In the middle of a busy December day in Tehran, Vida Movahed, a then-unknown young woman, bravely climbed on top of an electric utility box on the crowded Enghelab (Revolution) Street to take a stance against Iran’s compulsory hijab laws that force women to cover their hair and dress modestly. In a now-viral demonstration, the young woman tied her white headscarf on top of a stick and calmly started waving it like a flag.
31yrs-old #IranianWomen with child of 19months,who went viral 4 taking off hijab in the streets of #Tehran against #ForcedHijab was reportedly arrested on Dec27 & still
missing!People are concerned because last weeks at least 5 people were killed in #Iran #Prisons #Where_Is_She pic.twitter.com/H4pmsAJIPy
— Darya Safai (@SafaiDarya) January 22, 2018
Pictures of a small young woman bravely defying the Islamic regime’s 40 years of compulsory hijab laws quickly became a symbol of resistance and widely surfaced on various social media platforms, inspiring dozens of Iranian women all around the country to follow her example.
More women in #Iran are risking imprisonment by removing their #hijab to protest against forced hijab and posting it with the hashtag #دختران_خیابان_انقلاب meaning “the girls of Enghelab street” which was the street where #VidaMovahed first took off her hijab.#IranProtests pic.twitter.com/tqpwxQfoSl
— Armin Navabi (@ArminNavabi) January 29, 2018
With such extraordinary courage to stand tall in the face of a brutal theocracy against all the odds and her style of protest, the young women walked in the footsteps of Iranian legends, resurrecting millennia-old epics.
It does not do justice to say Vida “risked” legal consequences, for to risk there must exist some degree of possibility or probability. In a country where the police regularly arrest and drag women into police vans for exposing a few extra strands of hair, legal consequences to Vida’s action are not just “probable” but rather an absolute certainty. By bare-headedly standing on a five feet tall stand on one of the Tehran’s busiest streets, and waving her scarf on top of a stick during the broad daylight, Vida did not risk the consequences–she embraced them.
When all the men of power and prestige kept silent in fear of the tyrant’s rage or the hope of his gold, standing by cowardly as darkness holds the nation hostage–an unlikely legend came to rescue. She raised her Headscarf, a cheap piece of cloth, to be the grand standard, and the world heard her cry for freedom. The “Enghelab Street Girl” is strikingly similar to the Iranian legend Kaveh the Blacksmith who raised the first standard of Iran, and after whom the first Iranian flag was named, Derafsh Kaviani (Standard of Kaveh).
One of the darkest periods in Iran’s history, as narrated in the national epic of Iran, the Shahnameh (The Book of Kings) was the 1000-years-long reign of a tyrant human-dragon named Zahhak. The reign of Zahhak was all pain and darkness for the Iranians who suffered from his injustice.
Two serpents had sprouted out of Zahhak’s shoulders, manifesting Satan’s curse on Zahhak. Zahhak’s serpents only feasted on a special meal made from young men’s brains, and to keep them calm Zahhak had ordered his guards to each day execute two young men to supply the young brain he needed to feed the serpents.
Until one night, Zahhak saw in a dream the coming of a rebellion that would end his reign and life. Fearing the coming revolt, Zahhak summoned all the prominent men of power and prestige in Iran to his court and asked them to sign a document testifying to his justice and righteous deeds. They all signed, in fear of the tyrant’s rage and the hope of his gold.
It was at this time that all those men of prominence, in whom the Iranian people had placed their hope, failed to confront the tyranny. Then suddenly Kaveh the Blacksmith, an average blue-collar man, raised his voice and cried for justice. Kaveh’s cry echoed in Zahhak’s palace as he bravely approached the throne, while all the elites were dead silent, and called out Zahhak’s evildoings.
As all the elders stood by and watched in shock, Kaveh tore up Zahhak’s petition and condemned them for yielding to the dragon. As Kaveh left the palace, he called the world to rise for justice, and as the public started to gather in his support, he tied his leather blacksmith apron on top of a spear and raised it as the movement’s standard to unite the people. Around that worthless blacksmith apron, Iranians gathered by the thousands. Joined by a righteous prince, they dethroned the dragon and cleansed their country of evil and darkness.
Iranians erected that piece of worthless leather as the flag of their empire, calling it the Standard of Kaveh. For many centuries after that, each new king of Iran paid tribute to that symbol, ornamenting it with the best of the jewels. They raised that apron in every battle at the center of the camp, caring to protect it more than they cared about the king, for its security and continued erection they saw as a blessing and the key to victory. Out of all the luxurious fabrics, that worn-out apron symbolized the Iranian people’s victory over injustice and tyranny.
That blacksmith apron, just like the Vida’s Headscarf, symbolized the people’s struggle for the cause of justice and freedom. When the men of prominence turn out to be a mix of cowards and sellouts, suddenly out of nowhere an ordinary citizen raises a standard against the mighty tyrant, be it a dragon or the Ayatollah, and the uniting cry for freedom and justice amplifies throughout the universe.
That simple standard then, be it a simple worthless blacksmith apron or a thin, white headscarf, will cheer up every freedom fighter’s heart and lead as the illuminating torch for justice. Today, as the Iranian people struggle for freedom and justice, this verse from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh about the Standard of Kaveh is a strikingly accurate description of the Vida’s Headscarf: “It thus fell out that Kaveh’s standard grew to be a sun amid the gloom of night, and cheered all hearts.”
Ulysses Kamrani is a fellow in foreign affairs at The Millennial Policy Center.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.