Iran's Green Movement has embraced a new symbol of protest: the woman's veil. In an unprecedented show of support for women's rights, Iranian men have posted photos of themselves wearing the head covering typically worn by Muslim women. The images show hundreds of men clad in bright green headscarves posing mockingly for the camera.
This campaign was sparked by the government's attempt to humiliate leading student activist Majid Tavakoli. Authorities arrested Tavakoli after he delivered a fiery anti-government speech during Iran's Student Day demonstrations on December 7th. Following his detention, the semi-official Fars News Agency published photos of him wearing a woman's veil, claiming that he had been found trying to escape from campus using it as a disguise. Many members of the opposition believe the photos were fabricated to discredit and disgrace the young activist.
Once again, Iran's young and tech savvy opposition has cleverly utilized new media to bypass government censorship and laugh in the face of authority. The online campaign highlights the absurdity of the regime's attempts at character defamation. A similar strategy was used after the government subjected hundreds of reformers to show trials following the disputed June election. People posted YouTube videos of themselves confessing to the most ridiculous things in order to show how baseless and empty the government's forced confessions and accusations against its critics have become. By co-opting the government's own tools of repression, the opposition has rendered such tactics ineffectual.
Given the politically fraught history of the veil, this campaign is deeply symbolic. In 1935, Reza Shah Pahlavi banned women from wearing a head covering in public in an attempt to move Iran away from what he considered religious backwardness and toward modernity. Prior to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, there was a revival of social traditionalism and women would don the veil to reaffirm their Iranian-Islamic identity against the perceived onslaught of Western influence. Today, young women flout Islamic dress codes by exposing their hair from under colorful headscarves in mass defiance of the Islamic Republic.
Now, men too have taken up the veil as a symbol of political protest. This campaign is not only a reaction against the mistreatment of political prisoners, but also against male chauvinism. From the government's perspective, it is insulting to be likened to a woman. This only highlights the divide between Iran's ruling clique and the mass of young, progressive students who have spearheaded the veil campaign. One Iranian blogger who calls himself Blondie writes:
"With great pride I will wear women's clothing, and I am proud to fashion myself as an Iranian women. Do you know why Dictator? Because they were the ones who demanded their rights from the very beginning...From now on, in a show of respect towards Iranian women and girls, I will take a veil with me as a symbol of protest to every demonstration I attend, whether in the streets or in the university."
The world was surprised to see women at the forefront of the Green Movement, going face to face with baton-wielding Basij militiamen. The truth is, Iranian women are fearless because they have withstood years of harassment by the morality police who try to enforce Islamic dress and comportment upon them. They have fought tirelessly for democratic reform because they have the most to gain from it. For the first time, Iranian men have also organized to promote gender equality. As an Iranian woman, I am both amused and heartened by their rather unconventional show of support. I would even venture to say that this campaign marks an important milestone in the struggle for women's rights in Iran.
Nasim Novin is an Iranian-American writer based in DC.