April 2015
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Ayaan Hirshi Ali. Infidel. New York, Free Press, 2008.

Ayaan Hirshi Ali. Nomad: From Islam to America. A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations. New York, Free Press, 2010.

Salman Rushdie. Joseph Anton: A Memoir. Random House, 2012.


Farhat Taj is a Pakistani researcher living in Norway. She carries out research in the south west of Pakistan. Blighted by terrorism, it is one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Neither the Geneva Convention nor the ruling norms of international law operate there, let alone Pakistani law. There are no western observers to be seen: they are unwelcome guests in the eyes of both the Taliban and the Pakistani army. Journalists are murdered. And both the Taliban and the army systematically violate human rights. This is Farhat's home. It is where her friends and family live. She visits often and wrote a book about the region in 2011, Taliban and Anti-Taliban.

In a lecture hall at the University of Oslo, Farhat speaks of what she saw in Pakistan first hand. The audience is mainly academic. There are participants from Egypt, Iran, China. It seems I am the only one who can return home safely. Not to my new home, to the places where I have found refuge – New York, London or Oslo – but to my own home, Kyiv.

Masih Alinejad sits next to me. The day before, Masih had caused a stir (both at the conference and on Norwegian television) by criticizing the Norwegian ambassador in Iran for wearing a traditional Norwegian shawl to a meeting with the Iranian president, Hasan Rouhani. As Masih put it, the ambassador was demonstrating her assent to a regime that forces women to wear the hijab. Other western female politicians (such as Catherine Ashton) have also covered their heads when meeting the leaders of Iran. Masih finds this infuriating:

Apparently it is a sign of respect for Iranian laws. But wasn't slavery once a law too? This isn't respect, it is a demonstration that economic and political relations are more important than our freedom. At international meetings, Iranian leaders leave official receptions if there's alcohol on the table.

Masih Alinejad lives in New York. Several years ago, when Masih was studying in London, she posted a picture of herself on Facebook without her headscarf. Later, she posted another picture of herself at home, in Iran. Hundreds of other Iranian women began to follow her example, publishing photos of themselves without their hijabs. In doing so, they were risking their lives. Iran's religious leaders regularly call on the public to harm women who go out without covering their heads. They remain unprotected from persecution and violence. Many women have suffered acid attacks because they dared to break the rules. Regardless, Iranian women continue to publish photographs online. The Facebook group "My Stealthy Freedom", created by Masih in May 2014, now has more than 850,000 followers, both women and men. I'd like to see Naomi Wolf in this group. She claims that the hijab liberates Muslim women from the pressure of conforming to standards of beauty. The hijab forms part of their sexual appeal, says Wolf. And so the privileged continue to tell the oppressed about the advantages of slavery.

When people like Masih or Farhat speak about the problems of their communities and countries in the West, they can be more pointed in their remarks than outsiders. No white non-Muslim woman would criticize customs in Iran as sharply as Masih. We speak freely only when we talk about our own societies (as well as America – criticism of which many people consider to be le bon ton). On occasion, insiders make statements that are unacceptable to western journalists, politicians or researchers. They find themselves on the receiving end of criticism from people who are happy, white and...

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Originally Published in This Issue of Krytyka