When Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and human rights activist living in exile in Brooklyn, started her online campaign two years ago encouraging women in her home country to post photos of themselves in public without their headscarves, it was a powerful statement for gender equality.
At great personal risk, thousands of Iranian women have defied the law and removed their hijabs in defiance.
A movement that celebrates women’s freedoms would seem like an obvious one for public support. But lately in the United States, it’s been a challenge for Alinejad to get active endorsements. Sure, some celebrities have tweeted about her effort. And it’s received a lot of positive international media coverage. But people are afraid to be too vocal, she said, because they don’t want to appear anti-Islamic in the era of Donald Trump.
“The atmosphere that [Trump has] created in the United States put us in trouble as well when we want to talk against Islamic restrictive laws. Because people now don’t want to touch the sensitive issue of compulsory hijab because they think it’s a cultural issue and they don’t want to be seen as [aligned with] Donald Trump,” she said in a recent interview. “They want to stand with minorities here. A Barbie wearing a headscarf can make news. In the U.S., it shows you’re tolerant, you’re open-minded, you’re not like Donald Trump.”
But to Alinejad, her effort has never been about being anti-hijab or anti-Islam. Her parents are religious. Her mother proudly covers her head. It’s about giving women the freedom to choose either way.
She has a dream that one day her mother may visit her in the United States and they can walk side by side, her mother in her hijab, and not have to worry about Trump wanting to kick her mother out of the country. And she dreams that she can return to Iran, where she surely would be arrested, and walk shoulder-to-shoulder with her mother, her hair flowing freely, without fear of getting in trouble.
“It’s two extremes — and women in the middle are stuck because if we talk loud against Islamic restrictive laws, then people think we’re supporting Islamaphobia,” she said. “But if we keep silent then we have to forget about our own identity and obey all the discriminatory laws.”
Alinejad has never been one to sit quietly on the sidelines.