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Woman, Life, Liberty – the situation in Iran

On Tuesday, 13 September 2022, people of Iran were shocked to learn that the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had come from Kurdistan Province of Iran to Tehran on holidays, had slipped into coma after being detained by the so-called ‘morality police’. Three days later, on 16 September, they officially announced her death. Ever since that day, having no doubt about the brutal murder of Mahsa in the hands of the police, people have staged a nationwide uprising on the streets of Iran, which is now in its fourth week.

Zän, Zendegi, Azadi

Women, especially young women and surprisingly even schoolgirls, have been at the forefront of the unrests and “Zän, Zendegi, Azadi” (Woman, Life, Liberty) has quickly become the central slogan in the uprising. The sight of women taking their headscarves off and burning them, either alone or in bonfires, has been a regular feature by now. Subsequently, the regime has blocked the flow of internet, has made blanket arrests of activists, musicians, athletes, etc. and has continued the suppression of protesters on the streets with batons, tear-gas, pellet guns and war ammunition, all seemingly to prove that they have not killed Mahsa! Equally outraged, those in the diaspora outside of Iran have also taken to the streets around the world, showing their full solidarity.

On 1 October, in particular, as a result of a harmonised global call to action, Iranians gathered together and protested on the streets of more than 150 cities across the world in astonishing numbers, committed to be the voice of those risking their lives inside the country. Only in Toronto, the police estimates that upwards of 50,000 protesters showed up. In larger cities of the European countries, too, the turnout has been in the thousands.

Any one of us could be Mahsa

If you, as an observer from outside of Iran, are surprised at the volume and extent of turnouts and the amount of outrage, you must know that this has been 40+ years in the making. Mahsa Amini is not the only victim of the morality police (actually, far from that) and her violent treatment is not an isolated event. Let me recount just one personal example.

Once when I was 13, with a bunch of school friends we went to a restaurant to have lunch and celebrate our last day of school and the upcoming two-week school break for the New Year. Halfway through our lunch, we noticed that we were suddenly under siege by the security forces and subsequently, were transferred by a line of buses to the same detention center Mahsa Amini was taken to. To this day, I do not know the reason why. In the detention center, they used physical and psychological forms of aggression on us. For instance, they made us sit on the ground stones in the yard that had become too hot to sit on under the afternoon sun, or made us watch the male detainees do the crow walk around the yard while they would beat them at times as they pleased. The whole ordeal took a few hours and at the end, they made us fill in a form and sign a pledge that we would not engage in any political activities!

This was while our families had no idea where we were and we could not contact them, either. Remember, in those days there was no internet or mobile phone. But we came out alive, didn’t we? Being Mahsa Amini resonates with so many of us. Any one of us could be Mahsa. But Mahsa could be considered the most innocent victim, whose detention went as far as resulting in her death. She was not an activist, was not protesting anything, but was simply a tourist out on a street in Tehran. It could be this innocence, coupled with chronic aggression and humiliation tolerated not just by women but also men through the years, that triggered the sudden release of the spring of people’s anger that had been pushed and held back for far too long. Enough was enough for the women of Iran!

“We didn’t make a revolution to go backwards”

It all started back in February 1979, when the revolution in Iran resulted in the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty and the establishment of the rule of political Islam. Only days after the revolution, among the first moves by the office of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution, were the dismantling of the Family Protection Law (Islamic law replaced it) and the pronouncement of compulsory hijab for women. Sensing that the outlook, in the aftermath of the revolution, was going awry for women, they marched on the International Women’s Day, 8 March 1979, to protest the decision and chanted slogans like “We didn’t make a revolution to go backwards” and “In the dawn of freedom, there is an absence of freedom.” At the time, unlike now, only a minority of men came along and supported those women. The rhetoric on the side of the Islamists was that a woman with Western, immodest clothes was naked and unclean, and on the side of the progressives and intellectuals, that more important issues were on the line (e.g. fighting imperialism) and in that light, women should stop nagging about a piece of cloth on their head! Until now, these two rhetorics have been used along the way against women any time they have demanded their rights and freedom.

Even though women’s 1979 demonstrations pushed the regime back, a few years later, they made the compulsory hijab into law and ever since, generations of women have continued their fight against it in myriad ways, mainly in the form of civil disobedience. At the same time, the morality police have spread their roots, gained more funds and support, and have turned more violent and ruthless in their encounters with the public. It is not that we have led a life under military or security conditions but rather, with constant stress of “what if,” with the question mark hovering over our heads: “What if they see us?” “What if they show up?” “What if they knock?”.

On the other hand, the regime has chosen and controlled the narrative both inside and outside Iran through exercising its full power and expenditure, spreading words like “People of Iran have chosen to live differently,” “Women in Iran observe the hijab on their own,” “Hijab is a part of our culture.” How they have shaped and managed the narrative to their own liking and for such a long time requires an entire blog of its own but suffice to say here that on the side of the people, the feeling of suffocation, frustration, and disgust have been building up.

By restricting women, they have controlled and humiliated men too

Needless to say, it is not only women, who have been the target of the Islamic, totalitarian regime in Iran. By restricting women, they have controlled and humiliated men, too, to say the least. In a country with various forms of diversity and multiplicity, today there is hardly any sub-group that has not been wounded by the regime. 43 years ago, they received a prosperous, resourceful, youthful, and vibrant country and in four decades they have delivered a ruin from every angle imaginable. Especially during the past few years, they have taken the people of Iran from grief to grief.

In November 2019, they shut down the internet and in that blackout of information, killed at least 1500 demonstrators who were protesting the extreme increase of fuel prices, in a matter of days. In January 2020, they shot down the Ukrainian airliner, flight PS752, right after take-off from Tehran with two missiles, killing all 176 passengers and crew onboard. In March 2020 when all countries had stopped flights to China, Iran continued. Subsequently, COVID19 started raging in Iran, taking lives. They disregarded health measures and only took such measures that served their political purposes. In 2021, they banned Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines. No data, no eventuality, no closure for any of the mentioned events have been revealed or reached. Abduction, arrests, torture, fabricated forced confessions on state TV, executions, etc. have all been regular fixtures in the lived experiences of the people of Iran. Not only all that, but the Islamic Republic has continually invested billions of dollars of Iran’s wealth in creating mayhem and destabilising other countries in the region: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen.

The recent explosion of outcry is not about hijab, it’s about everything

So, please do not make any mistake. The recent explosion of outcry is not about the hijab, Mahsa Amini, economy, or any single matter. It is about everything. The vibrant, knowledgeable, and forward-looking people of Iran have practised their patience and exhausted all options to create change, to no avail. At this point, it is about going all the way and freeing our country, Iran, from the Islamic Republic. And we demand the world NOT to come save us, but to stop legitimising the Islamic Republic and their narrative, stop shaking hands and negotiating with them. An Iran without Islamic Republic will contribute immensely to the stabilisation of our world.

Leila Gharavi
Doctoral researcher
Faculty of Social Sciences
University of Helsinki

The views and opinions expressed in the blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the National Council of Women of Finland.

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