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Iran: the hair of freedom. #MahsaAmini

Iran, September 2022. The death of Mahsa Amini, for a lock that stuck out. A lock that ignited the fire. An uprising. Under the lid of the hijab, the cauldron of freedom could take no more. In Iran, collectively, courage awoke. No amount of repression or shameful "realpolitik" will stop it.

A lock, perhaps, was sticking out of her hijab.

In Iran, since July 5 and a law "on the hijab and chastity of the country", which imposes new clothing restrictions on women, it is potentially a crime. On 13 September, Mahsa Amini was arrested by the vice police of President Raissi's sinister regime. Mahsa was 22 years old and an Iranian Kurd. For one strand of hair too many, Mahsa was dragged to the police station and beaten. She died as a result. Concussion. But with Mahsa, the whole of Iran was hit in the head.

One death too many, one lock too many that set the world on fire.


An image.

Hair floating in the wind.

It is "the image of the century", claims the Indian poet and filmmaker Leena Manimekalai, herself prosecuted by a court in Delhi for "disrespectful representation of Hindu gods": at issue is the poster for her new film which shows a character, dressed as the goddess Kali, smoking cigarettes (Read HERE). Declared a "criminal" by the Hindu-nationalist government of ex-paramilitary Narendra Modi, Leena Manimekalai, exiled in Toronto, Canada, was unable to attend her grandmother's funeral in early September.

"The image of the century (at the top of this article): a flag of hair. A work that, at first glance, has nothing to do with Mahsa Amini.

Its title: Ombre indigène (Indigenous Shadow). Made in 2014, exhibited in 2016 at Wiels, Brussels.

Its author: Edith Dekyndt, a Belgian artist, trained at the printed image workshop of Arts (Arts au carré) in Mons (her website:

This flag of hair has a history. The work was created during a stay of the artist in Martinique. Ombre indigènese stands in Le Diamant, on the very spot where Édouard Glissant, poet of the All-World, was born and buried, and where a ship carrying a hundred African slaves broke up on the cliffs nearly two hundred years ago.

Hair, slavery, is still a story.

African slaves used their braids as a means of communication. Crowns were used to help slaves escape slavery, as in Colombia, where hair braiding was used to relay messages. For example, to signal that they wanted to escape, women would braid a hairstyle called departures. Thick, tight braids, braided close to the scalp and tied into buns on top. Another style was curved braids, tightly woven on the head, which represented the paths they would take to escape. In the braids, they also kept gold and hid seeds which, in the long run, helped them to survive after their escape. Beyond a simple hairstyle, therefore, it was a symbol of freedom and emancipation.

(See in particular Sandro Miller, CROWNS. My hair - My soul - My freedom, SKIRA, 2021)


It is also a form of slavery that women in Iran are subjected to.

The servitude of the hijab.

On July 12, the Iranian government initiated the "Day of hijab and chastity", celebrated with strong propaganda by the national television (video above). This same July 12, a movement launched on social networks by several activists called Iranian women to go out in the street without hijab (Read on RFI, 12/07/2022). As the former french Secretary of State Jeannette Bougrab reminds us, "We must not be mistaken about the meaning of the veil. It is neither a social phenomenon nor an artifact of fashion. It serves a deliberate gender policy that aims to enslave the female mind and body. It is no coincidence that one of the first decisions taken by Ayatollah Khomeini upon coming to power after fifteen years of exile was to impose the wearing of the hijab on all women, and this on March 7, 1979, the day before the International Women's Rights Day instituted by the United Nations two years earlier."

In Iran, "change, of course, is necessary, inevitable and urgent," wrote Michael Page, deputy director for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch, in January, as the repression of citizens' freedoms continues to grow. This is just one example among many: last January, the Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced to six years in prison for "gathering and colluding to act against national security", as well as two years in prison and 74 lashes for "undermining national security and public order" the famous human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, spokeswoman for the Center for Human Rights Defenders founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi (Read HERE). Narges Mohammadi, who suffers from a serious neurological disease that causes muscle paralysis, was denied a passport, which prevented her from joining her family living in France.

In November 2021, the French diplomacy had softly asked for the release of Narges Mohammadi. Since then: radio silence. In recent days, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Emmanuel Macron was keen to shake hands with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raissi. In the Élysée press release, at the end of this meeting, it is indicated that after having spoken at length about nuclear energy, "the President of the Republic expressed his shock at the news of the death of Mahsa Amini after his arrest, and insisted on the need for a transparent investigation to shed light on this tragedy."

The handshake between Emmanuel Macron and Ebrahim Raissi, on September 20 at the United Nations,

on the front page of the Iranian press

"The ball is now in Iran's court," added Emmanuel Macron. Indeed: the ball is mostly in the body of the Iranian men and women who are demonstrating. Already more than 50 deaths to date. The French embassy in Tehran has simply issued a communication to French citizens: "Since Mahsa Amini died on September 16, demonstrations and rallies are observed in Iran, in Tehran as in the main cities of the country. In this context, this embassy would like to remind its general instructions of caution, in particular to stay away from all gatherings and to refrain from taking photographs in the public space." Long live realpolitik!!!


Image from My Stealthy Freedom Facebook page

Iranian journalist, writer and activist Masih Alinejad, a refugee in the United States, for her part, dreams of "the day when freedoms are no longer stealthy." In 2014, she launched the "My Stealthy Freedom" movement to denounce the forced wearing of the hijab in Iran. And in 2018, she published a book called The Wind in My Hair (still unpublished in French).

Last July, a 23-year-old man named Khalid Mehdiyev was arrested when he tried to enter her Brooklyn home with an AK-47 assault rifle hidden in his car, armed with about 60 bullets. As Emmanuel Macron said, "the ball is in the Iranians' court".

ARTE documentary by Nahid Persson (Sweden, 2021, 52mn) available until 21/10/2022

"Iranian women have always been brainwashed," says Masih Alinejad. "Their hair and identity have been held hostage because this is how the government controls society."

And then comes a day, a Mahsa-day, a day when the valve can't hold the pot anymore.

This uprising, today,

In pictures and videos, below.

As a Persian proverb says: "The hand of generosity is better than the arm of strength". Or, "One does not pick the fruit of happiness from the tree of injustice."

Jean-Marc Adolphe, 9/24/2022

Headline illustration: Edith Dekyndt, Ombre indigène (Native Shadow), 2014

Iranian students write the name of Mahsa Amini after her brutal murder by the morality police.

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