From Fakery to Thievery? Masih Alinejad’s Too Basic Understanding of Freedom



“To do whatever I want, because I can.” That could be the half-passable answer of a 5-year old child when asked what freedom is. Many sufferings in our world come precisely because of the alarming number of people who carry such flawed concept of human liberty well into their adulthood. When this idea is not refined through further education and an inquisitive spirit, a person can endure an entire life believing that deceiving, stealing and other corruptions of society are a sort of nature-given right, and that any obstacle to them necessarily implies “injustice or oppression.”

This can be said to be the story of Masih Alinejad who recently published a book narrating what she describes as her heroic struggle against such kind of “injustice or oppression,” not surprisingly by grabbing a copyrighted photograph as a book cover without actually paying for it.

Alinejad became an international internet celebrity back in 2014 when she launched “My Stealthy Freedom,” a Facebook page inviting Iranian women to post photos of themselves without a headscarf, closely followed by an allegedly spontaneous campaign heavily promoted by Western mainstream media garnering awarding it hundreds of thousands of likes. Although the vast majority of them came from Europe and the United States, she claims to be “a spokeswoman for voiceless women in Iran who can express themselves for the first time in more than 30 years.”

Last May, Alinejad published a memoir describing her journey from a pity village girl to an unofficial, New York-based spokeswoman for Iran’s women. Yes, all of them.

Alinejad’s campaign coexists with those of other Western women who advocate for the acceptance of topless and nudity in public places. Since the Iran factor is not involved in the latter, they rarely leave the marginality they inhabit with rare mass media attention and top-to-bottom engineered virality. And that’s precisely how Alinejad’s campaign is seen by a majority inside Iran. As false, bizarre and ridiculous. There is no internal physical social movement, no massive public protests have been recorded, and it may just barely make an appearance as a subject of private conversations.

The reason is that both Iranians and Westerners see their dress-codes as something normal in their own cultural environments. If someone argues that specific clothing is imposed on Iranian women, following the same logic, it is also imposed on Western women. Not only that, specific clothing is also imposed on Western men, and Iranian men who wear only long pants in public and unlike women don’t have dresses as an alternative choice. Miss Alinejad has never expressed any concern about men’s limited choices. Somehow only the stereotypes of “oppressed women” are useful for her.

Alinejad’s most common argument is that she’s not against the headscarf, but in favor of the right to choose. According to her, this freedom exists in the West, but not in Iran. Of course, this is correct only from a Western-centric perspective, but not among Iranians among whom being bare-headed in public is seen as impolite and offensive, just like nudity in the Western commonplace. Moreover, in Iran it is also associated to something pejorative (due to its practice among nomadic rural people), non-Iranian, and once imposed. No academic studies exist as to which dressing code is more beneficial to women or societies as a whole, and absolute freedom of choice, from nudity to masks, currently exists in few countries. Certainly, Iran is not among them, but neither are the United States, the United Kingdom, or France. Such examples do not bother Alinejad too much; she only speaks of Iran, and only about women.

Moreover, she suggests that only the Western dress-code is correct and represents freedom. As we all know from Hollywood movies, when two children find themselves on a desert island after the shipwreck, they naturally begin to speak English, cover their bodies in accordance to the Western dress-code, and prepare food consistent with the Western menu. There would be no Persian language, no Iranian headscarves, no Swazi nudity, no Chinese meals either, only “normal” i.e. Western norms. No matter how ridiculous this is, to hundreds of thousands of egotist Westerners on Alinejad’s page, it makes perfect sense and sound logic.

To prove that being bare-headed is actually normal and demanded, Alinejad often serves photographs and footages from before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, of a supposedly “free” Iran which offered freedom and choice. A brazen twisting of historical facts considering Iran was ruled at that time by a pro-American Pahlavi dictator who led an aggressive westernization campaign using massive violence, hundreds of assassinations, state-sanctioned torture and institutional discrimination. In spite of all their attempts, the proportion of women who adopted the Western dress-code was in permille, as well as limited to the capital and mostly foreign workers.

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The oppressive regime was finally overthrown by a popular revolution with the participation of millions of women in overt and covert political activism and who marched with headscarves and voted in the 1979 referendum for the Islamic Republic, i.e. free, democratic and anti-American Iran.

And here lies the real problem.

The pure intentions of Alinejad’s campaign raise more than one eyebrow when considering relevant information. After moving to the West, she married a staunch Pahlavi monarchist and worked as a correspondent for the U.S. government-funded media RFE/RL and VOA, undoubtedly of a propagandistic nature. The American-Iranian political relations and official Washington demonizing agendas are well-known, but there’s something more to say about Alinejad’s close associates. One year after starting her Facebook campaign, she received an award for “defending human rights, women’s freedom, and equality” from UN Watch. Speaking without euphemisms, Alinejad was financially sponsored by a pro-Israeli lobby group that has been leading a smear anti-Iranian campaign for many years.

According to Alinejad’s words, she got the idea to write a memoir book from Sheryl Sandberg, a billionaire and “philanthropist” who sponsored various pro-Israeli activist programs. This gives us a clear picture of the people who are trying to convince everyone that Iran, under a brutal dictatorship that kept a 75% of women illiterate was a feminist paradise that needs to be restored. People with scarce amounts of shame.

A poorly-understood concept of freedom

Yesterday, our staff stumbled with the Facebook post of a travel photographer complaining over the seemingly unlawful use of one of his photographs of the Iranian city of Isfahan, properly licensed in the Getty Images stock agency. The photograph appeared to have been stolen for the cover of Alinejad’s book “The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran” published by Little Brown and Company, a subsidiary of the Lagardère Publishing multinational media conglomerate headquartered in Paris. Vogel, the photographer, claims he hasn’t seen a penny from the use of his photograph for such a controversial and highly-publicized book and that neither Getty Images nor the book publisher have provided any explanations.

The likely theft of the creative content is far from speculative, considering Alinejad has a long-term habit of unauthorized grabbing of photographs from the private albums of Iranian citizens. There have been a number of such cases, targeting photos featuring unveiled Iranian women in rural areas or nature (where urban dress-code isn’t even in effect), usually taken without permission from photo-sharing networking services, and misrepresenting them on the Facebook page as “women protesting against the headscarf” along with shabby descriptions of “seeking freedom.”

After the objections, the posts are simply erased and Alinejad never publicly apologizes to anyone. The practice of privacy violation and theft perfectly reveals her concept of “fighting for freedom of choice.”

“The theft of photos is something I’ve experienced before,” shared Vogel with us. “But when your photo is stolen by someone so generously funded and who perverts the meaning of ‘freedom’ to the point of finding it justifiable to distribute child pornography online and offline, it just gives you the shivers,” referring to a recent controversy in which Masih Alinejad used the Instagram platform to share the graphic video of a couple of minors being raped in Iran by another person who felt freedom means “to do whatever I want, because I can.” What was she thinking? That it would be a good idea to use it to show Iran has no security because crime happens there. You know, unlike in…

Needless to say, Alinejad did not ask for permission of the victims or the families to share such highly sensitive content with the world wide web, enraging Iranian internauts. Instead of the usual procedure, in which social networking websites ban the account of a user sharing child abuse and pornography using their platforms, Alinejad’s post even got its share of media spotlight in the London-based channel Manoto, before she herself realized that trying to score some political points distributing child pornography might make her look bad with the hand that feeds her from Paris to New York.

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