Originally Posted by Rita Panahi
AFTER decades of subjugation, the courageous women of Iran are demanding change.
The uprising in Iran has seen tens of thousands of men and women calling for the removal of the mullahs whose regressive reign has turned the oil-rich nation into a leading state sponsor of terrorism.
These protests are unlike what we’ve seen in the past. The level of anti-regime sentiment is unmistakeable, with people openly chanting for the end of Islamic rule as well as calling for the removal of President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That takes enormous courage in a country where dissidence can get you imprisoned, tortured or even killed.
For me, growing up in Iran went from idyllic to harrowing in what seemed like record speed. The Islamic Revolution of 1978-79 turned a relatively modern and secular country into a backward, oppressive theocracy. As a young child, I didn’t understand the socio-political issues or the religious forces behind the revolution; all I knew was that I had reason to be afraid.
The women of my mother’s generation, used to being free, independent and growing in power, were suddenly forced to cover up in compulsory Muslim garb or face arrest, imprisonment or worse. Of course, it didn’t stop with forced veiling. The embrace of sharia law has seen women reduced to second-class citizens in many ways, from institutionalised gender discrimination to bans on entering sporting stadiums.
It starts early. For me, it was at the age of five that I was expected to conform to the strict moral code and forced to wear a hijab to attend school or leave the home.
Many Westerners are shocked to see images from the 1960s and ’70s of pre-Revolution Iran featuring women in miniskirts and beehive hairdos, or beachside in bathing suits. It is a sobering reminder of how women’s rights can regress dramatically.
Whether in the Middle East or Western Europe or here in Australia, we must remain vigilant in guarding individual freedoms.
A cowardly culture of appeasement has seen authorities in Germany and Sweden resort to segregated zones and events.
Berlin’s New Year’s Eve celebrations had a “safety zone for women” after hundreds were groped, robbed and assaulted by groups of men of “Arab or North African appearance” during last year’s event in Cologne.
This year, Sweden will hold a women-only music festival in Gothenburg after a spate of sexual assaults, including rapes, at similar events. The Bråvalla music festival, Sweden’s largest, has been cancelled after a number of rapes at the 2016 and 2017 events.
In Iran, the changes that stripped women of their rights were not accepted without a fight.
In 1979, about 100,000 women bravely took to the streets of Tehran to protest the imposition of Islamic law, including the compulsory hijab requirement. Some of the protesters were stabbed by Islamists, others were imprisoned, and ultimately the fight was lost.
To see the feminists of this year’s Women’s March embrace the hijab as a symbol of diversity and empowerment is an affront to many women forced to wear it.
Those who fetishise the hijab, niqab and burqa ignore the fact that they are instruments of oppression forced on millions of women in the Muslim world.
Watching the uprising in Iran at the weekend has been both terrifying and exhilarating; the former because the regime is brutal and will use deadly force to crush dissent, the latter because this time the protesters may succeed.
There were rallies in 2009, but they were doomed once US president Barack Obama failed to back the protesters. Change seemed impossible after the Obama administration struck a nuclear deal with the regime.
As recently as late November, the New York Times’ Tehran bureau chief, Thomas Erdbrink, reported the Iranian people were united in a “nationalist fervour” behind their government in the face of President Donald Trump’s determination to tear up the deal. That article hasn’t aged well.
The coverage of the protests has been a lesson in fake news. CNN and the New York Times have provided minimal coverage, and what little they did publish and broadcast had a decidedly pro-regime narrative. Our ABC wasn’t much better, highlighting a pro-government rally and blaming “Iran’s weak economy” for the protests. However, footage from rallies held around the country shows people chanting against the mullahs, Islamic rule and the Basij, a much-feared paramilitary arm of the Revolutionary Guard. These are not merely economic protests.
Thus far, the response from the Trump administration has been precisely what you would hope for: a strong statement of support for the protesters.
A significant number of Iranians yearn for the life they once knew, particularly the freedom that vanished so quickly. Those too young to know anything other than the Islamic Republic also thirst for the democracy, liberty and dignity that so many take for granted in the West.
It takes heroic levels of bravery for oppressed people, particularly women, in an Islamic republic to protest. They deserve our support.