June 11, 2014

Voice Crying in the Wilderness:
Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad fights for women's rights, faces exile and state sponsored libel campaign

Masih Alinejad is no stranger to the reach of the Iranian government. As a native Iranian currently in exile, she experienced them firsthand as she exposed a bonus scheme within the Iranian Parliament and faced the backlash.

Recently, Alinejad has made the headlines again, for providing a platform for the Stealthy Freedoms campaign, a social media effort where Iranian women removed their hijabs, which they are required by the Iranian government to wear, and allowed themselves small moments of freedom.

Stealthy Freedom / Facebook
Alinejad kicked off the movement when she snapped photos of herself without the traditional garb. The response was overwhelming, so she created a Facebook page and asked followers for submissions.

The Iranian state media is fighting back, saying:
“Masih Alinejad is a whore, and not a heretic as some people claim her to be. We shouldn’t elevate her to the level of a heretic. She’s just trying to compensate her psychological (and probably financial) needs by recruiting young women and sharing her notoriety with younger women who are still not prostitutes.”
That comment was made by Vahid Yaminpour, a conservative Iranian TV commentator. The Iranian media has in addition claimed that the journalist-in-exile was raped on a London street while her son watched--this is, in fact, how they justify referring to her as a whore. Just to up the "this is really fucked up" level.


Alinejad, however, does not necessarily see herself in a battle against anything. Her mission is to give women the right to choose:
“These are the women who know they are putting themselves in a dangerous situation, who know how much it can get them in trouble, but this is the only way they can send a message to the world or their government, because they just want to be heard,” she said. “I wanted to give them a voice.” 
Alinejad is very clear about her mission. She’s not leading a battle against the headscarf. She’s simply advocating the right for individual women to be able to choose whether or not they wear it. She’s also hoping this outlet will help more women across the country realize they’re not alone.
One look around the My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page shows that women are responding--and those responses are heartbreaking. I won't share pictures, because I don't want to steal them without their owner's permission, but here are some of the quotes:
My stealthy freedom and me in Mazandaran. I wish someone would make us understand that being free is not being loose.
I am a human-being and regardless of my sex inherently free. God did not create me to be robbed of my simplest rights. Hoping for the day an act as simple as taking a scarf off of the head will not have to be stealth any more.
This stealth freedom has built a big lump of sadness in my throat. Why should it be stealth?! Why can'I be free openly?! What I want is overt freedom. What I want is being able to step on the streets of my country looking the way I want and enjoy my walk and feel proud of being a woman.
Stealthy freedom on top of mountains! They echo my screams of freedom and turn them back to myself though! I am from this country and I want my freedom right here. I wish somebody would hear our screams.
Alinejad now faces the very real possibility that she may never be able to go home. Her life in exile may, every well, be a permanent one. But it is a sacrifice that she is willing to make:

“Do I go back to my country and keep silent, or stay abroad and be louder and louder, to be the voice of those mothers who lost a loved one and do not have any voice inside, and to be the voice of those women who do not believe in a mandatory hijab who need a voice, who need a platform?” 
“If you look at my inbox and read the messages that women send to me. They knew the dangers and the risks, but they wanted to send their own message." 
“I can’t leave them.”
What a sincerely powerful message.

I know that my heart and thoughts are definitely with Alinejad and her Iranian sisters as they make these small but profound protests, asking for their very basic rights, for their very basic freedoms.

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