Human Rights

U.S. Chess Star’s Petition Against Holding Women’s Tournament in Iran Exceeds 15k Signatures

Iran is forcing women to cover their hair at the next world chess championship—and the reigning American female chess champion is circulating a petition in protest. Nazí Paikidze-Barnes, 22, exceeded her initial goal of collecting 15,000 signatures on Tuesday, one week after her appeal was first posted online.

The petition calls on the World Chess Federation (FIDE)—which “rejects discriminatory treatment for national, political, racial, social or religious reasons or on account of sex” in its handbook—to reconsider its choice of Iran as tournament host. Paikidze-Barnes, who authored the document, declared she will be boycotting the contest “even if it means missing one of the most important competitions of my career.”

“Some consider a hijab part of culture,” Paikidze-Barnes said in an Instagram post announcing her decision. “But, I know that a lot of Iranian women are bravely protesting this forced law daily and risking a lot by doing so. That’s why I will NOT wear a hijab and support women’s oppression.”

She has been harshly criticized by prominent officials involved with the chess federation and by Iranian media outlets, and more recently has been the target of op-eds in several prominent news outlets. In turn, some Muslim women’s rights activists pushed back in support of Paikidze-Barnes, with former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Q. Nomani describing one of the op-eds as “tragic because it uses women to tell other women to shut up.” Nomani wrote against “Iran’s hijab fetish” in The Washington Post last week.

Nomani also previously co-wrote an op-ed with Arab female journalist Hala Arafa in December 2015, which challenged the idea that Islamic scriptures require women to wear head coverings. “To us, the ‘hijab’ is a symbol of an interpretation of Islam we reject that believes that women are a sexual distraction to men, who are weak, and thus must not be tempted by the sight of our hair. We don’t buy it. This ideology promotes a social attitude that absolves men of sexually harassing women and puts the onus on the victim to protect herself by covering up,” they wrote.

“The new Muslim Reform Movement, a global network of leaders, advocating for human rights, peace and secular governance, supports the right of Muslim women to wear — or not wear — the headscarf.”

In 1979, legendary Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci interviewed the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, on the topic of the hijab.

“I am not only talking about piece of clothing, but what it represents,” Fallaci told Khomeini. “That is, the condition of segregation into which women have been cast once again, after the revolution. The fact that they can’t study at university with men, or work with men, for example, or go to the beach or to a swimming pool with men. They have to take a dip apart, in their chadors. By the way, how do you swim in a chador?”

Khomeini replied: “This is none of your business. Our customs are none of your business. If you do not like Islamic dress you are not obliged to wear it. Because Islamic dress is for good and proper young women.”

While Khomeini’s response conflated Islamic dress with “proper” behavior, it also suggested that Westerners would not be forced to wear the hijab in Iran, contrary to the current practice in the country.

[Photo: Chess Studio / YouTube ]