Men in veils

2009/12/17

Published in “Tagesspiegel” on December 17 2009
Source (German): http://www.tagesspiegel.de/weltspiegel/Iran;art1117,2977533

It is a provocation of a special kind: More and more Muslim men post pictures of themselves on the internet, or show in public, wearing headscarves wrapped around their bearded faces, or a chador. They do this in protest against the Iranian regime.

More and more Iranian men show their faces - in headscarves. This is their way of protesting against the defamation of Majid Tavakoli, who was depicted by state-run media as a „cowardly woman“. This picture was taken on youtube.

It all began after the 7. December, the day the student Majid Tavakoli got arrested after giving a critical speech at the Amir Kabir University in Tehran. About one week ago, the state-owned media agency Fars published a picture of the charismatic student leader that showed him with downcast eyes, wearing glasses, and his face wrapped in a blue headscarf and a black veil. The news published along with the picture says that the police arrested him when he was trying to slip away after a rally, wearing female clothes.

„A man dressed as a woman – in Islamic culture, this is considered to be a fundamental humiliation”, says Mina Ahadi, a German-Iranian civil rights activist. “The feminization of men is the harshest imaginable assault against one’s integrity.”

However, the story of Majid Tavakoli’s getaway turned out to have a different effect: His combatants in the “green” movement organized a protest against the questionable humiliation. Iranian students launched a campaign of solidarity named “We are all Majid”. Via Facebook, men were asked to take pictures of themselves wearing headscarves or veils and publish them on the internet. The message behind it is: “It’s no shame being photographed in a headscarf.”

Several bloggers compiled video clips from hundreds of photos, more and more of those films appear on the video platforms. The motif is always the same: Men with mustaches, glasses, in groups, alone – all of them wearing headscarves. Some look coquettish, some smile, some look dead serious.

The unprecedented wave of protest that was started in Iran in private, has quickly reached an international level. Many Iranians express respect and admiration for the men, most of whom present themselves with covered hair, but recognizable faces. Meanwhile, pictures of veiled men in front of the Paris Eiffel Tower, in Germany, and in the USA are circulating on the internet. Some state that by their action they also protest against the veil being forced on women in Iran.

„It is witty, modern, and breaks the taboos in Iran”, says Mina Ahadi, who is the founder of the “Central Council of Ex-Muslims” in Berlin. “It is the perfect answer to the Islamic regime which actually dictates that women must wear headscarves.” The best part is, according to Ahadi, that, while the students protest against the humiliation of their colleague, they at the same time criticize the headscarf. “Not only because it looks ridiculous”, she says. It is also interesting to note that the headscarf, which is obligatory for women, has a humiliating effect on men.

According to Ahadi, this dress code dispute that is cutting across genders has already started to have an effect on other arabic [translator’s note: I am so embarrassed for “other arabic”, it’s painful to write this] countries. “Many Muslims right now are looking at Iran with great interest.” The green revolution is a very “female” thing anyway, she says. During the opposition events and protests, those who courageously stand in the front rows are mostly women. “Some have already thrown away their headscarves”, Ahadi states. She often receives notes from Egyptian, Sudanese, and other Muslim women in Germany, who express their admiration for this.

Meanwhile, the wave of men in headscarves is spreading and growing. So far, the Iranian government has not yet publicly responded to it.

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