The American chess champion challenging Iran’s hijab fetish

Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement. Masih Alinejad is a journalist for the Voice of America Persian service and founder of My Stealthy Freedom, a campaign to oppose compulsory headscarves in Iran. Follow them on Twitter at @AsraNomani and @MasihPooyan.

Last week, FIDE, the international chess federation, quietly announced that Iran would host next year’s Women’s World Chess Championship, which means contestants will have to cover their hair with scarves to comply with a “modesty” law fundamentalist clerics put in place after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

As British Grandmaster Nigel Short spread the news, expressing concern, the 2016 U.S. champion, Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, a Georgian American, made a morally courageous move: Paikidze said she would skip the competition rather than comply with a law that denies women and girls fundamental human rights.

“I will NOT wear a hijab and support women’s oppression. Even if it means missing one of the most important competitions of my career,” the chess champion said.

To us, Paikidze should not have to boycott the tournament, which an Iranian Woman Grandmaster said would hurt the progress of women’s chess in the country. Instead, Iran should respect her choice, make the headscarf optional and lift its ban on women who choose not to cover their hair.

The 22-year-old U.S. chess champion’s sincere protest is a remarkable checkmate to the government of Iran and other fundamentalist elements in our Muslim societies, who peddle “hijab” as a virtual sixth pillar of Islam for women. It also raises fresh scrutiny about a chess federation already under fire for corruption. Last November, the Treasury Department sanctioned FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a Russian businessman, for “materially assisting” and representing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

In a countermove, Susan Polgar, the Hungarian-born American chair of FIDE’s Commission for Women’s Chess, said she has “respect” for “cultural differences,” even noting the “beautiful choices” of scarves Iranian organizers provided women in the past.

Thank you, but no, thank you.

source: https://www.washingtonpost.c...

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