Monday 17 October 2022

Jacinda’s Hijab.

Iconic Image: Surely it cannot be? No! The very thought is outrageous! That Ms Ardern, so sensitive to the power of images, is unwilling to devalue what is surely the most potent image of her entire prime-ministership; the image projected a kilometre-high against the imposing walls of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa; the image of Jacinda Ardern consoling the families of the Mosque Massacre victims – in a hijab?

THE CELLPHONE RECORDING showed the young woman twirling, twirling, twirling. Her white garments catching the red-orange glow of the firelight. Above her head, above her flowing hair, held aloft for all to see, was the symbol of her oppression. Dancing perilously close to the flames, she flung the hated hijab into the fire. All around her, hundreds of other young Iranian women cheered. Smiling and laughing, the dancer twirled her way back to the safety of her sisters.

The video went viral. All over the world, lovers of liberty and equality applauded the young woman in white. Not long after the first video, however, came a second. It also captured the image of a young woman – a young woman agonisingly similar to the joyous, dancer. Clad all in white, she lay crumpled in the street, unmoving. The young protester’s jet-black hair was spread all around her frozen features like a dark pool of mourning.

According to Amnesty International, more than 200 people have been killed by the Iranian police and security forces since the nationwide protests against the wearing of the hijab began. Sparked by the death in “Morality Police” custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, arrested in September because she was wearing her hijab “incorrectly”, these protests have morphed into an intergenerational struggle for the future of Iranian women – and men.

Extraordinary scenes have been broadcast of girls in their early teens shouting down representatives of the theocratic Iranian government. Bareheaded, waving their hijabs in his face, they cry “Death to the Dictator!” Outraged, the government official recites a poem in which the enemies of the Islamic Republic are compared to flies. Another cellphone video, recorded by a shocked woman standing at a second-floor window, shows helmeted riot policemen beating a twelve-year-old schoolgirl mercilessly in the street.

In the European Parliament, a Swedish lawmaker takes out a pair of scissors and hacks off a lock of her own hair in solidarity with the oppressed women of Iran. Clutching it in her upraised fist, she cries out the slogan of the protesters: “Zan! Zendegi! Azadi!” Women! Life! Freedom!

Our own lawmaker, the Greens’ Golriz Ghahraman, does the same. Cutting off chunks of her own hair in solidarity with the women and girls of the country from which her parents fled for the liberty and equality of New Zealand.

One can only imagine the impact of this country’s internationally acclaimed prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, taking a pair of scissors from the podium in the Beehive Theatrette and making an identical gesture of solidarity with the young women risking their lives on the streets and in the schoolrooms of Iran. Her own cry of “Zan! Zendegi! Azadi!” would be heard around the world.

Why our prime minister has had so little to say about the events in Iran is a question many New Zealanders are asking themselves. After all, if words can become “weapons of war”, as Ms Ardern told the General Assembly of the United Nations only a few days ago, then so, too, presumably, can pieces of cloth. And if the shooting of Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops warrants the loud and very public condemnation of the New Zealand Government, then, surely, the beating of schoolgirls and the shooting down of young women in the street by Iranian policemen and soldiers warrants the same?

Surely it cannot be? No! The very thought is outrageous! That Ms Ardern, so sensitive to the power of images, is unwilling to devalue what is surely the most potent image of her entire prime-ministership; the image projected a kilometre-high against the imposing walls of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa; the image of Jacinda Ardern consoling the families of the Mosque Massacre victims – in a hijab?

Never! Our Prime Minister, a communications studies graduate, would not need to be told that the wearing of the hijab in the fraught context of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings was a powerful statement of unity with the devastated Muslim community. Ms Ardern’s hijab gave visual expression to her inspired declaration “They are Us.”

The New Zealand prime minister did not wear the hijab because she had to. She wore it because she chose to. She wore it as a symbol of her own – and her country’s – rejection of the politics of bigotry and violence.

She wore it in solidarity.

“Women! Life! Freedom!”

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 14 October 2022.


Gary Peters said...

I do not profess to be an expert in the wearing of a hijab but a good mate, married to a muslim, told me that in most muslim countries the hijab is elective as "modesty" is the goal. He also stated that it is the Saudi interpretation, read Bedouin, that requires the hijab and as mosques are being funded throughout the world the hijab becomes part of the deal. Wear it, enforce it or no money.

I have travelled through a few muslim territories in the past without seeing the hijab. I have also seen muslim women arrive in "Arab Street" Soi 3 Sukhimvit in Bangkok all blacked out and re-emerge from the hotel in miniskirts and heels 😎

John Hurley said...

I had to think about that.
You can't have your cake and eat it. You can't embrace difference and reject it just because it stinks?

Loz said...

In 2021 Australia had 16 deaths of people in Police custody. The US hasn't released official statistics since 2011 when 689 people died while in Police custody. Accepting the unquestionable tragedy 22-year-old Mahsa Amini's death, the exact details or cause of her death (if the official coroner’s report isn't believed) will never be known to us.

Mahsa Amini died on September 16th. The following day, Iran’s president publicly ordered an investigation into the death. It should be remembered that Iran's Supreme Leader is known to be a supporter of relaxing Iran's dress code restrictions, yet hundreds of regime-change activists took to the streets in Iran with chants of “death to the dictator”.

On September 18th the United States entered the fray with a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council demanding accountability from Iran for what it stated was an "appalling and egregious affront to human rights". Exactly why Mahsa Amini's death is a matter of US National Security is worth contemplation. The next day, the US was followed by NATO allies. EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell condemning Amini's death as "unacceptable", German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in condemning the arrest. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen would later follow suit.

The members of the White House National Security Council, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Antony Blinken, Lloyd Austin, Jake Sullivan etc should be household names after the catastrophe in Ukraine and repeated attempts to fan the flames of conflict with China. Trying to isolate and destabilise Iran has long been a US National Security goal and Mahsa Amini's death has been cynically used for that purpose.

As the global dominance of the Washington consensus is rapidly disintegrating, the emerging BRICS rivals are coming under increasing attacks under a well-worn message that Western powers simply promote freedom and human rights against tyranny and injustice is being sung.

Watch this space for some human rights issue to emerge with Turkey next.

Kit Slater said...

Loz - "It should be remembered that Iran's Supreme Leader is known to be a supporter of relaxing Iran's dress code restrictions..."

Well, I didn't remember this so looked it up - all evidence is to the contrary. And that's what I remembered.

Any references, Loz? There's a credibility issue here.

Loz said...

@Kit Slater
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeyni's official website gives an interesting cultural insight into what hijab represents: "Women of our society should observe hijab (modest dressing), modesty and [Islamic] principles, both for the sake of the hereafter and for the sake of maintaining national dignity and progress. This is a duty."

Prior to Vatican II, the Catholic church had similar interpretations of scripture that required observation of the habit although the habit itself evolved through interpretation with time. From our modern, western cultural perspective we now frame female head covering through a gender equality perspective and religious doctrine itself as largely irrelevant. Iran however, as a religious state, interprets attacks on the observation of hijab as a direct attack on the legitimacy of religious teaching.

Ayatollah Khomeyni told reporters categorically that "the hijab police's treatment of Iranian woman is against the teachings of Islam," adding that "Only judges can rule about the hijab, but even they cannot tell a woman that your hijab is not consistent with the dress code and punish them."
This advocates a tolerance toward a strict interpretation of modest dressing (hijab) but not a suggestion that hijab can be ignored.

Breakthrough News, also did a fascinating investigation into this with Navid Zarrinnal, a Columbia Univ. PhD and Iranian scholar at Stanford University.

Phil Saxby said...

Loz: reading the link you supplied, it's clear you have confused Ayatollah Khomeyni with Ayatollah Khamenei.

Only one of these is the Supreme Leader.

Loz said...

Thanks @'Phil Saxby' - it's a good call-out and you are quite right.

Ayatollah Ali Akbar Massoudi Khomeini is a prominent religious leader and not the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as I had credited!

My previous statement attributing Ayatollah Khomeini's comments to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei were in error & that supports @'Kit Slater' in questioning that statement too!

I stand suitably corrected! :)