Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Virtual Revolution of Iranian Women

— By: Alexandra Kinias —

In defiance to the rule of the Mullahs that hijacked their liberties and rights and has been keeping them hostage for the past 35 years, women in Iran have finally been given a global platform and an opportunity to share with the world their stolen moments of freedom. Thanks to the young exiled Iranian British journalist Masih Alinejad who created ‘My Stealthy Freedom’ [1], a Facebook page that became the voice for Iranian women to share their photos without their headscarves and to reveal their true sentiments about Hijab and how it has shaped their lives.

It all started when Alinejad shared her photograph on Facebook that was taken while she was running down a London street without a headscarf, and which she accompanied with the comment, “Every time that I run in London, feeling the wind in my hair, I remember that my hair is like a hostage in the hands of the Islamic Republic government.” [2]

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Masih Alinejad running down a London street without a headscarf. Photo taken from Facebook

“I was sure that most Iranian women who don’t believe in the forced hijab have enjoyed freedom in secret,” she says [3]. She asked her friends and followers if they would too like to share their experiences of stealthy freedom from their headscarves. However, she had not anticipated that this invitation to share their stolen moments of freedom would create such a global buzz. With the scores of photos she received from Iranian women who responded to her call, the page attracted the attention of the world and exposed the realities of the conditions that these women are living in. And within less than a month, her post had ignited a movement that gained enormous momentum and sparked a virtual revolution that exceeded the expectations of Alinejad herself. The page was followed by more than a quarter of a million people from every corner of the globe, and counting. They joined to support these women who are fighting a battle to achieve their basic human right and to applaud their bravery and their act of rebellion against the status-quo, and a tyrannical regime. What was even more compelling was the encouragement that these women received from Iranian men who supported them in their battle. Many of the photos were taken with or by husbands, fathers, sons and often boyfriends. Yet with their hands tied there isn’t much they can do, for they too suffer under this theocratic rule.

On her Facebook page and in various interviews, Alinejad explained that she had not created ‘My Stealthy Freedom’ with a political intent and neither is she against the veil that her mother is still wearing back home in Iran, – but [rather to support] the right of Iranian women to choose either way. “I have no intention whatsoever to encourage people to defy the forced hijab or stand up against it,” she said. “I just want to give voice to thousands and thousands of Iranian women who think they have no platform to have their say.” [4]

And as agreed by many contributors to the page, their objection is not to the veil, but to its compulsion. On the contrary, many attributed their dismay with the veil is because of their lack of choice. Had they been given the free will to choose, some women confessed that they might have considered to be veiled.

The rigid dress code imposed on the women in Iran doesn’t allow them to choose what they wear in public. And walking the streets without the proper Islamic attire that consists of a chador and a headscarf subjects them to punishments that may vary from a fine to verbal warning, and often detention that can last for few hours, after which a male relative; a brother, father or a husband has to collect them in person from the police station.

The smiles of the women enjoying their stolen moments without the headscarves and their testimonials captured the hearts of people worldwide. ‘My Stealthy Freedom’ posted photos of women of all ages standing in green fields, on snow summits, on the beach, at work, on sand dunes, in the streets, driving their cars and wherever they got a chance to steal these moments away from the eyes of the morality police. With their headscarves held up high and billowing in the wind like colorful banners, some faces were concealed with dark glasses; some women gave their backs to the lens while others gazed daringly to the camera. But none-the-less they all had their hair flaunting on their shoulders, dancing in the wind, as many wrote.

In a photo, where three generations of women from the same family smiled to the camera, the grandmother who stood next to her daughter and granddaughter wrote, “We wish that the new generation tastes this most basic freedom before their hair goes gray. Is this too much to ask?”

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Three generations in one frame at a corner of the street. Photo from Facebook

The heartwarming testimonials of those joyful moments are memorable, yet it is still painful to read what it feels like for these women to be denied a simple pleasure that is taken for granted elsewhere. All they want is the right to choose what to wear. Their stories reinforce the belief that theocratic regimes are out there to steal people’s rights of choice, and happiness. It is not just a head cover, but a sign of control enforced by the government. “[The] hijab is about control,” Alinjejad says. And the “Iranian regime would never want to lose control. [5]

In one photo a woman is standing on the beach with a wide grin on her face and holding the scarf in her hands above her head. “I’ll let the wind blow away the darkness of my scarf. I’ll let the blaze of hope of individual freedom shine in my heart and keep my soul bright and vivid.”

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I’ll let the wind blow away the darkness of my scarf. Photo from Facebook

In another photo where the caption shows that it was shot in 2003, a woman in dark sunglasses stood on the beach with her 6 years old next to her in her bathing suit, her head tilted and her blond curly hair falling on her shoulder. “Despite the fact that there were many police officers there and my family did not think it was a good idea to take my scarf off, I did it; because I really felt like letting my hair feel the wind a little bit. I yearned to turn into a drop of water in the sea. I hope my 6-year old daughter will never have to enjoy her freedom stealthily.”

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I did it because I really felt like letting my hair feel the wind a little bit. I hope my 6-year old daughter will never have to enjoy her freedom stealthily.” Photo from Facebook

A woman giving her back to the camera and looking at extended green meadows wrote, “This is Iran. The feeling of the wind blowing through every strand of hair, is a girl’s biggest dream.”

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“ The feeling of the wind blowing through every strand of hair, is a girl’s biggest dream.”

Another woman wrote, “It felt like God was caressing our hair with his own hands.”

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“It felt like God was caressing our hair with his own hands.” Photo copied from facebook

Alinejad came under attack from conservatives and fundamentals in Iran who accused her of working with foreign governments to promote promiscuous behaviors. She had also been exposed to smear campaigns and would be arrested if she returned to Iran for spreading immorality, “I’m a journalist, I’m doing my job,” she said. “I’m reporting about what exists in Iran, I’m not creating anything.” [6]

In response to her Facebook page, hardcore Islamists rallied the streets of Tehran to call on the government to enforce the country’s strict Islamic dress code for women and to take actions to stop the influence of Westernization that is invading the country. “The youth should be vigilant and be aware that the same enemy that has blocked our access to nuclear science is trying to drive us towards abandoning the hijab and towards corruption,” said one young protester, adding, “It is the same enemy. I ask all my good friends to do a little bit more thinking first, and then do whatever they want.” [7]

Ironically, it was the voice of women who joined this rally that demanded the government to take actions against other women who don’t want to comply with the enforced dress code and warned that they will start another revolution if the Hijab situation does change. And while women pro-hijab are given the right to demonstrate, those who are against it are denied such right.

Even though President Rohani has taken a less strict view of the dress code, allowing looser clothing to be worn in the hot summer months, saying the emphasis should be on virtue rather than fashion [8], yet, his voice is silenced by the conservative Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who have more power than the president when it comes to enforcing the country’s Islamic laws, including the enforcement of the dress code.

In Iran, where demonstrators are crushed and opposition in hunted down, ‘My Stealthy Freedom’ gave women an opportunity to rally against their oppressor from behind their computer screens and their voices echoed worldwide. It is too early to predict how this movement will unfold or what the fate of these courageous women who stood in the front lines exposing their lives to danger would be. No one is immune from the consequences of their actions when governed by tyrannical oppressive regimes, especially the ones that are concealed under the religious cloaks. What this movement had succeeded so far to accomplish is that it has exposed the lies and the fake image that the Islamic government has been projecting to the west. The news about women’s rights in Iran has always been portrayed from one side. Thanks to the cyber age and the social media for playing a viable role in making the voices of the oppressed women heard. ‘My Stealthy Freedom’ is a drop in the ocean for these women who put their lives in the crossfire to pave the road to the future generations to be able to enjoy their freedom.

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“Hoping for the day when all my nation’s women can taste freedom with their whole bodies and souls.” Photo from Facebook

“Hoping for the day when all my nation’s women can taste freedom with their whole bodies and souls,” one woman wrote.

(All pictures are copied from the Facebook page, “My Stealthy Freedom” and its creator’s Masih Alinejad’s page. The property and copyright are of their respective owners)

References:
1- My Stealthy Freedom
2 – Iranian women defy law, shed hijabs in public for ‘Stealthy Freedoms’ campaign
http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/iranian-women-defy-law-shed-hijabs-in-public-for-stealthy-freedoms-campaign-1.1824491#ixzz32lNgfuIG
3- ibid
4- ibid
5. The Facebook page where Iran’s women are unveiling on line
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/18/the-facebook-page-where-iran-s-women-are-unveiling-online.html
6- Iranian women defy law, shed hijabs in public for ‘Stealthy Freedoms’ campaignhttp://www.ctvnews.ca/world/iranian-women-defy-law-shed-hijabs-in-public-for-stealthy-freedoms-campaign-1.1824491#ixzz32lNgfuIG
7- Iran women’s “stealthy freedom” dress code backlash
http://www.euronews.com/2014/05/17/iran-women-s-stealthy-freedom-dress-code-backlash/
8-ibid

 

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Changes

Article and photographs by: Bente Haarstad

Published with author’s approval.

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Norway have changed a great deal the last years. The population has grown more than 10 percent in just a few years. Now we are 5.1 million people, 0.5 million more than in 2005. All this growth because of immigration, because Norwegians are like the rest of Western Europe, in decline. Immigrants now accounts for 15 percent of the population, in the capital Oslo, 31 percent, and for the third year in a row Muhammad is the most popular name for newborn boys. It used to be Per, or Ole.

These photos are from a walk in Oslo a short time back. That is a part of the city called Greenland (Grønland). “I can honestly say that when I walk through the streets of Greenland where I live, it does not feel as though I live in Norway,” wrote Mina Bai recently. She is a refugee from Iran living in Norway: “It feels more like it’s Norway that has been integrated into other cultures than that immigrants are integrated in Norway. Covered women, big halal banners, coffee and tea houses filled with men and with mosques collection consists only of men” (my translation).

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I took these pictures in March, and I must say it was a shock for me to not only see numerous women completely covered in niqab walking the streets, but also shops selling full cover for children. It was a shock because I have been supporting human rights and womens rights since an early age, and I live in a country that rank as one of the most equal countries in the world. Haven’t I heard that these things is a matter of free choice? Yes, absolutely, and I don’t belive it. In these matters I listen to feminists who knows better, like Egyptian Mona Eltahawy. In this brilliant interview with Al Jazeera she comment about niqabs: if somebody chooses to be a slave, am I supposed to support that choice, because they chose it?” You can read a transcript here.

Walking in this district of Oslo I passed four mosques in a matter of few minutes. That is also a big change. Norway have been a Christian country for 1000 years, and until 30-40 years ago it was more or less the only religion, except for a few Jews, a few atheists etc. In 1974 a group of 20-30 muslims of Pakistani origin established the first mosque in Norway, Islamic Culture Centre. Since then there are many, and about 200.000 muslims. In comparision there are about 1300 Jews in Norway.

But is it a problem? No religion is a problem for me. Religion is a personal matter as I see it, but it is of course also culture, history, communal rituals, and not the least: politics. And we have got our share of political Islam by these changes. And that is certainly a problem, a problem that large parts of the Norwegian society do not take seriously. Partly because they do not know enough, partly because the subject is not politically correct.

The Nordic countries, these small countries on the brinck of the North Pole are exporting Syria-bound jihadists. About 40-50 Norwegian jihadists have gone to Syria to fight for extremist groups, and at least six of them are believed to be killed. Last week we got news of two, among them Norwegian-Albanian Egzon Avdyli (25) who is said to have been killed fighting for the al-Qaeda-group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). When this was known a leader from The Islamic Council Norway, an organization for 43 mosques and muslim organizations in Norway, commented that “there is not a big difference between the combat training that Norwegian Muslims get in Syriaand the training given in the military service.” Well, that is not true. I would say it is the opposite: The military training given in Norway is to be able to defend a democracy if neccessary, while organizations like ISIL wants to abolish democracies and impose totalitarian rule.Some wants to start in the Western country they live in, like Anjem Choudary, a British islamist who also have followers in Scandinavia. In this video he talks about why there should be sharia laws in the UK.

Less than eights months ago about 70 innocent people were brutally murdered in a shopping mall in Kenya. A Norwegian citizen is believed to have been among the al-Shabaab terrorists, also a group connected to al-Qaeda. Norwegian media writes about this for a couple of weeks, then it gets silent, hardly a word since then. I know this suspect is probably dead and can’t defend himself, but I still find it strange. This terrible incident have so many similarities with the terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, who less than three years ago killed 77 innocent people in Norway, also because of a crazy political idea. I find 4.5 million hits if I google Behring Breivik, only a few if I google Nordmann + Westgate. Strange since they are both terrorists from peaceful Norway. The big diference must be the etnicity. Or the religion they used as alibi for atrocity.

So why mention all this after a stroll in Oslo? Because I think this country is changing too fast, and because we have failed in integration. Not only failed of course. There are immigrants who do perfectly well,  as scientists, many journalists in major newsrooms, and we had a Muslim in our last government. But we also have a lot of immigrants who don’t talk Norwegian (among them 14.000 schoolchildren only in Oslo), more than 5000 asylum seekers who the local communities refuse to settle, schools with hardly any Norwegian pupils, thousands of illiterates who will maybe never get an education or a job, an increasing number of poor families, and a new working class. Many immigrants have problems getting a job, and if they do it will often be a low paid one.

The largest groups of immigrants in Norway is people from Sweden and Poland, who come here to work. But we are also among the countries that grants most asylum applications, 46 percent got a “yes” in 2013. The European Union  granted refugee status to 15 percent of the asylum seekers last year.

Somalis are now the largest group of immigrants from non-western countries in Norway. Last month it was revealed that hundreds of Somali children have been sent abroad alone, many because they don’t want their children to be too “Norwegian”.  They come as refugees, but do they really need protection if they send their children back to that same country? And why are so many immigrants (not all by all means) against the values and human rights in their new country if persecution made them flee ? And why threats or attacks on people of their own community who don’t behave in “the old way”. The lesbian writer Amal Aden is one example, or the musician and director Deeyah, of Pakistani origin, who had to flee Norways because of threats from her own community. Last year she won an Emmy Award for her film Banaz A Love Story, about honour killing. Deeyah has not moved back to Norway were she was born, and I wonder if eyes are still closed.

There are 14.800 people in Norway now waiting for asylum, or to be sent back. Sweden receives even more refugeesNine out of ten asylum seekers have no paperwork on who they are. Sweden gives them permit to stay in a far greater extent than other Nordic countries. In Sweden there is even less discussions on this topic than in Norway. And you can loose your job if you do, claims the former journalist Gunnar Sandelin. He has written abook together with Karl-Olov Arnstberg that is bestselling even if it is said to have got only one devastating review in Sweden (“Same old rascism in a new wrapping”). I agree with a Norwegian editor that comment on the lack of debate “If one does not discuss the numbers and also the resourcespeople come withhow can one then discuss what is needed for creating sustainable societyAnd if you do not discuss numbershow do you thenhave an overall plan for the reception?” But it is a difficult topic to write about, the possibility of being misunderstood is imminent.

Tony Blair are among the spokesmen that have warned about radical Islam lately. Researchers in UK have recently revealed that radical Muslim clerics based also in countries like USA and Australia are using social media to incite westerners waging jihad in Syria.  In Nigeria the Nobel Prize Winner Professor Wole Soyinka in the same way now warns against Boko Haram threatening humanity, after the abduction of more than 200 school girls by the islamist group. This week the leader of the group sent out a video with a horrifying message. I think it is time to fight such groups and such destructive ideologies even if they live amongst us, not the least if they live amongst us. And to support the moderate and secular, like Ahmed Akkari, a Danish imam who started a fire by damning Muhammad cartoons some years ago, now a former islamist.

Some pages I recommend: Mona EltahawyThe Islamic Far Right of BritainHate Speech InternationalQui Sont les Freres Musulmans/Hva er det muslimske brorskapetMuslims Facing TomorrowFree ArabsOpplyste muslimer,

No person in these pictures are in any way involved in any of the stories mentioned.

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