Women in the World contributor and My Stealthy Freedom founder Masih Alinejad was forced to flee her home country of Iran in 2009, and she and her family have faced near-constant threats and intimidation since she began her campaign against the compulsory hijab. But the Iranian government took it to a new level on Friday, she wrote in an Op-Ed for The New York Times, by parading her sister and niece on Iranian state TV to have them declare that the family had disowned her.
“Exploiting my family on the Iranian equivalent of 60 Minutes was a new low,” the women’s rights activist wrote. “It was by far the most ferocious attempt to shame me, intimidate me and break my spirit. Stalin would have been proud.”
The so-called ‘interview,’ she wrote, consisted of two male interviewers and Alinejad’s older sister and niece dressed in full chador telling viewers that the longtime activist had “achieved nothing,” despite waves of ongoing protests against the compulsory hijab in Iran that included many women waving white headscarves like flags, in reference to Alinejad’s White Wednesday campaign. Alinejad’s sister went on to say that if she “had talent she’d able to persuade my daughters and me [to not wear the hijbab],” that she had “broken” their parents’ hearts by “walking around naked in the streets,” and that her greatest transgression was “challenging the Supreme Leader” — a reference to Iran’s highest religious authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But before the show even aired, Alinejad explained, her mother called her sobbing to tell her that intelligence services — and even their local prayer leader — had called them out to demand that they cooperate in the interview. Alinejad’s mother, who is illiterate and was married off at the age of 14, nonetheless refused to participate — “a show of loyalty,” she wrote, “that I can never repay.” The Iranian government’s apparently growing concern about women protesting the compulsory hijab — as evidenced by their escalating punishments for protesters, as well as by their furious attempts to shame and silence Alinejad — have only hardened the activist’s resolve to continue her fight.
“What the regime is doing to my family hurts me deeply. But in the long run these personal attacks have always strengthened me and the Iranian feminists who are my chosen family,” she concluded. “I’d give [my life] up for women like [my sister] to live in freedom.”
Read Alinejad’s full Op-Ed at The New York Times.