Alinejad: ‘Iranian women are wounded but unbowed to their oppressors’

Alinejad: ‘Iranian women are wounded but unbowed to their oppressors’

“My dream is to witness an Iran liberated from the grip of the Islamic regime,” the Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad tells Kathimerini in an interview. The Iranian women’s rights activist is living in exile in the USA, under the protection of the FBI. She spoke to us by phone about what it means to be a woman under Iran’s theocratic regime. She has been the target of assassination attacks, attempts have been made to kidnap her, and she still receives thousands of threatening messages. But she continues to resist and stresses that “the flame of the revolution within the country is still burning.”

What is the daily life of a woman in Iran like, let alone when she opposes the regime?

In Iran, clerics promise women that following sharia law will lead to heaven. Yet, they’ve turned the lives of Iranian women into a living hell. If you are a woman born in Iran, you’re either considered a criminal or a second-class citizen. Women cannot get a job without their husband’s permission. They cannot get a passport without their husband’s permission. They cannot travel abroad without their husband’s permission. Certain positions in societies are not available to them. For example, it is forbidden for a woman to be a judge in Iran.

Also, in Iran women cannot sing solo and cannot show their hair. If women resist, they are treated as criminals. If women are without their compulsory hijab and they go into a shop, that shop could be legally closed down to punish the storekeeper. 

Moreover, they are using traffic cameras to catch women who are not wearing their hijab, and they can be fined if caught. If they do this more than once, they could be arrested. Being a woman is not a fun thing to be in Iran. We have seen women lose their eyes for protesting against the regime. We have seen rape used as a weapon against our fight for freedom.

But I have to say that, despite all the pressure on women, the number of women who practiced their civil disobedience in the streets to challenge the whole regime increased. Basically, Iranian women are wounded but unbowed to their oppressors.

On your X (formerly Twitter) account you post videos of women not wearing the hijab and reacting to men chasing and photographing them. To Western eyes this seems unusual, but through your experience how strict are the “hijab police”?

Yes, I know it is not usual for Westerners to see that women get beaten up for the crime of showing their hair in public. But it is the true gender part happening in the 21st century, that walking unveiled is considered a crime in my beloved homeland Iran. That’s why I launched the initiative #MyCameraIsMyWeapon and I asked Iranian women to film the brutality of the morality police in the streets to educate the West about the situation of women in Iran.

The morality police are a bunch of officers walking in the streets harassing and bullying women for not wearing the hijab. In the 21st century, we have hair police in Iran. 

Mahsa Amini was murdered for the “crime” of “improper hijab,” and every day, women are harassed by the hijab police who think they should bow down to their tyranny.

In 2022 Mahsa Amini’s death sparked the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement, with thousands of women fighting for their rights. Since then, the movement has been lost in the international press. What happened to the dynamic opposition of women that shook the regime?

I do not think the the Women, Life, Freedom revolution has failed. Revolutions always have different phases in history and sometimes it takes years. You may not see people in the streets because the level of brutality was really high. More than 700 people were killed and executed for simply protesting. And more than 22,000 were imprisoned for protesting against the brutal murder of Mahsa Amini. So now we are witnessing a different phase of the revolution.

The women are united to practice their civil disobedience and humiliate Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic. By removing their hijabin, the streets are shaking off the main pillar of this religious dictatorship in Iran.

But I have to say, that during the uprising the democratic countries did not take strong action to support women. This lack of action emboldened and empowered the regime to oppress women and suppress the massive uprising. So, there was no reason for the regime to stop killing teenagers. Despite all the brutality of the regime, I strongly believe the flame of the revolution within the country is still burning.

In your opinion, in what ways could the international community act and put pressure on the Islamic regime to achieve real changes in the daily lives of Iranians?

The international community can do a lot. First, we want the free world to join our campaign “United Against Gender Apartheid.” They can help us to expand the definition of apartheid in all existing laws to include gender as well. This is how they can save the lives of women in Iran, who face rape and torture to death under the Islamic Republic.

In addition, Europe and Canada must put the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on their lists of terrorist organizations. It is absurd that they refuse. They can see that things are getting worse in the world. A new Iran policy is urgently needed so as to push back efficiently and concretely the presence of the Revolutionary Guards in the region. Also, pay attention when the Iranian state executes 800 people in a year. Recall the ambassadors!

I strongly believe that dictators from Russia to China to Iran are more united than democratic countries. They are helping each other, backing each other with technology, surveillance weapons, economic contracts, and training, military bases. History will judge those democratic leaders who shake the hand of the killers of the Islamic Republic rather than shaking the hand of pro-democracy fighters in Iran, especially the women of Iran.

You recently stated on CNN that “the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nature is all about war.” With Israel accusing Iran of sowing terror in the Middle East using proxies, do you think the Iranian regime is sustaining lasting tension in the Middle East?

The Islamic Republic is a murderous regime hell-bent on exporting its Islamist ideology across the globe. The regime is causing mayhem in the region, from arming Putin to plotting terror attacks in Israel, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, but has yet to pay a commensurate price for its actions. Whether it is the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic in Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon, or Hamas in Gaza, the Islamic Republic’s tentacles reach far beyond its borders. Also, they fund and support terror groups across the region to destabilize and radicalize as many populations as possible.

Decades ago, Iran had friendly relations with Israel, while today they are enemies. In your opinion, where does the Iranian leadership’s hatred of Israel stem from and why do they constantly look forward to its destruction?

They hate any country that represents freedom. They have been very clear that they want not only to destroy Israel but the United States as well. We were taught to chant “Death to America!” when we were growing up in Iran. 

There are three pillars that make the Islamic Republic survive. “Death to America,” “Death, to Israel,” and hating women. Unlike the Islamic Republic, Iranian women and men love democracy, equality, and they want to be friends with all countries and nations. That is why I always call the leaders of the free world to be united with the people of Iran. Believe me, we the people of Iran are better allies for the free world, Western countries, compared to these backward mullahs.

Last but not least, what is your message to the global community and what changes do you want to see in the near future?

My dream is to witness an Iran liberated from the grip of the Islamic regime. A place where women can walk the streets without fear of violence. A future where women can freely enter stadiums. Where men are not executed for supporting their sisters. To see any Iran that is not causing instability in the region, expanding its terror across the globe. This is not just my dream; it is the aspiration of millions of Iranians longing for a normal life.

I yearn for democratic nations to no longer turn a blind eye to the plight of Iranians, especially women facing bullets and oppression. Iranian women are not just fighting for themselves. They are trying to protect democracy and feminism from one of the most dangerous viruses, which is Islamic ideology. We are stronger and my dream is to see that we finally get [the democratic world] united with us, the women of Iran, to end the gender apartheid regime. My dream is to go back to my beautiful homeland to hug my family without the fear of being killed.

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