Iran’s Régime Is Terribly Afraid … of Dancing on Instagram

This article appeared on Washington Examiner on November 13, 2018.
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The end is in sight for Iran’s mullahs. It may take years, but the demise of their oppressive theocratic regime is inevitable. That prediction reflects one simple notion: They are afraid of Instagram.

We don’t know how and when the rotten Iranian theocracy will implode on its own — a topic on which even experts can endlessly disagree. It is a remarkable comment on the regime’s fragility that Tehran’s rulers feel threatened by dancing on social media.

Specifically, they are threatened by teenage girls such as Maedeh Hojabri. Hojabri is an 18-year-old gymnast in Iran. Like many girls her age around the world, she loves to dance.

This past July, Iran’s morality police broke into Hojabri’s home and arrested her in front of her parents. Hojabri’s crime? She had videotaped herself wearing jeans and a cropped T-shirt, dancing in the privacy of her bedroom. She had then uploaded the videos to Instagram, where her account had 300 other videos and thousands of social media followers.

Weeks later Hojabri appeared in another video. This time she was not on Instagram. She was on old media: Iranian state TV. And she was wearing the compulsory hijab covering her hair. She publicly confessed that her videos, filmed while clothed but without a hijab, were immoral. She cried:

I had no bad intentions. ... I did not want to encourage others to do the same. ... I did not work with a network.

Scores of people who watched Hojabri’s confession believe it was made it under duress by Iranian authorities — which provoked a backlash on digital media. Quickly, the hashtag #DancingIsNotACrime started peppering social media’s landscape in support of Hojabri.

Brave Iranian women began posting videos of themselves dancing without their hair covered. They did this to defy the Islamic regime, knowing they were putting themselves at risk of arrest. As Reuters reports: “Access to many social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the Instagram messaging app are blocked in Iran. ... But many Iranians evade the state filter through the use of VPN software, which provides encrypted links directly to private networks abroad, and can allow a computer to behave as if it is based in another country.”

Next, people from all around the world including Finland, Japan, Germany, the United States, Canada, and South America joined Iranian dissidents in solidarity on social media. Globally, men and women were uploading videos of themselves dancing with the hashtag #DancingIsNotACrime, too. Others mocked Iran’s regime by posting favorite music videos from movies such as “Footloose” and “Flashdance” with #DancingIsNotACrime.

But dancing in public is still a crime in today’s Iran.

Defenders of the Iranian regime claim that their interpretation of Islamic law, and alleged goal of protecting Islamic culture, justifies violating the fundamental human right of free expression. But one never hears them satisfactorily explain why the creator, the source of both human beauty and intellect, would oppose dancing or Instagram or both.

To a watching world, the controversy in Iran looks more like the work of aging misogynists than the almighty, who calls us all to both ethics and aesthetics.

Despite the mullahs’ misrule, they are aging fast. Iran’s young people are clearly not following in the former’s medieval footsteps. The time is coming when young Iranian women and men will be able to dance in the streets and celebrate the end of a long, dark, oppressive night.

Matt Daniels and Doug Bandow

Matt Daniels is chairman of Law & Human Rights at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., and the creator of www.universalrights.com. Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.