On Sunday, Hollywood celebrated itself at the Oscars. Given the kerfuffle surrounding the hosting duties and the fact that the interminable Democratic presidential primary process has just begun, I was somewhat surprised that the only profoundly political speech seemed to come from Spike Lee. Surprise surprise, he was the hero of the night.
Meanwhile, a few days before and halfway across the world, Iranians managed to thwart police who were taking two women away for not wearing their mandatory hijabs properly.
“A group of Iranians attacked a morality police van in Tehran last week after two young women were detained for ‘improperly’ wearing a compulsory headscarf, according to state-owned Iranian media and activists,” CNN reported Feb. 20.
“Officers fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd of people who tore off one of the doors of the vehicle, according to a report by the state-owned IRNA news agency about the February 15 incident. Iran’s morality police are tasked with enforcing the country’s strict social rules.
“The group prevented the officers from driving the women away, IRNA said citing an unnamed police official. The standoff ended when the women were released from the van, according to the police source.”
This has been an ongoing struggle in the Islamic republic since December of 2017, when a woman who became known as the “Girl of Enghelab Street” stood up on a busy thoroughfare and put her hijab at the end of a stick, waving it like a flag.
The woman was taken into custody by Iranian officials, according to a Fox News report at the time, but she touched off a series of protests that have been going on for well over a year. (A Kurdish news outlet reported in March 2018 that the woman, identified as 31-year-old Vida Movahed, was sentenced to 24 months in prison.)
In a Twitter post published Monday, conservative actor James Woods said that if you want to find heroism, look not to Tinseltown but Tehran.
— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) February 25, 2019
“This woman – bent, old, and frail – quietly joins the hijab protest in #Iran,” he wrote. “This is what a hero looks like, not some hypocrite in a $50,000 gown and borrowed jewelry.”
While there’s no verification of the video’s authenticity, it’s been making the rounds since last year. Whatever the case may be, it’s representative of the kind of bravery we’ve seen from Iranian women refusing to give in to a despotic regime.
Here are a few examples, starting with Vida Movahed:
One year ago, this brave woman, Vida Movahed, stood on a utility box tied her white headscarf to a stick & waved it to the crowd as a flag in protest against compulsory hijab on Revolution St. in Tehran
Her arrest spawned scores of similar demonstrations that still continues. pic.twitter.com/XECv6rBZqH
— Ashraf Sherjan🏳 (@ASJBaloch) December 28, 2018
And here was Azam Jangravi, who we’ll get to in a second:
#Iran Another #Iranian woman was arrested today for protesting compulsory #hijab laws. She has been identified as Azam Jangravi. #GirlsOfRevolutionStreet #IranProtests #زنان_برانداز pic.twitter.com/cK8MZXqYsk #FreeAllPoliticalPrisoners #AFP #ZDF #WomensRights
— babak sarfaraz (@paydaran) February 15, 2018
Every single one of these women is essentially guaranteeing her own arrest if Iran’s religious authorities catch up with them. These aren’t exactly small stakes. Yet, in a country where the repressive government has held onto power despite years of popular discontent, these are women willing to risk life and limb in order to advance their freedom.
Take the case of Jangravi, who had to leave the country with the help of a human smuggler after receiving a long sentence for standing on a transformer box on the same street Movahed did and waved her scarf in the air.
According to Reuters, she said she did it for her daughter.
“I was telling myself: ‘Viana should not grow up in the same conditions in this country that you grew up in,’” Jangravi said.
“I kept telling myself: ‘You can do this, you can do this,’” she continued. “I was feeling a very special kind of power. It was as if I was not the secondary gender anymore.”
She was fired from her position at a research institute after being arrested by officials and sentenced to three years in prison, all with the state threatening to take her daughter away.
Eventually, she got out: “I found a human smuggler with a lot of difficulty. It all happened very quickly, I left my life, my house, my car behind,” she said.
There’s no $50,000 gown or borrowed jewelry here. Just a lot of heroism.
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