In January 1930, Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese revolutionaries, wrote an essay, "A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire," to encourage his comrades to shed their pessimism after the defeat of their 1927 revolution.
In today's context, there is a revolution taking place in the 'Islamic' Republic of Iran, where the Ayatollahs have operated an Islamic dictatorship since 1979, built upon the skeletons of tens of thousands of Iranians killed for opposing the Islamic regime and whose bodies lie in mass graves. Countless other Iranians are today living in exile in the West, including in Canada.
The atrocities committed against the Iranian people under the guise of establishing an Islamic society are well known worldwide. We in Canada are familiar with the travails of Zahra Kazemi, a 54-year-old Canadian freelance journalist of Iranian origin who was beaten, tortured and raped before she died in 2003 while in custody in Iran.
Today, Iran is led by President Ebrahim Raisi. He has been accused by Amnesty International of having been a member of the "death commission", which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents in the Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran in 1988. The circumstances surrounding the fate of the victims and the whereabouts of their bodies are, to this day, concealed by the Iranian authorities.
Whereas Kazemi's death and the mass murders committed under the direction of Iran's current president caused minor unrest inside Iran, the proverbial single spark that seems to have lit Iran's recent prairie fire came after the death in police custody of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini.
Amini was arrested outside a metro station in Tehran last Tuesday by the morality police. They accused her of breaking the law requiring women to cover their hair with a headscarf or hijab and their arms and legs with loose clothing.
According to witnesses quoted by the BBC, she was beaten while inside the police van that took her to a detention centre. Police rejected the allegation and said Amini suffered "sudden heart failure" while waiting with other women at the facility to be "educated".
The apparent lies of Iranian authorities triggered mass protests all over Iran as young and older women took off their hijabs and scarves and set them ablaze over bonfires. They smashed the portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini and President Raisi while replacing the name of a street called "Hijab Street" with "Mahsa Amini Street."
Videos on social media show mass protests in cities as far apart as Amol on the Caspian Sea and in the southern Baloch cities of Sistan. They all had one common feature: Women and girls taking off their headscarves or hijabs and burning them in bonfires as people cheered and danced as they sniffed the lifting of religious tyranny, even if it turned out to be a temporary phenomenon.
While Iranian girls and women rebelled against the oppressive laws of the regime regarding female "modesty", they face the hypocrisy of Western feminists who celebrate the hijab. They act as if the hijab was a superhero's cape, one that these naïve women, such as New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and other guilt-ridden Western feminists, find soul cleansing and empowering. They do this even as Iranian and other Muslim women rebel against what is the political flag of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood organization and other orthodox Shia Islamists.
For them, the Kurdish women who fought and defeated the Islamic State on the battlefield are not to be celebrated. Instead, these left-wing feminists find succour with the likes of Somali-born hijab-wearing U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
Former Toronto Sun columnist Farzana Hassan said it best when she wrote on these pages in August 2021: "Undoubtedly, the notion of a hijabi feminist is a contradiction in terms. It is justifiably oxymoronic when women donning the Islamic headscarf tout feminism. And yet, especially in the West, many young women have taken to social media to normalize the hijab as a symbol of emancipation rather than oppression."
Hassan added: "That the hijab is rooted in patriarchy is indisputable. The custom even goes back to pre-Islamic times when women were considered chattel. They were regarded as temptresses to be shielded from the predatory gaze of lecherous men. The veil was a symbol of control, oppression, and male dominance. Islam retained many of the customs and practices of pre-Islamic societies."
It is time for Canadian feminists, especially in the NDP – the ones who swear by feminism – to step forward and march with the Iranian women burning their male-imposed hijabs. These feminists may be well-served to be informed that the Islamists – both male and female – consider any woman not covering her head or face as "impure" or of "loose character" and punishable not just in Iran but the hereafter as well.
The spark has been lit. Some of us can see the prairie fire on the horizon. Join us.
Tarek Fatah is a Robert J. and Abby B. Levine Fellow at the Middle East Forum, a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, and a columnist at the Toronto Sun.