These past few weeks, watching the news from Iran has been difficult and poignant for me. For the first eight years of my life, before my family became refugees, I lived in Isfahan. I was born at the time of the revolution and stayed in Iran through a devastating war. And I was forced to wear the scarf for three years in an Islamic Republic school. At eight years old, I was constantly furious that my brother didn’t suffer this indignity. I hated going to school, sweating on the blacktop under the murals of Khomeini and a bloody fist, getting yelled at for every stray hair.
I have a complicated history with hijab. My first headscarf was a security blanket of sorts, a gift from my village grandmother who wore a similar provincial headdress. This version of the garment was a comfort to me, a connection to my family. I miss the smell of it still. My next hijab though was a forced school “maghnaeh”, a choking, binding thing that I hated. To be told that I had to wear it was enough to tarnish it for me. I never once considered it the same category of garment as the soft, faded fabric that my grandmother gave me. A few weeks ago, I saw Christiane Amanpour refuse to put on a scarf to interview the Iranian president. I’ve looked up to Amanpour since I was a teenager in Oklahoma, and as her decision unfolded in the media, I watched in tears. All my life I’ve been told that I’m too difficult just for wanting to live by the same standards as men. And here she was, this bareheaded woman, formidable and defiant, sitting across an empty chair, refusing to bend. It’s such a powerful image for me: a woman with the same values and background as me, say no to the Iranian president.
I realise now that three formative years forced under the scarf, feeling trapped and inferior and constantly angry, is a trauma. I can’t imagine the rage of women who’ve had to spend decades under it. And yet, I don’t believe that this is what the protests are about — Iranian women don’t want looser hijab laws. They want freedom from a theocracy, and they’re leading a revolution to get it. It’s heartening to see defiance in the eyes of so many young women (some teenagers) who march in the streets. More female defiance is what this broken world needs. Every morning, I send those women (and the men who are standing with them) good wishes and fighting thoughts. Just keep saying no! I believe that they will. May this generation be the one that finally breaks out from under the yoke.