Don't boycott Iran
by Sofia Stanescu-Bellu
"Paikidze’s decision was made to protest against a rule requiring players to wear a hijab in the hopes that the tournament will be relocated or postponed. She has framed her decision as a protest against women’s oppression, stating that it is “unacceptable to host a women’s world championship in a place where women do not have basic fundamental rights and are treated as second-class citizens.” And yet, while her intentions are good, her action might backfire.
As Paikidze has pointed out, Iran’s theocratic regime limits women’s freedoms by requiring them to abide by stricter standards than men. It’s also a country where chess is considered “haram,” or forbidden, by the Islamic leadership. Hosting the Women’s World Chess Championship in a country that hasn’t hosted any event of a similar caliber for women in its entire history is a revolutionary act. This tournament is one of the only chances for female Iranian chess players to show their country and the world what they are capable of. It’s also important to note that many of the women competing come from poor backgrounds, and the world championship is one of the only opportunities they have to try and create a better future for themselves.
Paikidze is encouraging others to join her in boycotting this important tournament and has even created an online petition to do so. With this, she is effectively asking others to help her block Iranian women’s only chance to gain recognition in their own country. Considering that Paikidze is an advocate for the increased participation of women in chess, this boycott is the antithesis of what she claims to stand for.
Let me be clear: choosing to host the Women’s World Chess Championship in Iran was a mistake to begin with. The World Chess Federation should not have even considered Tehran as a viable venue option. But given that Tehran was the only city with a bid to host the event, and the championship must be held each year, there was no other option. Iran has been the host of previous international chess events, and no one has voiced their outrage. Many of the top players in the world, including women, have played in Iran and have worn the hijab while playing, citing their wish to respect the local traditions and culture. This event should not be considered drastically different from others in the past."
As the author points out, some of people signing the petition are not so much concerned about oppression of women in Iran, but voicing Islamophobia and hatred. There is a tendency on the right for people to suddenly become feminists when it comes to Islam, without having anything to say about the oppression of women in any other context.