February 1 marked World Hijab Day, an annual expression of solidarity with "millions of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab and live a life of modesty." Less than two weeks earlier, on January 20, a Women's March was held -- with rallies across the United States -- to re-enact the protests of the previous year against the election of President Donald Trump.
Bizarrely, Western feminists devoting their energy to supporting the right of Muslim women to wear the Islamic headscarf and highlighting the "MeToo" and "Time's Up" movements against sexual harassment, have been ignoring the genuine plight of their counterparts in the Islamic Republic of Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East, Asia and the Indian Subcontinent.
Vida Movahed, for instance, age 31, publicly removed her hijab and placed it on a stick in the streets of Tehran. For this act of freedom-seeking defiance, she was arrested and sent to prison.
The courage of women such as Movahed -- who, alongside men, was protesting the ayatollah-led regime -- emboldened other women in Iran to discard their hijabs and demand their rights as women and as individuals.
To Muslim women fighting to get rid of shackles in countries such as Saudi Arabia -- where a video of an 11-year-old girl dancing led to an "immorality" investigation and an arrest -- or Iran, the veil represents slavery. At the same time, the supine British Foreign Office was trying to sell the hijab as a symbol of "Liberation", "Respect" and "Security".
One wonders whether the move was aimed to please Saudi Crown Prince on his upcoming UK tour or if the British Foreign Office actually believes that Western women who do not wear a hijab feel insecure or oppressed.
It is jarring that Western feminists have been unable to join in this historic women's-rights struggle, which is taking place in countries with no democratic values, and not in the United States, where everyone is at liberty to protest the government.
No one in the Women's March called out the Iranian government for imprisoning, torturing and murdering women trying to break free of their shackles. Instead, they chanted "Me Too" and "Time's Up," as they paraded with activists such as Palestinian-American Linda Sarsour, who calls for jihad and apparently also denigrated one of her employees who was a victim of sexual assault in the workplace. "She [Sarsour] called me a liar because 'Something like this didn't happen to women who looked like me'... She told me I'd never work in NYC ever again for as long as she lived," according to the victim, Asmi Fathelbab.
Asmi Fathelbab (pictured) was an employee of left-wing "feminist" activist Linda Sarsour at the Arab American Association, when Fathelbab was sexually assaulted in the office. "She [Sarsour] called me a liar because 'Something like this didn't happen to women who looked like me,'" according to Fathelbab. (Image source: Fox News video screenshot)
How can anyone demand an end to the sexual abuse of American women at the hands of powerful men, while holding up Sarsour -- who, by advocating sharia law, promotes the suppression of women -- as a paragon of women's rights?
This is not the first time that Western feminists have ignored the plight of women living under autocratic regimes.
In 2017, a Turkish woman, Asena Melisa Saglam was attacked by a man on a bus for wearing shorts during Ramadan. The incident triggered protests in the streets of Istanbul on behalf of a woman's right to dress as she pleases. Turkish women were waving signs with slogans such as, "Don't Mess with my outfit," "We will not obey, be silenced, be afraid," and "We will win through resistance." They were also displaying shorts on hangers.
These women -- who are trapped in despotic Middle Eastern dictatorships, who face possible prosecution and having their lives ruined -- were given no attention by the same women marchers in the U.S. Evidently, feminists in the West were too busy wearing hijabs in solidarity with Sarsour and other promoters of Islamic law (sharia), which advises husbands to beat their wives and that in court, a woman's testimony is worth half a man's testimony; that daughters can receive only half the inheritance of a son, and that if a woman is raped, she will need four male Muslim witnesses, supposedly at the scene, to prove that she was not committing adultery.
It is not exactly as if any woman in America was ever attacked on a bus for wearing or not wearing a headscarf.
The multiculturalism that leads people in the West to look the other way when women in the Middle East are forced to wear hijabs has gotten so out of hand that it completely overlooks the lack of women's rights in Muslim-majority countries, as well as in many Muslim-majority neighborhoods of Western countries.
Occasionally, lip service is paid to the plight of such women, such as when filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy won her second Oscar in 2016 for her documentary, "A Girl in the River - The Price of Forgiveness," about honor killings in Pakistan. As soon as the ceremonies were over, however, the subjugation of women in the Middle East once again gets forgotten by Western feminists.
Today, Iranian women are literally fighting to live free in countrywide protests that the regime in Tehran is trying to quash. It is the oppression of these women that needs to be protested. It is time for everyone in the West to join them in calling out the religious fascism that keeps them in chains.
Khadija Khan is a Pakistani journalist and commentator, currently based in Germany.