Tia Sacks

No, denouncing Iran is not Islamophobic

How the Islamophobia claim is derailing the fight for women’s rights in Iran

The protestors currently in Iran have shown the world they don’t need pussy-hat wearing Western feminists. And they especially don’t need them calling out Islamophobia on their behalf.

My grandfather was Muslim and was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. He moved his family out of Egypt when my mother was a child to secure a better future for their family. For my whole life, he openly contested the morality laws across Muslim countries (which caused the death of Masah Amini) and saw the enforced hijab as a symbol of oppression towards women.

Discussing his first-hand perspective resulted in being labelled “Islamophobe” by a TA in front of my entire class in my first year of university. My crime? Talking about the lack of women’s rights in Muslim countries enforcing morality and sharia law.

I said that banning women from being able to drive a vehicle in Saudi Arabia was wrong. I said that banning women from being able to go outside without a male chaperone in Afghanistan was wrong. I said that banning women from being able to go outside without covering their entire bodies in Iran was wrong.

This young, white, female TA felt quite embarrassed when I explained my personal connection to the issue. She was silencing my voice as a woman of Muslim descent in the name of progressivism and failed to see what she was defending.

For an incident that happened three years ago in my class, it’s significantly timely. Masih Alinejad appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher a couple months ago and spoke about her treatment within American liberal, feminist spaces, as an established Iranian activist and journalist. She explained she was shut down from talking about her experiences of being told she would be killed in Iran for not wearing a hijab, as it would cause Islamophobia.

Her response is simple: “Phobia is irrational, but believe me, my fear and the fear of millions of Iranian women and Afghanistan (women) is rational.” Her campaign against compulsory hijabs and brave public advocacy against Iranian human rights abuses made her a target for execution, even outside of Iran. In late July, a man with a loaded rifle was found and arrested outside her home.

Iran wants to silence those speaking out against them, which is why Alinejad’s and Iran’s protestors have a revolutionary spirit the West has not seen before, and seems to be scared to take part in. There are no creative artists designing trademarked symbols of feminist protest like the pussy-hats. The founders of the Women’s March are not using their organizational skills to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people to demand change and women’s rights like they were in 2017.

High-profile Muslim feminists including Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Linda Sarsour chose to retweet statements from others supporting “the right to choose” to wear a hijab and not be forced. They said nothing to explicitly hold the Iranian regime accountable for these human rights abuses and kept their messages rather vague.

Although “the right to choose” is an important message, it doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head. Women are more so fighting for the right to not be killed by their state. It also conflates the protests with the issue of abortion by using the same terminology. The protests in Iran should exist as a separate entity, and these Muslim feminists should aim to emphasize its significance.

If they all stand for feminism, equality, and global women’s rights as proud Muslim women, why aren’t they rallying for them? Are the Muslim women in Iran who are fearing death for protesting hijabs not worth defending?

Omar and Sarsour maintain that wearing a hijab protests Islamophobia. Their lack of solidarity, especially on social media, sends the message that denouncing these morality laws and the women burning their hijabs in Iran would be Islamophobic. As Muslim feminists in the Western world, they failed the women that need their platform most, so long that Iran continues to censor the media and shut off connectivity during this time.

But the protestors in Iran are of a different caliber of feminism. They would rather die than keep living under their repressive laws. As of now, almost 300 people have been killed. They are heroes. Denouncing criticisms of Iran in the name of Islamophobia does not help anyone.  Attempting to silence the voice of Masih Alinejad only represses the brave Iranian women further.

About the Author
Tia Sacks is a twenty-one-year-old student in her fourth year at Western University in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies. She participated in the World Jewish Congress Lauder Fellowship and is currently the vice-president of the Israel committee at Hillel Western, and an intern at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
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