By Alia Waheed (Journalist)
As news had flooded in about the uprising in Iran, it feels like the space for these discussions has been dominated by a parallel narrative of western women’s reactions to the events, from Tik Tok videos of women cutting their hair to celebrities like Priyanka Chopra Jonas and French actress Juliette Binoche, centring themselves at the expense of Muslim women’s voices.
Let’s face it, snipping off your split ends in solidarity with women in Iran while maintaining a deafening silence on the hijab ban and the policing of women’s choices in their own countries is not the hot take many of these stars think it is. The posturing by celebrities highlights the underlying Islamophobia inherent in the discussion of events in Iran, as the protests have been weaponised by right wingers who have their own issues with Iran and let’s be blunt about it, their own issues with Islam.
The obsession of Western discourse on the hijab fails to acknowledge that the protests are not about a piece of cloth, but about the patriarchal and oppressive regime.
The obsession of Western discourse on the hijab fails to acknowledge that the protests are not about a piece of cloth, but about the patriarchal and oppressive regime. While yes, the burning of the hijab by some Iranian women shows that this piece of cloth has been politicised, Iranian women have a right to politicize it.However, the hijab has also been politicised by the West, but as a form of oppression for Muslim women.
The focus of the western media onhijab burning has been uncomfortable for the Iranian Muslim women and in fact all Muslim who cherish their hijabs but also have solidarity with their sisterhood in Iran.
“The removal of the compulsory Hijab is not at the centre of this uprising. Women who choose to wear Hijab are fighting in the streets of Iran for freedom, democracy, equality and fundamental changes, which are only possible through regime change,” said Laila Jazayeri, Director of the Association of Anglo-Iranian Women in the UK.
“If we look at the images of the uprising coming from inside Iran on social media, we can see most leaders are women who wear Hijab by choice. They are women of “Resistance Units”. They are the main engine of the protests.”
For celebrities, there is nothing to lose by jumping on the bandwagon and everything to gain in terms of Tik Tok followers and great PR, but for Iranian women in the UK, openly protesting against the regime can have serious consequences for themselves and their family members who still live in Iran.
“Unfortunately, the regime has used dual nationals as bargaining chips and used hostage-taking to get the West to pay large sums or release its terrorist agents in return for the release of dual nationals. Women who never travel to Iran are supporters of the main opposition. Take me for example, I have two death warrants on my head, so I could never go to Iran until the new Revolution,” Jazayeri added.
The whole celebrity driven narrative centres on the white saviour complex which often overrides any discussion on the body autonomy of Muslim women. It also highlights the disconnect many Muslim women feel with mainstream (ie. Western) feminism which they feel demands them to abandon their religious identity, most potently symbolised by the raging debate over the hijab.
“There have been quite a few media outlets who have contextualised the Iranian protests and the ongoing fight for women's rights in Iran around the Western white gaze, using the very real oppression faced by many Iranian women who are mandated to wear the hijab, to fit into their own narrative centred on Islamophobia and the demonisation of Muslims,”
“There have been quite a few media outlets who have contextualised the Iranian protests and the ongoing fight for women's rights in Iran around the Western white gaze, using the very real oppression faced by many Iranian women who are mandated to wear the hijab, to fit into their own narrative centred on Islamophobia and the demonisation of Muslims,” said Shahed Ezaydi, author of the soon to be published book ‘The Othered Woman: How White Feminism Harms Muslim Women.’
“Mandating the hijab and inflicting violence on those who don't comply has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with a repressive state of control. It's a narrative based in white feminism which perpetuates the myth that the liberation of Muslim women is through the removal of the hijab, hyperfocusing on this one item of clothing whilst ignoring our lived experiences. The hijab has been highly politicised in recent years, especially in the European context and more recently in India, and the movement happening in Iran right now is simply the other side of that same coin. Iranian women are fighting for the right to choose whether or not they wear the hijab, and this fight has the same central premise as Muslim women who are pushing back on the hijab bans. To wear a hijab is a woman's choice, and not the business of any state or government.”
Between western celebs and right-wing politicians, it feels like Muslim women's voices are being silenced in between. So, my message to the pop stars and politicians is that it’s not about the hijab and it’s not about you.
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