A quiet, astoundingly courageous counter-revolution has been going on in the cities of Iran, instigated by a small number of women. It began last December, when 31 year old mum, Vida Movahedi, stood on a box in a busy Tehran, in trousers and a top, with her hair uncovered. She waved her white headscarf and looked expressionless as she repudiated state enforced hijabs and cloaks.
It was a soft, silent, most electrifying protest. Other women have followed, only a small number, but their images on social media multiply exponentially. The most moving example is of an old woman, who struggles to climb up and stand on the edge of a frozen fountain. She too removes her hijab, then waves it.
Dozens of these rebels have been arrested. Claims of torture are seeping out. Narges Hosseini, who was arrested for protesting Iran's compulsory hijab, faces 10 years in prison. Among these restive Iranians are lawyers such as the Nobel prize winning, human rights lawyers Shirin Ebadi, hounded out the country, and Narges Sotoudah, who was imprisoned for years.
In Saudi Arabia young men are being savagely punished and some beheaded for resisting oppression; Egypt is now appallingly repressive. The Saudi dissident blogger, Raif Badawi has been repeatedly lashed and is going mad in his cell. The son of an Egyptian acquaintance was taken away and may have been killed for his online comments. His younger brother has taken up where his brother left off.
Conscientious journalists in Turkey are locked away and liberal Turks are enduring terrible hostility and discrimination. They all want what they think we have in the west and are prepared to die for it.
How their spirits would break if they realised that in the UK, US, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Sweden, Germany, most of all the US, populism and manipulative politicians are crushing progressive liberal values and distorting democracy. Religious and political hard liners, conservatives and nationalists are aggressively combating equality, diversity, tolerance, modernism, most of all Islam.
It's a crusade and one that is being resisted by just some stragglers and irrepressible 'lefties'. I am one of them. Alarmingly, with a few exceptions, most other liberal democrats seem to be reacting with a combination of languor and fatalism. Some even adopt the language of the hard right and absorb the accusations directed at progressive people and ideas. Where is the will, resolution, energy and sense of urgency? Each time they show they can't be bothered to take on organised obscurantism, the opposition gains territory.
Loose talk about burdensome 'foreigners' has now become normalised. Nativists write in praise of 'somewherepeople' and censure 'nowhere' cosmopolitans and these xenophobic thoughts pass into our culture, largely unchallenged. Fifty years after his pernicious speech, there are moves to rehabilitate the rabidly anti-migrant Enoch Powell. The Express and Star newspapers are agitating to get a blue plaque put up to honour him. Opposition to this idea is still only a weak whisper.
The Canadian academic psychologist Jordan B Peterson recently came to the UK. This 'hero' avers that egalitarians are dangerous 'Marxists' and modern day 'fascists'. Women, according to this guru have not been oppressed through history; Muslims make up victim stories and there is no such thing as white privilege. He is getting rich on this vendetta. Again liberals fell over themselves to interview Peterson, but they never landed a blow because they lack his sense of destiny.
Farage also gets a free pass in the media as do some of the most nationalistic Brexiters. In spite of this intimidating, regressive public discourse, women have come out against male sexual harassment and abuse. And so they get trashed even more viciously than before. Many are retreating back into conformity.
The worst example of cultural extremism was seen in the Telegraph last week when George Soros the billionaire was viciously mauled by four journalist working as a pack. Why? Because he funds a pro-EU group, promotes liberal values, equality, civic engagement and human rights. He is the latest "enemy within".
Remember history. Remember these words written by the anti-Nazi resister Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Farah, a young Iranian student I mentor, phoned me last week: "Why are you people who believe in
freedom not defending those Iranian women who hate hijabs?"
How can we do that when we are now unwilling to defend those freedoms in our own country?