If you ever doubt that a single person can bend history, Google the name Masih Alinejad.
Masih is a tiny woman with a spine of steel (and an amazing head of hair). She was born poor in a tiny village in northern Iran; her mother, who was married off at 14 years old, is illiterate.
Like all Iranian girls born after the revolution, Masih was forced to wear a hijab after she turned seven. Her family was so devout that she covered her hair even while she slept. “I just wanted to feel the wind in my hair, to be as free as my brother,” she recalled in an interview with Terry Gross.
As a student activist and then as a journalist, Masih fearlessly challenged the corruption and hypocrisy of the Iranian regime. Her passion was demanding the rights that she and all other Iranian women are denied, most notably the right to show one’s hair in public.
Feminists don’t fare well in the Islamic Republic. About a decade ago, Masih fled the country, but she continued to lead the movement against Iran’s gender apartheid from exile. In 2014 she started the online movement My Stealthy Freedom, which has inspired countless Iranian women defy the regime by talking off their hijabs in public. These days, the journalist has more than five million followers on Instagram, a show on Voice of America, and a Twitter account devoted to elevating Iran’s pro-democracy movement.
It’s no wonder that the Ayatollahs are terrified of her.
In 2018, Masih’s sister was forced to denounce her on state television. In 2019, her brother Ali was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison for the crimes of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “insulting the Supreme Leader.” In a video recorded and released just before his arrest Ali told his sister: “The moment I’m arrested, speak out.” He insisted: “Be strong and do your work. You are doing the right thing.”
Masih has lived a life worthy of a film, but last week it more closely resembled the plot of an action movie. On Tuesday, federal prosecutors indicted four Iranians for conspiring to kidnap the activist from Brooklyn and smuggle her back to Iran in order to silence her. Masih, who was shuttled to various safe houses by the F.B.I. over the past few months, talks about some of the details of the plot here:
I am thrilled to announce that on Wednesday evening at 5 PM PST I will be hosting a subscriber-only event with this courageous woman.
We’ll discuss the plot against her, the Biden administration’s policy toward Iran, where she summons the strength to risk her life for what is right, and any other questions you’d like to ask. Please join us.
All subscribers will receive an email with the link to the event on Wednesday morning. So if you haven’t already subscribed, click here:
One more thing: I am working hard to improve this newsletter and build the kind of community you’d like to be a part of. To do that, it would be immensely helpful to get your feedback.
We’ve come up with a survey that won’t take more than five minutes to complete. I would be extremely grateful if you’d take it here. (Thank you, thank you, thank you.)
More from me later this week. Looking forward to seeing you on Wednesday!