You're probably seen at least one video of someone doing the "In My Feelings" challenge, but in Iran, posting a video of it might get you arrested.
Who doesn’t love a good viral challenge? In the last few days, the “In My Feelings” challenge (with Drake’s hit of the same name) has become a sensation on social media, making tons of celebrities try it with cool and unique takes on the dancing challenge. Stars like Ciara, Will Smith, Steve Aoki, Kevin Hart, and even Drake himself have accepted the challenge, entertaining millions of fans. Isn't it amazing? It's a great opportunity to show off your dance skills, while being part of a massive trend going on all around the world. But actually, that’s not true because, while we’re all enjoying the challenge, there are people in some parts of the world that can be arrested for dancing in public. That’s the case of Maedeh Hojabri, a nineteen-year-old Iranian girl who was arrested for posting videos of herself dancing on Instagram.
It’s a fact that we don’t appreciate the privileges we have until they’re threatened or taken away from us. Who’d think that something as common and natural as dancing could be considered a crime in the twentieth-first century? This nineteen-year-old influencer was arrested because, according to Iranian laws, women are forbidden to dance in public because it violates the country's moral values. Her account was shut down, leaving her almost 100,000 followers wondering what had happened to the very active Hojabri. The mystery was solved when she appeared on public television confessing her “crime” and swearing that it wasn’t her intention to upload these immoral videos or to encourage others to follow her example.
The situation has angered many all over the world, including other Iranians. Protests with the hashtag #DancingIsNotACrime have taken place in many cities, and even women in her home country have taken to the streets to dance publicly and upload it on the internet, not only making Hojabri’s case go viral, but also exposing the outdated laws their country still upholds. So, why can some of us something as random and harmless as a video of us dancing on social media, while many others are forbidden to do so? We have to start understanding that, although it’s a really natural response of our body and an essential part of our culture, for centuries, dancing has also been used as a form of rebellion and protest.
According to Arwa Haider’s article for the BBC, no matter the time in history or the place, dancing has always been seen as an action that promotes freedom (mostly sexual). For that reason, many conservative institutions (like religion or the State) have applied restrictions on this natural activity as a way to control the people's behavior. Iran, isn’t the only country doing this. We could go through many cases throughout the world where dance has been used as a form of protest.
For many Iranians, social media came to represent a free space to explore all those things that were banned or forbidden. The law, mainly for women, states that you can do “anything” you want in the privacy of your home, as long as you behave properly in public. For that reason, women have to go out wearing a veil and modest clothing, if they don’t want to get in any trouble. Now, if you think about it, for many of us social media is understood as a public space, however, for many young people, this was a kind of loophole in the law that allowed them to explore their privacy in a public “digital” world that wouldn't get them in trouble. Or so they thought.
Since a lot of people got really into platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, the government decided to ban these apps in the country, leaving Instagram as the only platform they could actually use. These days, Instagram has around 24 million users in Iran, but with the many cases like Hojabri’s, the government has threatened to ban this one as well since they’re only promoting “unwanted content.” According to a commander of the National Police, Kamal Hadianfar, at least 51,000 Instagram accounts are currently under surveillance, and if they persist on posting “vulgar and obscene” content, they will be arrested too.
These attitudes have been condemned by a wide sector of the population as outrageous, not only because they’re depriving people of even more liberties, but also because they’re exposing their lack of commitment to the well-being of the Iranian people. As actress Roya Mirelmi posted, “In this land corruption, rape or being a big thief, animal or child abuser, not having any dignity, is not a crime, [...] having a beautiful smile, being happy and feeling good is not only a crime but a cardinal sin.”
As I mentioned before, this situation isn’t new. In 2014, six people were arrested after uploading a version of Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy.” They were tried in court and forced, like Hojabri, to appear on television to “confess” their crime. They were sentenced to ninety lashes (yes, ninety), and even though the punishment was never administered, it said a lot about the judiciary system in Iran. As Reihane Taravati, one of the people arrested, posted in response to Hojabri’s case, “they don’t seem to learn from what they did in the past. Dancing is in our culture, it’s a way of showing happiness.”
According to some sources, Maedeh Hojabri was released on bail, but she wasn’t the only one arrested that day, and she definitely won’t be the last. Perhaps it would be a good idea to take challenges like Drake’s “In My Feelings” as an opportunity to reflect and think about our privilege, but also to use it as a platform to expose these strict and, honestly, absurd oppressive laws that only seek to diminish our humanity.
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