Following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman visiting Tehran with her family, outcry has taken Iran by storm.
The so-called ‘morality police’ of the Islamic Republic enforce mandatory Hijabs for all women regardless of their religion or beliefs—they took Amini into custody for ‘re-education’ due to what they deemed an inappropriate covering.
Iranian authorities claimed she suffered a heart attack and passed away while in custody, though her family says she was abused by the police, which resulted in her death.
Protests are ensuing across the country. Women are burning their hijabs and cutting their hair off in solidarity with Amini and her family. In response, the Islamic Republic—Iran’s monotheistic and extremist government—is cracking down.
With social media as a facet for communication and awareness of world issues, what is happening in Iran is sparking dialogue on women’s rights, bravery, and Islam.
The defiance of Iranian women and protestors is incredibly courageous and solidarity with their fight is vital. However, it’s important to focus on the issue of bodily autonomy rather than creating a rhetoric of Western society versus Islam when supporting the cause.
Western media must be especially careful not to perpetuate the existing orientalist views of Islam and the greater Muslim community. No one should decide what anyone else does with their body, be it forcing women to wear a hijab or banning them completely, as has been done in France and Quebec.
If the feminist movement is to be intersectional and free of any political agenda, we must abandon the associated white saviour narrative. Rather than critiquing the government and how authoritative powers influence women’s rights issues, Western media is busy focusing on the hijab itself—this approach to reporting on the protest lacks nuance.
Islam is certainly a factor; there’s no disputing that the Islamic Republic of Iran manipulates the religion to uphold its extremist conservative grip on the nation. However, the focus has shifted from the regime to a precise criticism of the hijab itself.
This perception Westerners have of the East is perpetuated by narratives that paint the Islamic religion as inherently oppressive without understanding how authoritarianism corrupts its true teachings.
An orientalist understanding of the Middle East ignorantly generalizes its residents. It reduces a complex region to a place lacking modern values that uses violence to resolve its issues due to Islam itself, rather than the wielding of religious teachings as a weapon to further a political agenda.
The West maintains its superiority complex over the East by making the Global North out to be connoisseurs of modernity without a holistic understanding of dynamics of gender and nationalism in the regions they judge so harshly.
The policing of women’s bodies is the basis of the Iranian uproar; there must be a shift in the conversation from the veil to a discussion about choice and autonomy.
No government should be able to tell someone what to wear, who to pray to, who to marry, or what to do with their bodies.
Rida is a fourth-year Politics student and The Journal’s Senior Arts Editor.
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