Naureen Zaina Azizee*
Dhaka, June 23, 2014 (Alochonaa): Freedom- whenever I say the word I feel a sense of ease, a sense of comfort and most importantly a sense of being who I am. Whereas stealthy means behaving or doing something in a cautious and surreptitious manner so that is not seen or heard. So can freedom ever be stealthy in any sense? Can freedom be confined within some manner? Was not freedom being limitless? Is not the core value of freedom lies in the fact that it has no segmentations or boundaries?
As I am writing at this very moment, the facebook page of “My Stealthy Freedom” has got more than 489032 likes and 318034 people are talking about it. “My Stealthy Freedom” is an online movement by Masih Alinejad. Masih is an Iranian journalist and writer. She is currently working as a reporter on popular satirical TV show OnTen on the VOA Persian Service and as a correspondent for Radio Farda. Masih is also an Iranian woman who has to follow the compulsory veil system or the dress code for Iranian women. It all started with a picture posted by Masih where she was driving through an Iranian city. Masih was behind the wheel of her car and one of the most significant issues for Iranian women was that- she was not wearing a hijab. Hijab is the veil women have to wear in Iran. Iranian women have to cover their hair in public according to local Islamic dress code. This rule was forced after the Iranian revolution in 1979. More than 375,000 people have liked Alinejad’s Facebook page “Azadiye jawaschaki” (Stealthy Freedom) and over hundreds of Iranian women have sent in photos that show them in public without the hijab. This was the way Iranian women were showing their protest against the mandatory veiling. They made sure along with the people of Iran the entire world would see it as well. Everyday lots of women are sending in their pictures which are being published on the Faceboook of “My Stealthy freedom”. The women who took pictures without the head scarves had their thoughts written along with the picture. The women of the pictures are seen taking pictures in parks, university areas, on the beach, while driving, while mountain climbing, with their partners or loved ones, with a message written on the beach sand like “Free Iranian Women”. The name of the women on the pictures is kept anonymous. They share their thoughts and messages about their moment of stealthy freedom. Each picture comes with a story.
The messages are really beautiful. A woman on her bridal wear is seen dancing and her picture had a message “stealthy freedom, stealthily dancing and rejoicing in my somewhat stealthy bridal party. Dancing or being happy is not crime but it is in Iran”. A woman is seen sitting on a motorbike on a deserted island had message “want to do sports. I want to ride on streets on my motorcycle and go to work with it. I want to breathe!!! I want to be counted as human as a man and as free as he is” This page is like a ventilation place for the Iranian women. It must be an exhilarating experience for them to share their sadness caused by the common grounds. From an online source I got to know that Masih is not against Hijab. Her movement is against the suppressing rule of mandatory hijab in Iran.
They want to share this message with their own country as well as with the whole world. On her facebook page she says “Come and shake my hand, I am not your enemy, I just do not want anymore breathe any more of my freedom stealthily, simple freedom that does no harm to others….. We do not want to be sentenced forever to this stealthily freedom. That’s it! We want to walk, shoulder to shoulder with those who believe or not believe in Hijab, with dignity and freedom. That’s it!!” Last month six young Iranians- three men and three (unveiled) women were arrested for dancing on rooftops to the hit song “Happy” by US singer Pharrell Williams. The video posted on the internet had lots of view within the 4 days of being uploaded. They have reportedly been released on bail.
According to Iran’s ISNA news agency, the authorities pointed the finger at the six for committing an immoral act. Islamic law in Iran requires women to wear a veil in public. Access to YouTube is also forbidden and there are restrictions on internet access allover in general.
The arrest provoked severe criticism outside Iran. Even Williams wrote on Facebook that it was: “beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has long claimed that he wanted more social freedoms in Iran. But the traditionalist and ultra- conservatives dominate the nation’s establishment which is the major cause of the great resistance. “Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.”- is quoted from a speech given by Rouhani in June 2013 shortly after his election.
It was twitted from an account which is believed to be run by Rouhani’s close aides. This was his response to the video made by the youths of Tehran. Though the president did not make any of the comments in a cabinet meeting- it was only limited to sharing his opinion on Twitter.
Undoubtedly social networks have picked up the pace of the remonstration against mandatory veiling. For a country where the internet access is restricted in general and constrained social networks – the page of “My Stealthy Freedom” is gaining almost 10,000 likes per day. That is indeed a surprising fact! “My Stealthy Freedom” has already gained international attention for posting images of Iranian women defying their country’s dress code. Yet the page is facing some domestic backlash as well. Mocking the original campaign of “My Stealthy Freedom” a page named “The Men Stealthy Freedom in Iran” group has also emerged. In that page images men are depicting women or dressing up as women in hijabs. The men’s page has already received more than 64,000 likes. Personally I just found it kind of sad and depressing that they are unaware to the fact that what level of confinement has caused the social movement.
Now I am writing this because I want to share my very own thoughts on this issue. I wouldn’t say that I do not admit that when I heard of the cause for the first time I did not raise my eyebrows. Well I did! Honestly, we being residents of a liberal Muslim nation where we get to make a choice- this does not even look like an issue to us. I personally did not even know that the dress code for women in Iran were so rigid. Well Islam suggested women to wear Hijab. I am not going to focus on that since I believe that people should study and make their own informed decisions. I do believe in modest attire. Headscarves do not always ensure the whole scenario of it. When people are imposed to do something due to compulsion that is surely a cause of displeasure. This creates a more chaotic situation when there is a good number of people together who are suffering due to the same epidemic.
Conservatives may think that this movement is an obvious attack against religion. They might also think that social media should be banned and so on. In this age of information where people are getting into so many things, solely believing in the power of information. We cannot simply act like nothing is going on and live on our very own primitive ways. I hope the women of Iran find their true freedom and are given the prospect to choose their ways. So that they are able to show proper admiration to whatever religious steps they are taking or performing. No human wants to spend their lives in incarceration. I am looking at it positively. I am focusing on the choice of freedom not on the “no veil” fact.
Let there be freedom of choice. So that people can respect whatever decisions they are making. Performing certain acts without proper respect, understanding or information makes it mere actions we do in our daily lives. Let there be the opportunity to make informed decisions so that people get to know the pros or cons of their actions. Compulsion simply takes away the attention from the subject matter to the very own fact that its “compulsion” and it is a barrier to our mental growth.
*Naureen Zaina Azizee is a regular writer for Alochonaa.com. She writes from Dhaka, Bangladesh
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