On Friday, my sister publicly disowned me on prime-time Iranian tv.
I can’t say this comes out of nowhere. Over the previous 20 years — as a journalist important of the regime, as an outspoken feminist and finally a dissident dwelling in exile in America — the Islamic Republic has tried to intimidate me and my household, which nonetheless lives within the poor village the place I used to be raised in northern Iran.
As a journalist in Iran, I typically acquired into hassle exposing the regime’s mismanagement and corruption till, ultimately, my press move was revoked. I used to be typically threatened with arrest or worse for writing articles important of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ultimately, I used to be pressured to flee my homeland in 2009.
But the threats I confronted as a journalist have been nothing in comparison with the abuse and assaults that started after I started My Stealthy Freedom in 2014, a marketing campaign in opposition to Iran’s obligatory hijab legal guidelines.
I’ve remained out of attain of the regime, however my household has taken the brunt. There has been monetary strain: threats to revoke enterprise permits and licenses, for instance. Some kinfolk have been threatened with firing till they proved their loyalty by providing secrets and techniques about me. And, in fact, the Intelligence Ministry often sends officers to pay visits to my aged mother and father. At one level they provided to rearrange a “family reunion” in Turkey. I can solely think about what that they had in thoughts for me.
But exploiting my household on the Iranian equal of “60 Minutes” was a brand new low. It was by far essentially the most ferocious try and disgrace me, intimidate me and break my spirit. Stalin would have been proud.
Two interviewers, each males, sit going through my older sister and her daughter, my niece. Both are sporting chadors. My sister first makes the case that I’m now not myself — that by some means I’ve been brainwashed into my activism and rejecting obligatory hijab.
“She knows what she’s doing isn’t right. But I feel she’s no longer herself. If this was really her, then why are her eyes always teary? Why isn’t she happy?” my sister asks rhetorically. She goes on to say that I’ve “achieved nothing.” If I “had talent, she’d be able to persuade my daughters and me.”
I’ve at all times revered my sister. I’ve by no means tried to place strain on her or on any members of my household. I need girls to have autonomy over their our bodies, to be free to put on — or not put on — a head masking.
More ache was to comply with. In one among a number of main questions, one of many interviewers asks my sister and my niece: “What happened that you decided to publicly disown her?”
“I’ve been silent for 10 years,” my sister says. “Then I saw that she was challenging the Supreme Leader. Everyone who’s familiar with me knows this. My red line is the Supreme Leader.”
Even as she was denouncing me and praising the regime, I felt sympathy for my sister. As I watched her, I believed concerning the actuality of life for ladies and ladies within the Islamic Republic: They face the very shaming I used to be being subjected to in the event that they publicly oppose obligatory hijab.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the ultimate say over virtually all the pieces in Iran, together with what airs on tv, has beforehand dismissed the civil disobedience marketing campaign in opposition to obligatory hijab as “insignificant.” But this vile section demonstrates that he’s apparently modified his thoughts concerning the significance of our marketing campaign. What’s extra, the truth that state TV is concentrated on my hair whereas ignoring the actual story — the truth that Iranians lack fundamental requirements, like water and electrical energy — makes it much more stomach-turning.
In maybe essentially the most heartbreaking trade of the section, the interviewers push my sister to say that my mother and father had disowned me.
“They can’t believe Masih is walking around naked in the streets,” she says of my mother and father.
The interviewer presses her: “Have your parents disowned Masih?”
Her reply: “She’s broken their hearts.”
Hearing this made me virtually bodily ailing.
The fact is that earlier than the present aired, I acquired a name from my mom — a tiny, illiterate lady who has the toughness that comes from being deserted at an early age by her personal mom and married off at 14 years outdated. She was sobbing. The intelligence service had tried to strain her and my father to take part within the present. And the native Friday prayer chief had known as them out in public and urged them to cooperate. She refused — a present of loyalty that I can by no means repay.
In the interview, my sister and niece declare that they are going to “fight me.” Likewise, I’m engaged within the struggle of my life.
When I take into consideration who I’m combating for, all I have to do is watch the ultimate moments of the present, by which my great-nieces, four and 6 years outdated, are paraded in entrance of the cameras sporting chadors.
Seeing them takes me again to the time in my life after I was pressured to cowl my hair, after I was advised that my very own physique was shameful and after I was virtually punched in a parliamentary hall by a cleric as a result of two strands of hair have been peeking out from beneath my head scarf.
What the regime is doing to my household hurts me deeply. But in the long term these private assaults have at all times strengthened me and the Iranian feminists who’re my chosen household.
“I am prepared to give up my life for hijab,” my beloved sister says.
I, too, would quit my life. I’d give it up for ladies like her to stay in freedom.