Iranian activist Masih Alinejad: “This is the beginning of the end for the Islamic Republic” | Iran


Jhe first thing you notice about Masih Alinejad is her hair: a mass of corkscrew curls sometimes loose like a radiant halo, sometimes pinned up, almost always with a flower pinned above her left ear. It’s not a gratuitous commentary on her appearance, but at the heart of a battle that brought her to Paris this week to speak to President Emmanuel Macron.

Alinejad is the international face and voice of angry women in Iran who are beaten, imprisoned and even killed for removing their obligatory headscarves and showing their hair. Today in Paris, she has a very clear message for the French president and other Western leaders: stop shaking hands with Iranian clerics, stop dealing with Iran.

“I want to ask President Macron if he wants to stand with those who kill, take hostages, oppress people and try to suppress a peaceful revolution, or if he wants to stand on the right side of history? ” she says.

“I want him to stop negotiating with the Islamic Republic, until the day the regime stops killing people. I want him to call back his ambassadors, call his allies and ask them to downgrade all their diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic, expel all their diplomats and put the Islamic Revolutionary Guards on the terrorist list.

“I am not asking the leaders of democratic countries to come and save us. I don’t want them to save us, I want them to stop saving the Islamic Republic.

“This ongoing uprising is only the beginning of the end for the Islamic Republic. We are in the 21st century and it is acceptable for this government to kill children, teenagers or schoolgirls for dancing, showing their hair, singing or wanting to have a normal life.

There are more than 42 million women in Iran who have been forced to cover their heads in public since the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah. The current wave of protests against Tehran’s regime erupted in September after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, at the hands of Iran’s morality police, known for their brutal enforcement of the compulsory hijab law. .

Since then, Iranian girls and women have taken to the streets with the slogan “women, life, freedom”, openly defying the mullahs who rule Iran. They burned scarves, cut their hair – banned by some Islamic authorities – defied armed security forces and posted videos on social media.

Masih Alinejad addresses protesters at a rally in Los Angeles in October in support of Iranian women and against the death of Mahsa Amini. Photo: Bing Guan/Reuters

Now in its eighth week despite bloody repression, the “women’s revolution” shows no signs of faltering. About 14,000 protesters were arrested, 1,000 of whom were charged with crimes, some carrying the death penalty. Javaid Rehman, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, told the UN Security Council last month that security forces had killed at least 277 people.

Alinejad, 45, a journalist and activist, is a thorn in the side of the Iranian regime, those she calls ‘ignorant clerics’ who accuse her of being a foreign agent and have warned that anyone would send her videos of protests – which she relays on social media – will be imprisoned.

In Iran, her 70-year-old mother was threatened, her brother arrested and her sister marched on television to denounce her. In New York, where Alinejad has lived in exile since 2009, the FBI has charged four people with plotting to kidnap her. In August, police arrested a man who was loitering around his Brooklyn home and found a loaded AK-47 in his car. She and her husband, Kambiz Foroohar, a former Bloomberg reporter, are now in their eighth haven.

“That’s at least eight,” Foroohar says. “We have lost count. It’s incredible.

At the luxury five-star hotel in Paris where the couple are staying – at the invitation of the Elysée – a vigorous security guard watches Alinejad with a not-so-discreet eye. French police protection is only slightly less intrusive.

“When the Islamic Republic is in power, no one is safe,” she said. “When the FBI came to my house a year ago and told me your life was in danger, I couldn’t take it seriously. Iranians receive death threats every day. But they showed me pictures of my life, of my son-in-law, of my husband, of me inside my house, in my garden when I was watering my sunflowers…

“I’m not afraid. I feel guilty when I talk about my personal life because people [in Iran] are killed in the streets. Mine is just a small example of the brutality of this murderous regime and it’s not about me. I am only giving voice to courageous Iranian women and men who say no to the Islamic Republic.

“It’s not scary for me to be shot or killed, what is frightening is to see leaders of democratic countries shaking hands with those who kill my people or those who want to kill me.

She says Iranian leader Ali Khamenei should be treated like Vladimir Putin. “Khamenei helps Putin…all dictators are united, so the leaders of democratic countries must be united.

Alinejad’s frail birdlike appearance hides raw fury. She can maintain an almost transparent tirade that goes from rage to tears. She keeps a lid on the two extremes; the triangular frown on his forehead and his failing voice are instantly masked by a smile.

She is particularly furious that, while railing against the West, members of the Iranian regime often seek hospital treatment in Europe and that a number of their children study and live in luxury in the United States. However, Alinejad reserves particular contempt for Western women who pander to Iran’s hijab demands. She won’t forgive Karen Pierce, the UK’s ambassador to the UN, for covering her head during a visit to Tehran in 2017.

“It was such an insult to Iranian women who get killed for refusing the hijab. You know what an Iranian would do in that position? Say, “Fuck off, it’s none of your business”, but these Western women say, “Sure, I’ll cover up, it’s your culture”.

“Oppressing women is not part of our culture, coercion is not part of our culture, barbaric law is not part of our culture. When Western politicians say that compulsory hijab is the culture of Iranian women or Afghan women, it is an insult to our nations.

Alinejad says she is not campaigning for Iran to ban the hijab, but for women and girls to have a choice whether or not to wear it. “When I first started campaigning, people asked me why I was making such a fuss over a little piece of cloth. Compulsory hijab is not just a piece of cloth. whipping, it can get you jailed, it can get you raped and killed.

She adds: “Compulsory hijab is like the Berlin Wall: once it comes down, the whole Islamic Republic will be finished. This is why the mullahs are afraid. Millions of girls and women in Iran now stand side by side and say no; we are ready to die, but we will not live with this humiliation.


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