We Are All Majid Tavakoli

Throughout the 2000s, various silly people have claimed that forced Islamic religious dress – the veil, headscarf, hijab, chador, burka, jilbab, niqab – is a purely sartorial issue, a statement of resistance to imperialism, even a tool of feminist liberation from an oversexualised capitalist West. In fact, as we know, Islamic dress is an instrument of oppression, a signifier of male ownership of women, that represses many Asian women in this country, and countless more in the developing world.

It seems that this week the Iranian regime arrested an opposition activist, Majid Tavakoli, for speaking at an anti-government demo. In 2007 he had been tortured and raped at Evin prison. This time the regime forced him to wear a woman’s headscarf, photographed him and released this photo into the public domain. This slapdash symbolism was intended to emasculate both Tavakoli and the wider resistance against the Khomeinists.

But Tavakoli’s friends responded by posting hundreds of pictures of themselves wearing woman’s headscarf in solidarity with their comrade. The Spittoon and Harry’s Place have posted a video which is well worth watching. I am continually amazed by the creativity and drive of the Iranian opposition movement. You can even send your own headscarf image to the Iranian.com album.

Peter Tatchell notes the pleasing irony that the headscarf, so long a symbol of oppression, has been hijacked in this place and time as a symbol of resistance. It remains to be seen whether the pro-faith left, normally so keen on religious dress when it is imposed on pain of arrest, harm, disfigurement or murder, will support the wearing of the headscarf in an instance when it is being used to express solidarity with the people fighting for freedom and democracy in Iran.

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