I have always been shocked to see a western female journalist covering conflicts in the Middle East. No doubt it is because these journalists, as women, have a higher risk of being attacked in those latitudes than we male reporters are. It is an unfortunate reality.
Recently, after the disastrous withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the work of CNN’s Clarissa Ward caught the world’s attention when she wore a chador instead of a veil after the Taliban seized power.
Spanish journalist Ana Pastor is remembered for her interview with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president of Iran. She began the conversation with her veil perfectly in place, but during the conversation it fell off her shoulders, something she dismissed and which caused discomfort for the Iranian president, and outrage in the Arab world.
If we go back in time, we come to Oriana Fallaci’s historic interview with Ayatollah Khomein, the leader of Iran’s Islamic revolution, to which she went wearing a chador that revealed only her face. Once she got into the subject and confronted her interviewee she took off her veil and exposed it to him as a symbol of women’s oppression: a scandal in the Arab world, an icon in the western world (what a woman she was!).
This week marked Christiane Amanpour’s return to international assignments in the Middle East, after a stint tending to her health and working mainly in Europe. She did so in Afghanistan, where she interviewed Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. She did it in the same green veil in which he interviewed Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai 26 years ago, when the Taliban first came to power.
The headlines soon followed. “We keep naughty women at home” the Taliban would say, answering the British-Iranian journalist’s direct and uncompromising questions. Brave as always.
There is something about the image of these Western women journalists that always strikes us when we see them covering their heads in front of a man. We think it means submission or respect, but their questions and their work show us that on the inside they are as free as ever. Able to go for answers at any cost.
In case you haven’t seen it, I recommend the story Amanpour shared on her show about how women who were training professionally in Afghanistan have been barred from higher education and must now learn the permitted trades such as seamstressing. Helplessness is surfacing. It hits us. But never so much as for the victims of a retrograde regime, whose cruel essence is always revealed by the brilliant women who dare to speak out.
This article originally appeared in El American’s newsletter on May 22, 2022. Subscribe for free here!