Renowned Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad participated in a discussion Thursday night about the lack of political freedoms in Iran at an event co-sponsored by the Georgetown University Lecture Fund and the GU Arab Society.
Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor in the History of Islam Tamara Sonn moderated the discussion, which was followed by a question and answer session.
The event began with Alinejad speaking about “My Stealthy Freedom,” a Facebook page she created that encourages women in Iran to post pictures of themselves without a hijab. Alinejad insists that the project allows Iranian women to demonstrate their rejection of social norms rather than protest against the government.
“Some people think that by creating this website, I’m just trying to protest against the government of Iran,” Alinejad said. “[But] this website is a platform … to criticize not only the government, but to criticize the traditional society.”
Alinejad believes that the first step to securing greater freedoms for the Iranian people is not necessarily a governmental change, but instead a cultural one.
“Iran has got a lot of problems,” Alinejad said. “And we have a long, long way to go, but this is a first step.”
Alinejad told the story of how she first began to question the mandatory wearing of the hijab. While she was a child in a rural Iranian village, she noticed that her brother was allowed to have more freedom than her simply because of his gender.
“At the age of seven I didn’t want democracy. I didn’t want to have freedom of speech or freedom of expression,” Alinejad said. “I wanted to just enjoy the wind through my hair.”
However, Alinejad said that she does not support the complete eradication of the hijab. Rather, she believes that women should have the freedom to choose whether or not to wear it. Alinejad said that she opposed people in traditional countries who would not speak out against the compulsory wearing of the hijab because it is viewed as a cultural norm.
“Some people think that just because it’s a law we shouldn’t object,” Alinejad said. “Slavery used to be law as well. If no one objected, nowadays slavery would exist.”
Alinejad then spoke about her experiences as a journalist in the Iranian parliament in her gradual involvement in political advocacy.
“Being a female journalist in parliament, it was not easy,” Alinejad said. “My main focus was criticizing the [members of the parliament] and politicians inside Iran. I started to expose their salary and pay and they started to hate me from that time.”
After publishing the controversial article “The Song of Dolphins” in 2008, in which Alinejad criticized former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad, she received national criticism and international attention, causing her to leave the country.
“I wanted to speak out. I wanted to be loud,” Alinejad said. “I thought, I have to get out of here to be loud again. And that’s why I’m here.”
After Alinejad left Iran, the Green Movement erupted to combat the government fraud and authoritarianism that resulted from the 2009 presidential election. However, the movement failed to inspire substantial change, which Alinejad attributes to the government’s crackdown on the people’s freedoms.
“Their weapon was just their voice,” Alinejad said of the protestors. “And when they saw this barbarity, what happened in Iranian prisons, they couldn’t go further. The brutality of the Iranian government showed they can control their own people.”
Alinejad noted that while current Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is viewed as a moderate by the international community, she is not hopeful for the future of political freedom under him.
“I can see there is an inch of hope there,” Alinejad said. “But on the other hand, I see a lot of newspaper shutdowns and the number of people that got executed, more than the time when Ahmadinejad was in power.”
Sinead Carolan (SFS ’17) attended the event and said she particularly liked Alinejad’s discussion on the cultural implications surrounding the hijab.
“I think that a lot of Westerners, Americans, politicians and scholars are hesitant to talk about some of the cultural restrictions against women in Iran because [they think] it’s not their place to judge,” Carolan said. “I think it’s important to talk about it.”
Ben Forestier (MSB ’16) also enjoyed Alinejad’s thoughts on the current political climate in Iran.
“I thought it was really cool,” Forestier said. “I think [the discussion’s] important because even though very few of us here are affected by the hijab, it shows us that there are frontiers in the world, even if they’re far from home, where there’s still work to be done.”