CW: Mention of sexual assualt.
A couple of weeks ago, Mahsa Amini was visiting Iran’s capital city, Tehran. Whilst there, she bumped into the Iranian state’s ‘morality police’ who took her into custody for not wearing her hijab in an ‘appropriate’ way.
A few days later, she was fighting for her life in an intensive care unit and sadly passed away soon after. The police claimed she suffered from a pre-existing heart condition. Her family deny her ever having such a condition, and insist she was beaten to death. Considering the Iranian state’s track record, the latter is likely to be true.
Since then, protests have swept across Iran, with women defying the brutish morality police by tearing off and burning their hijabs. Many men stand in solidarity with their female comrades, especially in university towns such as Shiraz.
It is no surprise that oppressive violence is frequent in Iran and will continue as long as the theocracy remains in power. It began with, and is justified by, the concept of Velayat-e faqih. In its original Islamic form, it means the clergy can assume responsibility for orphans, the mentally ill, and untenanted or abandoned property. Ayatollah Khomeini took this to an extreme level, arguing that this responsibility should be extended to the whole of society. A supreme religious authority would act as a father figure for all. On his ascension to power following the 1979 revolution, this theory was made a reality.
Since then, Iran has been plunged back into the middle ages. There is no separation between church and state, and some of the most extreme forms of Islam are enforced without compromise.
This is especially to the detriment of the women of Iran. One can simply google the photos of pre-revolution Iran to see this. Under the Shah, women could be seen in bikinis relaxing on the beach and studying at university in figure-hugging dresses and skirts. Under the Shah’s more secular rule, the wearing of a head covering was optional. However, upon the mullah’s rise to power, traditional rules have returned, and women face up to 15 years in prison if caught without a head covering. More chauvinistic rules include women not being able to obtain a passport or leave the country without their husband’s written permission.
One of the most disturbing enforcements of these rules came in 2004 when a young woman, by the name of Atefah Rajabi Sahaaleh, was hauled into a court for violating chastity laws after being raped by a man 35 years her senior. Her charge would be a lashing. She justly protested her unjust treatment by tearing off her hijab in front of the judge. He announced she would hang for that. And so, the young woman was, in the main square in Neka for all to see, swinging from a crane.
However, there is still hope in Iran. The deeply theocratic state has potentially sowed the seeds of its own destruction. From 1980-88, the mullahs carelessly sent hundreds of thousands to die on the Iraqi frontier and as a result, were missing a large chunk of their young population. Cash incentives were given to mothers in the years following to make up the shortfall.
The effect of this was coined by Christopher Hitchens as “the baby boomerang”. 50% of the population is under the age of 25, but, according to scholars such as Abbas Milani, the majority are fervently anti-regime. The phrase ‘shooting yourself in the foot’ seems appropriate.
And now we are seeing the incarnation of this blunder as thousands across the country protest the anti-cultural, autocratic, misogynistic rule of the mullahs. They must be quaking in their boots as the chant ‘death to the Ayatollah!’ echoes throughout the land.