory for all women over the age of nine.
2014 Masih Alinejad is calling on Iranian women to share photos of themselves without a hijab online using the hashtag #mystealthyfreedom ("My Secret Freedom").
2017 Under the hashtag #whitewednesdays, she calls for people to wear something white on Wednesday as a public sign of protest against the forced hijjab.
2022 Mahsa "Zhina" Amini is beaten by the morality police during a dress code inspection and dies.
For Mahsa "Zhina" Amini, this revolution ended fatally. How did you feel when you received this message?
I was very depressed when I heard that she was in a coma. I forgot my private life, canceled all my appointments. Many girls and women sent me videos of them crying and saying, "I could have been Mahsa," because we've all been arrested by the vice squad. None of the world's politicians have taken this problem seriously so far.
When Mahsa died, I thought: How many more should sacrifice their lives like her? I knew that one day the regime will kill people for the hijab. But nobody listened to me. I was not only depressed but also angry. In 2014 I challenged women politicians: If you travel to Iran and follow these barbaric laws and wear a hijab, it means that you legitimize our oppressors to put even more pressure on us.
After Mahsa's brutal death, I blame not only the Islamic Republic but also all women politicians who wore the hijab in Iran. For example, Claudia Roth from the Greens: When I asked her why she was bowing down to this, she replied that there were so many bigger problems that we had to solve. Bigger than Mahsa's life?
There are voices in the public and the media that regard the fight against the headscarf as a Western discourse - including in the taz.
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It's an insult to us in the Middle East when you say that. This argument is used by many women politicians when they come to my country. I think that's racism. The obligatory hijab is not our culture, but the culture of the Taliban and the Islamic Republic, it is the most important symbol of the religious dictatorship. They see women's bodies as a political platform on which to write their ideology. As a woman, I deserve to have dignity.
I will the author of the taz text not attack, not even the taz as a medium. But I do attack this argument. We women should be united, show solidarity and not allow men and religious dictatorships to spread a false narrative. Freedom of choice is a universal value. Hijab can only really be a choice when all women around the world have the freedom to choose whether or not to wear it.
Germany's Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock from the Greens, has committed herself to a feminist foreign policy. Do you believe in this concept?
As a feminist, I stand up for my values. None of the western feminists have done so yet - all have submitted to compulsory hijab in Iran. The whole world has condemned the burkini ban in France. Why do they care about the right of Muslim women to wear a burkini but not the millions of women in Iran, in Afghanistan, in the Middle East who are being forced to do so? Is that feminism?
No, it's hypocrisy. Unless Western feminists change their attitude towards Middle Eastern women, they will not succeed. You could learn what a true feminist is from women in Afghanistan and Iran.
What do you want from Western politicians?
That they will not legitimize the Taliban and the Islamic Republic of Iran until the day they disappear. The Taliban cannot be reformed. and the Islamic Republic cannot be reformed either. For 44 years, women in Iran have not been allowed to choose what to wear. I want western feminists to crack down on this gender apartheid regime and Islamist states.
If the Taliban and the Islamic Republic do not allow Western politicians and feminists to choose what to wear to meetings with them, they will never take them seriously as politicians making much larger decisions.
Can you remember the last time you wore the hijab?
Yes, I was already in the West by then. There are no moral police here, no laws that prescribe it. But this is the result of oppression from the age of seven. It took three years for me to take it off. I've always said: This is my culture, this is my decision. I lied to myself I've been told my whole life that if I don't wear the hijab I'll go to hell.
I was brainwashed. And I didn't want to break my parents' hearts. I didn't want to lose my community. It was difficult to find my own identity. I was born in a Muslim family. According to Iranian law, if you say you no longer want to be a Muslim, you are considered a “murtad” – an apostate. And that means you can be executed.
Would you describe yourself as a Muslim?
In the West, I keep getting asked the same question: Why are you against Islam? I answer: Why is Islam against me? I am against Islamism and political Islam. I don't call myself an ex-Muslim - just a free person.