In cities across the country, Iranian women are setting fire to their hijabs to symbolize their opposition to a repressive regime that uses its internal security forces to police their lives and bodies. If the Islamic Revolution of 1979 was a “war against women,” then today’s protest movement aims to right that inequality and injustice, which is why “women, life, and freedom” has become the slogan of this woman-led revolution.


But the regime has responded the only way repressive authoritarian regimes know how –  with predictable fire and fury, having cut off the Internet and deployed heavily armed riot police, resulting in nearly 100 deaths; however, the more the government in Tehran cracks down on the protesters, the more women are encouraged to take to the streets in defiance, which in turn, has ignited solidarity protest movements throughout the world.


To put it bluntly – nothing gets white Americans and Europeans more excited than Muslim women removing their hijabs and setting them on fire, because from the ordinary American’s perspective, Islamic clothing represents repression, and removal of said clothing equates to freedom.


This observation doesn’t take away a thing from the legitimacy and organic origins of the women’s protest in Iran, but it says something about the West’s hypocrisy towards women in the Muslim world, particularly in the way the Western countries have fostered the fallacy that Islamic clothing correlates with repression and extremism.


This falsehood has constructed the idea that Muslim women are not dangerous but in need of saving.


Put another way – when Muslim women remove their clothing, they become ‘good’ Muslims who are deserving of our support, but when they remain dressed in a manner consistent with their religious and cultural beliefs, they are deserving only of fear and suspicion, which is why hijab-removing Iranian women are afforded significant attention and sympathy in the media, but hijab-wearing Muslim women in Palestine, Kashmir, and Afghanistan are treated like a global security threat.


This makes it impossible to argue that Western support for Iranian women is about saving women from repression, given the willingness of Western countries to turn a blind eye to human rights violations against women who live under the repressive rule of regimes aligned with the United States and NATO.


One must then wonder what Palestinian women must do to earn the sympathy and solidarity among significant portions of Western populations. It’s impossible to believe a majority of Americans, Brits, and Europeans would suddenly get behind the Palestinian liberation cause if Palestinian women started removing their hijabs and setting them on fire, given Western countries have never supported Palestinian women under any circumstance.


Few cared when 24 Palestinian women were killed in Gaza earlier this year, or that 39 were killed the year before, and even fewer cared when dozens of women were killed during the Great Return March protests of 2018-20, along with the 299 women that were killed during Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2014.


Videos showing Palestinian women being thrown to the ground and assaulted by heavily armed Israeli soldiers are shared on social media on a near daily basis, but only among accounts that are engaged with the Free Palestine Movement.


Nonetheless, Israeli human rights abuses and war crimes haven’t stopped Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry from producing a made-for-social-media video titled, “Women of Israel Stand with Iranian Women,” and featuring a dozen Israeli women proclaiming, “We support Iranian women,” “We will never forget you, Masha Amini,” and “Every woman deserves to be free.”


That is – “every woman” with the exclusion of Palestinian women, obviously, remembering Israeli women joined their male compatriots in driving miles from their homes in Tel Aviv to climb atop a hill in Sderot to watch and enjoy American taxpayer funded Israeli warplanes bombing Palestinian women in Gaza, but now they suddenly want you to believe they stand with Muslim women in Iran.


This hypocrisy is made possible because in no way is Israeli and American support for Iranian women related to saving Muslim women from repression. It’s about politics and anti-Muslim prejudice, which is why Western news media outlets are duping audiences into believing the Iran protests represent the new front in the civilizational war between Islam and the West – and it’s been this way ever since the US-led war in Afghanistan was sold as a civilizing mission to liberate Muslim women from medieval-minded, bearded Muslim men.


“The rhetoric was, like, ‘These Muslims beat women and kill them. We’re going to go liberate them, take off their burqas, take off their hijabs,’” an Egyptian American student told the New Yorker, while recounting the atmospherics in the US during the first weeks and months after the 9/11 attacks. “This is where this anti-hijab sentiment started.”


Images of Iranian women removing and setting fire to their hijabs has reignited this colonial impulse, although calls for US military interventionism have been few and far between. For now, Americans, Israelis, and Europeans are seemingly content with individualized expressions of solidarity for Iranian women on social media.


Instagram and Facebook are lit up with videos showing Hollywood and European celebrities cutting their hair in solidarity, while seemingly oblivious to the extent US sanctions have disproportionally affected Iranian women in negative and harmful ways, a reality that makes US government support for the protesters appear even more hollow and hypocritical – if that were at all possible.


“Muslim women’s modes of resistance are regularly co-opted and reported on in a reductive manner that strengthens harmful imperialist, Islamophobic, and interventionist agendas, rather than offering any meaningful support or solidarity,” says Dr. Nora Jaber, a Lecturer in Law at the University of Exeter.


Ultimately, it’s critically important we see Muslim women beyond the paradigm of liberation versus oppression, and beyond the dichotomy of threatening versus in need of saving. Solidarity for oppressed women should be applied consistently and inclusively. To support Iranian women while turning a blind eye to the oppression of Palestinian women only reinforces the notion that Western support for the former is entrenched in Islamophobia and a West versus Islam binary.