For 43 years, Iranian women have been forced to wear hijab, yet throughout the more than four painful decades, their agony has been downplayed by those claiming that hijab is a choice.
Following an initial dismissal of the protests in Iran, the “progressive” Western elite have changed their tune and are now voicing support for Iranian protestors. But their support comes with a caveat—a mixture of false equivalence and whataboutism.
From politicians to journalists and commentators, progressives rushed to lump the protest in Iran with other items on their agenda. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “The right to choose belongs to us all, from hijabs to reproductive care”, referring to the ongoing abortion ban debate in the US.
Journalist Ayman Mohyeldin, compared the situation in Iran with the ban of hijab in a state in India, and managed to add the American Republicans in the topic too. While, Shahed Amanullah, compared the situation in Iran with France.
Tossing everything into one basket may sound fair, but it is not; it is lazy, often cynical, politically motivated, and—frankly—demeaning, not just to Iranian women, but to all women in the Middle East, who endure patriarchal oppression on a daily basis.
Equating 43 years of a ruthless policy of enforced hijab in Iran with the recent dispute over abortion in the US or with the situation in India or France is spitting in the face of Iranian women. Banning hijab in public institutions in France or in a state in India is the kind of injustice that pales in comparison to facing bullets on the streets or torture in police stations for daring to wear “improper hijab.”
Other progressives label hijab as an “authentic” part of Middle Eastern culture and frame the notion of social progression as a Western imperial concept not applicable to the Muslim world. As a result, they see what is happening in Iran as part of the American agenda, denying the brave Iranian women their own agency and aspiration for freedom. As Ralph Leonard aptly stated : “The gloomy assumption that Middle Easterners can’t agitate for social progress without being ‘tools of imperialism’ is itself a form of orientalism. ”
“Social progress” may be a Western concept, but its essence has existed in the Middle East since the Pharaonic and Persian civilisations, ancient Jewish society, and parts of Moorish Spain—long before it was embraced by the West.
It is time for Western progressives to admit that they got it all wrong. Instead of forcing their own political agenda, throwing enforced hijab in with other grievances, Westerners should listen and learn from the native Iranians and their genuine, authentic quest for freedom. Enough of the cheap political spinning, the whataboutism and false equivalences.