“One town’s very like another,” say lyrics in the musical Chess, “when your head’s down over your pieces, brother.” That is probably not the case when your head has an unfamiliar, unwanted piece of cloth draped over it because of the town — and the country — you are in and because you are a woman.
So you have to wonder what (and whether) world chess officials were thinking when they decided to hold next year’s women’s world championship in Tehran, where the Islamic Republic commands all women to wear the headscarves its interpretation of Islamic law requires.
Nazi Paikidze, who grew up in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and now plays as an American, announced that she would refuse to participate — “even if it means missing one of the most important competitions of my career.”
Ms. Paikidze has expressed her position both in terms of her own rights and as a refusal to support the oppression of Iranian women. Both are good reasons. No one should be required to submit to laws such as the compulsory hijab as a condition of participating in a global competition. And such submission could be construed as condoning the tyranny that imposes that law on its citizens.
The question is not the hijab; the question is freedom. Those women for whom the hijab is a genuine expression of personal faith have every right to wear it. But no one has the right to impose it on women who do not believe in it.
There may be only one thing that could redeem this. A spokesman for the World Chess Federation said it was “reviewing all possible solutions for the players’ comfort and will discuss all the issues with the organizers in Iran during meetings in the next few weeks.” If, somehow, the chess players can go to Iran without having to wear the hijab, that might be a crack in the Islamic Republic’s oppressive regime.