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Month: April 2023

Iran announces smart cameras to enforce cruel hijab law

On Saturday the 8th April Iranian police announced they were installing smart cameras to automatically detect and punish women not wearing the hijab. This article looks at this move in the context of Iranian women’s fight for freedom against a repressive fundamentalist regime, as well as the wider ethics of surveillance.  

Iranian women: the one in the middle wears a hijab, the one on the right a niqab

Firstly, women should have the freedom to wear what they like, as long as it doesn’t harm other people in society. Clearly the mere sight of a woman’s hair does not cause any actual harm, so going unveiled should therefore be allowed in Iran. All the other Muslim nations apart from Afghanistan recognise this fact and respect women’s right to wear what they choose. In this channel’s opinion, women’s right to wear the hijab should be respected, and their right to not wear the hijab should also be respected. Islamic Republic’ hardliners’ arguments against it seem to mainly be reactionary hysteria. For example cleric Ayatollah Mohsen Araki declared that the trend of “improper hijab” is somehow a “new COVID” that is instigated by foreign “enemies.” This type of baseless claim referencing shadowy, outside powers is a stock device used by authoritarian regimes, unable to accept their own people can see their oppression with their own eyes. 

Secondly, this is happening in the broader context of rolling protests ever since the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody last year. Mahsa, 22, was arrested on the 13 September in Tehran by the morality police for breaching Iran’s dress laws, brutally beaten in the police van causing her to collapse and be sent to the hospital, where she died on the 16 September. Her terrible death at the hands of unpopular morality police, inspired massive anti-hijab protests across Iran, and an attempted cover up by the regime who claimed it was a “sudden heart failure.” At least 522 people had lost their lives (though this figure includes pro-regime forces) by January 15th, with many shot or beaten to death by security services and groups of Islamic fundamentalists. Recognising the injustice of women being snatched off the street for not quite covering their head enough, Chief of Police Ahmadreza Radan has suggested prosecutions and impounding women’s vehicles, which simply shows the ultraconservative regime under the Ayatollah Khameini is ignoring the people and doubling down on an unjust law. 

Thirdly, although some Western commentators like to pretend otherwise, the cruel hijab law is everything to do with Islam. Whilst there may be Iran-specific cultural factors to the law, introduced shortly after the 1979 Revolution,the majority of the rationale for the law comes from Islam, which can be simply observed by the fact this is what the regime justifies its actions by. For example, on the 2nd April Iranian President Ayatollah Raisi declared the “Hijab is a religious necessity and a common divine command among all monotheistic religions and Islam’s branches, which protects the individual and society from any harm”. Raisi is actually right that the practice of hijab has been considered a requirement under orthodox Islam for over 1000 years by broad consensus. The Quran, in verse 24:31 commands 

“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment (zīnah) except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap their headcovers (khumurihinna) over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women…”

Additionally, verse 33:59 supports this:

“Prophet, tell your wives, your daughters and the believers’ women to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. This will make it more likely that they will be recognized and not abused.”

These verses are strong evidence on their own that the Quran would like women to dress with their head covered in the manner of the 7th century Arabian tribes it was addressed to. However, Islam is not just composed of the Quran but also tafsir, authoritative commentaries on the Quran. The tafsir of a respected Companion of Muhammad Ibn Abbas further supports this interpretation. See the below extract from the Yaqeen Institute.

“Ibn ʿAbbās, a giant in Qur’anic exegesis and the cousin of the Prophet ﷺ, for instance, explained that this clause meant that everything should be covered except the hands and face. It was also narrated from ʿĀʾishah (rA) that the intended meaning is “what appears from the hands and face.”

In the below hadith (authoritative reported sayings of Muhammad) the women’s action of covering themselves completely, including their heads except their face is applauded by none other than Aisha, the wife of Muhammad. 

“By Allah, I never saw any women better than the women of the Anṣār or stronger in their confirmation of Allah’s Book! When Sūrat al-Nūr was revealed, ‘and to draw their khumur over their chests’, they all tore up their waist-wraps and covered themselves with them.”

Hadiths are almost as important as the Quran in forming Islam and this hadith, and others like it, leave the hijab’s necessity in Islam beyond doubt, or at the very least places the burden of proof upon those seeking to claim otherwise. So the Iranian regime is correct about its necessity in Islam but wrong to try to force it on women. No state has the right to force any individual to follow a religion, or its conception of a religion. It is fundamentally unjust because it is a denial of freedom of expression, which is what makes us humans, rather than simply cogs in a machine.  

Finally, to return to smart surveillance, or simply surveillance in general, it is clear that itis simply a tool. It is not good or evil in itself. CCTV cameras can be used to prevent or punish murder, robbery or rape, which is unquestionably a positive. They can also be used by powerful clerics to deny young women their freedom of expression in the name of a regressive creed, which is unquestionably a negative. It is the intention behind it which matters the most.

The problem with Scotland’s new leader’s Islam

On the 28th March the SNP’s Humza Yousaf was voted First Minister of Scotland by the Scottish Parliament. This little known 37 year old MSP replaced the omnipresent Nicola Sturgeon, who resigned due to the controversy over the (illegal and immoral) Gender Bill. Notably he is a practicing Muslim, with worrying links to dangerous Islamists and questionable past behavior. This post looks at why this presents a danger.

Humza Yousaf, new First Minister and SNP leader

Humza Yousaf from the outside is every inch the liberal, socially progressive, typical SNP politician. He supported trans activists’ Scottish Gender Bill. He supported the Hate Crime Act criminalizing ‘stirring up [racial or sexual] hatred’. He stated he ‘doesn’t use [his] faith as the basis of legislation.’ But this outward image he presents conceals worrying behaviour, associations and the difficult position the fundamentals of Islam, his professed religion, put him in. Let’s see some examples. 

Humza used to run the Scottish Islamic Foundation, set up in 2008 and dissolved in 2013, with his cousin Osama Saeed. This same SIF was designated an entry level Islamist group in 2010 by the Quilliam Foundation which warned many members supported ‘creating a single ‘Islamic State’ [with] shariah as state law.’ This label seems to have been borne out, as early on Humza brought Islamic extremists to meet senior Scottish politicians.One of them, Mohammed Sawalha, was a Hamas terrorist commander. Yousaf then in 2013, in his new position as SNP Minister for External Affairs, despite claiming his Islam does not affect his policymaking, announced a £398,00 grant to Islamic Relief. This organization is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and has an appalling history of antisemitism. His association with his cousin Saeed, who in 2006 praised Al Qaeda’s Anwar Al Awlaki as ‘preach[ing] nothing but peace” is also highly questionable. Just in 2020 he famously tweeted his ‘dreadful sadness’ at the death of a high profile gangland drug-dealer, which this channel suspects was simply due to his being a member of the same religion. Most suspiciously, in 2014 he missed the vote on gay marriage in Scotland, perhaps fearing his fundamentalist Muslim voters in Glasgow would not approve, or perhaps he didn’t even support it, despite his publicly affirmed LGBT credentials, and only grudgingly came round after. 

More than anything there is an intractable problem, which Humza cannot make go away. It is impossible to reconcile liberalism and the fundamentals of Islam; the Quran simply does not permit it. This makes his position as a guardian of gay and women’s rights extremely weak and vulnerable to backsliding because Muslim fundamentalists can point to clear, unambiguous verses in the Quran and question why he is not following them. Indeed many have done so already. Take Humza’s declaration that he supports equal rights for women. Verse 4:34 in the Quran states “Men are the protectors of women because of the greater preference that God has given to some of them… admonish women who disobey (God’s laws), do not sleep with them, and beat them.” Also verse 2:228, after decreeing that divorced women must wait 3 menstrual cycles before remarrying, states “Women have benefits as well as responsibilities. Men have a status above women.” These 2 verses show Islam states women are not equal to men. Humza, if he truly believes in Islam, clearly cannot convincingly claim to support feminism. Nor can he convincingly claim to support gay rights since the Quran unequivocally condemns homosexuality in verse 7:81 which sees a prophet, Lot, scolding his people for their wickedness “You lust after men instead of women. You are certainly transgressors.” This is the essential problem of the Muslim moderate, he is torn between his regressive ideology and his progressive ideals, and a cognitive dissonance results from his trying to hold irreconcilable beliefs. 

Why does this matter? Because Islam is a uniquely effective and insidious proselytizing religion. It is the only intellectual force in the world capable of challenging Western democratic liberalism and at the helm of Scotland is a self-proclaimed follower of Islam, who cannot be expected to withstand pernicious attempts by Islamists to make the UK into a Sharia nation. Understand that this is a long term goal of theirs that is not close to succeeding, but in the short term attacking freedom of speech by making criticism of Islam taboo is bearing fruit. The best recent example is The Hate Crime and Public Disorder (Scotland) Act 2021 which Humza helped pass and is accused of being an anti-blasphemy law in disguise due to the arbitrary vagueness of the offense of ‘stirring up’ religious hatred. Actions like these come alongside regular calls by Islamic organizations to ban Islamophobia, which in most cases is simply criticism of Islam, and hysteria whipped up over minor incidents like an autistic schoolboy dropping a Quran accidentally this February. 

Finally, who a leader is is just as important as what he does. The perception that a leader is weak on, unopposed to, or accepting of your ideology can embolden people, even if he technically changes nothing. Hence in Brazil the perception that Jair Bolsonaro cared little for the environment unleashed a wave of opportunistic rainforest exploiters even if the laws themselves on Amazon land grabbing had not changed. The machinery of state, the civil service, become hesitant to apply laws that defend freedoms when they sense their executive is not behind them. In short Humza Yousaf, in the position of First Minister, could embolden Scottish Islamists and weaken resistance to them at the same time, all when the shaky economy and global situation is undermining support for liberal democracy worldwide.

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