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‘Phobia is an irrational fear, my fear is real’ – Meet Masih Alinejad, the Iranian-American journalist on a mission against compulsory Hijab in Islamic nations

Masih Alinejad is an author, journalist and speaker. In her campaign against compulsory hijab in Islamic Republic, she has called out hypocrisy of western countries as they failed to raise voice against atrocities faced by women in Iran for not wearing hijab.

Masih Alinejad is an Iranian-American journalist, author and women’s rights activist, who has been fighting a battle against Islamic veils for women made mandatory in Islamic nations. Born on September 11, 1976, in Iran, Masih is now an American citizen. She has been politically conscious from a very young age. Masih was arrested for the first time in 1994 when she produced leaflets critical of the Iranian regime. Masih fled Iran in 2009 and got United States citizenship in 2019.

Masih regularly shares her views against compulsory Hijab. On May 8, she re-shared an old video under the #LetUsTalk campaign of herself explaining the atrocities women face in Islamic regimes if they remove the Hijab. In the video, she had her head covered initially. She said, “This is what the Islamic Republic wants me to be. This is what Taliban and ISIS want us to be.”

She then removed her head cover and continued, “In Iran, I was if I take off my Hijab I will be hanged with my hair by God. I will get kicked out of school. I will get lashes. I will get jailed. I will get fined. I will get beaten up in the street every day by the morality police. If I get raped, it is my fault. If I take off my Hijab, I won’t be able to exist as a woman in my homeland. In the West, I am told that if I share my stories, then I will cause Islamophobia. I am a woman from middle-east, and I am scared of Islamic Laws. I am scared of all the brutalities that I have experienced. Phobia is an irrational fear, but my fear and fear of million of other women who lived under Sharia law in the middle-east is rational. So let us talk.”

On January 18, in a series of Tweets, Masih expressed her views on compulsory Hijab and told what all Islamic Republic had done to keep her silent. She said, “If you think we are safe in the West, this is what the Islamic Republic did to keep me silent. State TV faked my rape scene. Put my brother in jail for two years. Interrogated my 70-year-old mom. Brought my sister on TV to disown me. Tried to kidnap me from New York.”

Iran allegedly attempted to kidnap Masih from the US

On July 14, Masih published a video in Iranian. She said, “The police have been around my home for the past two weeks now. When I asked them why they were here, they told me it was to protect me. This is also what the FBI told me. They said they would tell me later, but that the police have to be here often. They are here from 5 AM to midnight. I am so not used to being protected by the police. Every time I see them, I assume it’s to arrest me. Yes, I am also worried. I see them often, even when I get out to check on the flowers in my garden. But it imbues me with a feeling of safety when I see the police protect me. This would not have happened in my homeland. It’s a weird feeling.”

A day before Masih had posted the video, Federal Prosecutors had said in a statement that the investigation agencies had foiled a plan by the Iranian government to kidnap Masih. In a sealed submission in a federal court in Manhattan, the prosecutors charged four Iranians with conspiracy to kidnap her.

Though she was not named in the documents, the federal prosecutors confirmed that she was the target in an interview. Out of the four Iranians accused in the case, one was 50-year-old Iranian intelligence official Alireza Shavaroghi Farahani. The other three were mentioned as Intelligence Assets. One accused was arrested in the case that was a supporter of the plot but not actively involved in the kidnapping attempt.

U.S. attorney in Manhattan Audrey Strauss had said, “A U.S. citizen living in the United States must be able to advocate for human rights without being targeted by foreign intelligence operatives.”

Masih and anti-Hijab campaign

In 2014, she started a Facebook page called “My Stealthy Freedom”. The aim was to protest against compulsory hijab in Iran. She argued that it should be a personal choice and not a compulsion by law. In 2017, the campaign escalated, and activists began removing Hijab in public as a form of protest. The Iranian government responded in a violent manner and arrested protesters.

Western female politicians are hypocrites, said, Masih

On multiple occasions, Masih has called out the hypocrisy of the western female politicians over compulsory Hijab. In 2016, while addressing a panel in European Parliament, she said when France imposed a ban on Burkini, she stood with the Muslim women against it. However, when the time came to stand against compulsory Hijab in the Islamic Republic, no one came forward.

She said when Western female politicians visit Iran, they wear Hijab and say they want to respect the law and culture of the country. However, when Iranian women like her wanted to talk about the atrocities they faced because of compulsory Hijab, they were not allowed to do so. Masih added she heard an excuse that Hijab was a small issue. On the contrary, if Hijab was a small issue, why the Iranian government would spend millions of dollars to ensure women get punished for not wearing the Hijab.

She said, “Who said Hijab was a smaller issue when the Government of Iran arrested 3.6 million women within a year just because not having a proper Islamic Hijab. 18,000 of these women were sent to the court. 40,000 cars were impounded in public. Why? Because the female drivers were not wearing proper Islamic Hijab”.

The Hijab controversy in India

While activists like Masih are protesting against Hijab in their homeland and seeking support from female politicians from across the world, India is facing a different issue altogether. The Hijab controversy that erupted in Karnataka has spread to many parts of the country.

The controversy began earlier in January when several Muslim students were denied entry to classes because they wore hijabs. As the controversy went on, numerous more institutions joined in to prohibit burqa-clad students from attending classes, alleging a breach of their institute’s uniform guidelines. The matter was raised in the Karnataka High Court.

Later in March, the Karnataka High Court stated that the Hijab is not an essential practice of the Islamic faith, and therefore, all the petitions filed by Muslim girl students seeking permission to wear hijabs in educational institutions stand dismissed. The matter is now listed in the Supreme Court.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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