Unwrapping Iran

Counterpoints Gender Human Rights
Symbol of theocratic oppression: Young girls in Shiraz, Iran, wear headscarves as part of their school uniform

 (Getty)

A few weeks ago I was searching for something in our basement and I came across two little memories of my childhood. When I was a baby my parents bought me two scarves, one light blue, one dark blue. At that time we were living in the south-east of Iran, only an hour from the border with Pakistan. A few years later in 1986 when I was six, the scarves played an unexpected role in my life. For three months I attended nursery school in Iran and my parents would ask me to wear one as a headscarf. I would wear it for five minutes or so and then take it off.

The tragedy here is multi-faceted. My parents have always been against veiling but were powerless under a fanatical regime that put modern women like my mother under the veil. Even in their worst nightmare, they would not have dreamed that one day their daughter would have to wear a headscarf because of a medieval theocracy. As a six-year-old I loved my beautiful scarves dearly, but I hated wearing them to cover my head. The day we left Iran for good we took my scarves with us. When I started attending kindergarten in Germany I wore them around my neck. As a child I was just happy to be fond of my two scarves again, without the terrible memory of my Iranian school. 

It was as an adult that I started to reflect on what my dark blue and light blue  scarves meant to me: my personal symbol of liberty and individual choice. Only in Germany have I been able to wear them the way I wanted. Hitherto it has been the country of my childhood that has deprived me and millions of Iranians of their individual choice. And it has been my new country that opened up opportunities of freedom for my family and me. I strongly believe that foreign policy and integration are interconnected — that is why I deal with both issues in my work as a journalist. 

You might ask what my personal story has to do with integration. Well, if you’re in Berlin early one morning sitting in a cab to the airport to catch a flight to London or Zurich, and the cab driver talks the whole time about how great it would be if Iran and Turkey were to emerge as superpowers and eradicate Israel and the Jewish people, then you know that what started with a medieval revolution in Iran in 1979 has reached the streets of Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam and London. If you walk around various Berlin districts and see little girls of six or seven wearing headscarves — some of them very colourful and some even in light blue and dark blue — you know that the debasement of Iran’s Islamic revolution has reached the heart of Europe. What was once the worst nightmare of my parents is now my worst nightmare too. I never thought that one day I would walk through the streets of Wedding or Kreuzberg in Berlin and witness young generations of Turkish and Arab migrants deprived of their individual choice and rights.

 All of these memories — from my childhood years in Iran, growing up in Germany, witnessing our challenges with integration and foreign policy — have led me to this conclusion: it is more than a moderate Islam that we need. We need a revolutionary Islam: an Islam compatible with modernity and individualism, an Islam that leaves behind collectivism, oppression and backwardness and instead endorses progress and finds itself at peace with itself and other world religions. I’m still very hopeful that the protests in Iran that began with the stolen election of 2009 will not only bring about the end of a barbaric regime, but also the beginning of an Islamic enlightenment. And it gives me hope that though I have lost the country of my childhood I will not lose another country again.