This newsletter is a special mid-week edition produced in collaboration with our sister newsletter, Les Glorieuses. If you are not a subscriber to Les Glorieuses, you can sign up here.
The newsletter in brief:
- Mahsa ‘Zhina’ Amini was killed by Iran’s ‘morality police’ because of the way she wore her hijab.
- Her death has unleashed a wave of protests against the brutal oppression women have endured for decades under the Islamic Republic.
- In a
guest essay, Iranian-American writer and actor Nazanin Nour calls for feminists around the world to stand with Iranian women as they fight for their liberties.
Iran’s feminist revolution needs you
By Nazanin Nour
Anger. Despair. Rage. These are just a few of the emotions that Iranians have been experiencing since the murder of Mahsa ‘Zhina’ Amini at the hands of Iran’s “morality police.”
On September 13 the 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, who also went by the first name Zhina, traveled to Tehran with her family. Police arrested her, claiming she was not wearing her hijab in accordance with the country’s laws on mandatory head coverings. Amini’s family say the morality police forcefully took her from them and threw her into a patrol van. Eyewitnesses say police dealt her several blows to the head in the van. She was then taken to a detention center to attend a “re-education class,” where she was seen on CCTV collapsing onto the floor. She was taken to a hospital, where she subsequently died on Friday, September 16.
I would like to take a moment to note why you’re seeing two names trending on social media: Mahsa and Zhina. The laws of the Islamic Republic forbids Iranian parents from giving their children a name that “insults Islamic sanctity,” as they feel that such names will sow division between the country’s various ethnic groups. So there are Iranians who choose an approved name for their child’s birth certificate, but still call them by the name they originally wanted. Mahsa was her government-approved name, and Zhina was her Kurdish name.
Amini’s death has been the final straw for Iranians of all ages, ethnic groups, and backgrounds. When the news broke that she had died, many observed that this could have been them. She could have been their sister, their mother, their wife. Everyone is rightfully outraged, and this has served as a call to arms for Iranians. People who may have stayed on the sidelines in the past have now come out in force against the injustices they have faced all of these years. The youth of Iran, who have only known life under the brutality of the Islamic Republic, who have grown up on social media seeing people around the world living as they choose, are now demanding to be able to do the same.
What we’re seeing now is the culmination of four decades of oppressive, theocratic rule.
In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in the Iranian Revolution, declaring a new Islamic Republic and transforming the country from a monarchy to a theocracy. Since then, women in Iran – which, according to the Islamic Republic, means girls over nine years old – have been forced to cover themselves by wearing either a chador, which is a long, usually black piece of fabric that covers everything but your face, or a roosari (hijab) and manteau (the equivalent of a long coat). Male and female enforcers of this draconian law roam the streets, keeping watch for anyone who doesn’t adhere to the rules.
Women whose coverings are deemed insufficient or inappropriate are subject to arrests, fines, beatings, lashings, and jail time. Some have even been threatened with execution.
Over the years, women in Iran have tried to fight hijab laws using grassroots tactics. The most organized and well-known campaign was ‘White Wednesday’, started by Iranian-American journalist and activist, Masih Alinejad, who has lived in exile in the US since 2009. The campaign encouraged women to wear white headscarves on Wednesdays to protest compulsory hijab laws, or to take them off completely and film themselves doing so. These videos were shared on social media to encourage more women to do the same as an act of defiance and solidarity with one another. This was a way for Iranian women to fight back against the brutal oppression they’d been enduring for decades under the Islamic Republic.
The last time a large-scale movement in Iran gained momentum was in 2019. What started as a nationwide protest set off by an exorbitant hike in fuel prices quickly turned into calls to overthrow the Islamic Republic and its Supreme Leader. It’s been
referred to as ‘Bloody November,’ and the government used the same methods it is using right now to crush and silence dissent. They shut off the internet, slaughtered 1500 people, and threw many more in jail on trumped up charges.
It’s safe to say that all Iranian women have either had brushes with the morality police themselves, or have been witness to the experience of others. It’s terrifying, and it’s meant to subjugate, to make women obey. It’s patriarchy and misogyny rolled into one, and nobody is safe from its claws.
I was born in the US, but I have a rather large family, and the majority of them are still in Iran. Being a visitor there has not exempted me from the strict dress codes of the Islamic Republic, and I have had my own brushes with the police.
As a nine-year old child visiting Iran for the first time, I experienced firsthand just how terrifying such an experience could be. Some of my family members had taken me, my young sister, and my parents to an amusement park, and I was not wearing any of the required garments. My family didn’t want to subject me, their American visitor, to the oppression that they’d been suffering from, and did everything they could to shield us from the ugliness that they had to live with on a daily basis.
An officer approached us and asked why I wasn’t covered. My family quickly said that I was only eight, and that I was visiting from the US. We were allowed to move on, but not without them suggesting that I should start covering regardless.
The second time I remember being stopped in Iran was when I was 28. I was with my sister and two of my cousins. It was nighttime, and we were walking back from a park where we had just had ice cream. We were laughing and singing, and as we got closer to my cousin’s home, a police car slowly rolled up to us. My heart sank into my stomach. We froze.
Two officers got out and asked us for our national ID cards, asked us what we were doing, and why our headscarves had fallen backward. My male cousin stepped up and explained that we were related (as we would have gotten in a lot of trouble for hanging out with non-related members of the opposite sex). He said that my sister and I were American and didn’t know better. The police let us go, again with a warning to cover properly.
The guilt I feel for leaving unscathed thanks to the country of my birth has never left me. Every time we’d fly out of Iran, I’d look out of the window at my motherland and cry. I’d cry because I missed my family terribly. I’d cry because I never had a guarantee to see them again. I’d cry for all of the birthdays, weddings, and funerals I would never be able to attend, leaving me to celebrate and grieve from afar. I’d cry for all of the people I felt I was leaving behind to fend for themselves. People who yearn to live with the freedoms we have in the US and elsewhere. People who feel the world doesn’t care about them, or their plight. People who just want to have the simple choice to live as they wish.
I hope and pray that things will finally change, that the tide will finally turn for Iranians. That the world will stand side by side with the people of Iran. That the feminists around the world who fight for women’s rights will speak up for the women of Iran. That the people of Iran will finally, one day soon, taste real freedom.
Until then, we fight. We fight for all of the Mahsas, the Zhinas, the Navid Afkaris, the Neda Agha-Soltans. We fight for Iran. All we ask is that you don’t leave us to fight alone.