Iranians TEHRAN: Schoolgirls armed with backpacks and Converse sneakers joined the revolt on Monday, the 18th day in Iran’s violent protests against the oppressive clerical regime and its many failures.
They marched down a street near Tehran’s capital waving their school uniform veils. They yelled “Bisharaf!” at a male education official from the same school.
Bisharaf! They blocked traffic in Shiraz’s southern city, waving their head scarves around in circles. They tore up the images of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini the founder of the Islamic Republic, and then hurled them in the air.
Their chants are filled with fury and despair. The confident entry of Iranian insurgent girls into the public sphere of protest is extraordinary and exceptional.
They are fighting back against a future in which their bodies will be under the control of the Islamic Republic.
No matter what happens to Iran’s protest movement now in its third week, the authorities’ feminist resistance now includes schoolchildren.
The Iranian government was caught off guard by the outpouring anger when it erupted in dozens of cities on Sept. 16, protesting the death of Mahsa Amini (22-year-old Kurdish Iranian girl) in police custody.
Iran’s morality police arrested Ms. Amini because she wore an “improper hijab”, though it was not clear what her exact violation of Islamic dress codes was.
Video footage of Ms. Amini being detained shows that her attire is uncontroversial according to Iranian standards.
- Her unremarkable appearance, however, is actually the point. Iranians The selective application of hijab laws has been a distinguishing feature in Iranian life over the past few years.
- These pockets of society have survived despite the economic decline and have enjoyed relative freedom from restrictions for many years.
- They have been protected by their wealth, privileges, and connections to the regime.
- This partially explains why protests against Ms. Amini’s sudden death escalated into a widespread rejection of the Islamic Republic, its leaders, and its management.
- It is clear that the gap between the opportunities and freedoms enjoyed by the system’s affiliated elite versus ordinary Iranians has never been wider. This is why so many people are so angry about it.
- These protests are different from other recent unrest in Iran. In 1999, students marched against the closing down of a reformist newspaper.
- In 2009, millions marched against an allegedly rigged election and demanded the ascent of different system leaders. Many people today feel despair and a collective loss.
- Shervin Hajipour, a singer, summarized the pain in his song “Baraye” or “For.” These lyrics were compiled from tweets of protesters and offer reasons for their protests. They are often heard from cars and balconies in Tehran, particularly in the evenings.
- My sister, your sister and our sisters
- We long for an ordinary existence.
- Life and freedom are important for women
Tehran is located at the base tall snow-dusted mountains. It spreads downward through leafy areas lined with old villas or luxury apartment towers, then outward into an ever-growing expanse of apartment blocks and concrete, low-slung suburbanites where the poor reside.
The skyline is dominated by bright lights from malls that are filled with jewel shops and patisseries, as well as commercial skyscrapers and a triple-butterfly tower by Zaha Hadid in construction.
The city’s main boulevard runs from the foothills to the end, and is lined with plane trees.
Your location to the mountains will determine the quality of your air, the view you have of the city, and your position within it.
- The morality police rarely venture into north Tehran to check on families living in apartments with saunas or garages for parking. The elite sons of the regime race their Maseratis along the tree-lined boulevards. Last winter, I saw a woman wearing chador (full body cover) and driving a matte-black Bugatti.
- The right to wear the hijab free of charge is a reality for the north Tehran wealthy women. The women dine on rooftops at restaurants that serve sushi and mezze, their Gucci bags still in their hands, while waitresses are covered.
- Even the naked midriff, once an unusual sight, has become commonplace last summer. Two summers ago, my son was visiting.
- He assumed that it was a law to be able remove your head scarf from restaurants. It might be for the new elite. One protester said to me, “Can you picture the police picking up a young girl at one these places?” Her father is a minister and would likely send the entire squad to the Afghan border.
- Lavasan is a small, outside Tehran town that has become a popular playground for celebrities, soccer players and wealthy regime-affiliated people. Many Instagram accounts have been created to show ordinary Iranians the lives of their rulers.
- These include photos from their chateaus and gated villa compound, as well as their unmolested, scantily dressed lifestyles.
- In the rest of Tehran, they patrol in public parks, metro stations, and buses around terminals. These are the points from which Iranians from poorer areas and low-wage suburbs approach Tehran’s privileged north.
- The roving Mitsubishi vans of the morality cops prowl. Although they might not be present every day, they are there enough to exercise their coercive power and instill fear.
- What exactly is a “proper” hijab? The hijab is a scarf worn over the head with a longish tunic. This outfit conforms to “modest fashion” but has no objective basis. They can arbitrarily use the state’s power to stop you at any time they wish, claiming that there is something wrong with your body.
These consequences can be anything from a nuisance to the destruction of a life.
- Ebrahim Raisi was a hard-liner who took office last summer in an where the hijab was no longer a boondoggle in government life. The street Enghelab Street, named after the revolution, was covered in stickers featuring women with bee-stung lips and lip fillers.
- The hopeful hoped that the hard-liners would control all branches of government and feel less insecure. They would also be more tolerant. In July, Raisi announced that he would increase enforcement of hijab regulations. Morality patrols on public transport increased in the wake of Raisi’s decision.
- Many women were arrested for violating the conservative dress code. Sepideh Rashno (a young writer) was one of those arrested. She later appeared on state television, making what appeared to have been a forced apology for not wearing proper hijab.
- As I do every other month, I visited family in Tehran in September. One evening, I was able to go to the bakery and quickly understood from the darkened streets, deserted sidewalks and broken glass that something terrible had just happened.
- Two indiscreet intelligence agents with awkward shirts and the wrong haircuts waited at a newspaper kiosk. Two women in chadors and worn out shoes walked too fast up and down the street.
- It was like being on set in a movie, with everyone acting their parts, and the saboteurs pretending to be protesters torching the area. The actual residents vanished.
- Niloofar was a mid-twentysomething translator and graphic artist who recalled the brutality of the 2009 crackdown. She had been in Sattarkhan in Tehran two days prior to our meeting. This neighborhood was one of Tehran’s most troubled areas.
- The number of women wearing head scarves among protesters was encouraging to her, who are women who wear hijab but have come out to support a movement that opposes it.
She said, “It’s not a small thing to go out on the streets.” “You risk your life, arrest, injury. It’s almost like fighting a war.
- Niloofar viewed the women’s decision to protest the government as crucial. This feature makes the movement, although smaller in numbers, more powerful than any Iran has seen since 1979. Protesters, on the other hand, are careful not to insult religion because, despite society’s gradual shift towards secularism and tolerance for individual freedom of belief, their demands are fundamental.
- Niloofar stated that Islam is not the same as the system. “Maybe this system has most damaged people’s faith. Maybe secularism could be the solution to our problems. However, no one has yet said that it was time.
- Niloofar was among those who joined Sattarkhan’s protests that evening. A group of protesters set trash bins and crates on fire to make a barrier between them, the police and the protesters.
- The toxic smoke filled the streets and reached nearby homes. Niloofar initially thought that the police had hurled an explosive device at her.
- She was pinned to the ground and began to feel suffocating. Two young activists helped her to recover after she fell down an alleyway.
- She reconnected with her supporters and shared rumors about the fact that the security forces were employing young men from Iraq as they are unwilling to recruit them; that intelligence agents are stooping in pharmacies to question people who come to the pharmacy at night to purchase first-aid supplies; and that a satellite TV channel is broadcasting instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails.
- All agreed that the counterprotesters’ rally earlier in the week, which was organized to show support for the government’s crackdown on the protesters (who the pro-government activists had described as Quran-burning thugs), was a failure.
- Some accounts even say that the police are exhausted and divided. The police force, which is distinct from the Basij militia or the Revolutionary Guards are less ideological. As the sun set on Sept. 27, police officers across Tehran sat on the streets in a line of exhausted, reluctant authority.
- One of them said that he hadn’t slept in four nights. When he returned home, his mother gave him a lecture: “Don’t you dare beat children of other people.” He didn’t want it anyway.
- These policemen have siblings, friends, and lovers who are there to support them in these conflicts. The Iranian state faces a new challenge for the first time in its entire history, even though many of its forces sympathies are with the people.
- A disturbing manifestation of the anger against the state is also being seen: Recently, in Tehran, street harassment has occurred of women wearing the black chador (the long, enveloping shroud worn either as a symbol of loyalty or religious belief) in order to harass them.
- Recent incidents have shown that women were hounded and spat upon after having their chadors taken off. An ex-senior government official stated that his wife was ignored by workers while she tried to work at government offices wearing her chador.
- Another evening, during the first week protests, a family member and a young woman in chador were the last patients to leave a dentist’s in a prestigious neighborhood of north Tehran.
- Although her cleaning was complete by 7:45 p.m. she was afraid of being harassed on the way home. She stayed at the clinic until 10.00 p.m. waiting for a ride from the brother.
- Women who were part of the 1979 Islamic Revolution will be able to recall the feminist rebellion against the current political order.
My mother in law
- My mother-in law,Iranians a historian, and retired professor at a university, reminded me of the fact that women started wearing the black chador to protest the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi regime.
- She said that the chador was a symbol for revolution. It is ironic that the head scarf should now be rejected as a protest sign.
- Young women have taken a unique form of rejection by ritually cutting their hair in protest, often before riveted crowds and chanting. This sight is deeply unsettling.
- The scene was set a few days before in Kerman, about 600 miles away from Tehran. A young, unidentified woman sat on top of an electric box, and tilted her head to the side.
- She was trying to cut her long hair with shears. This self-shearing felt ritualistic, in a culture that has used hair for centuries as a symbol for immemorial beauty and chains of love. Young women in Tehran were proud to show off their shorn heads.
- The protesters’ concerns are not limited to their right to wear whatever clothes they like. It also depends on what life stage they are living in and against which discriminatory law or patriarchal rule.
- There are many injustices: unequal marriage, divorce and child custody laws; lack of protections under new domestic or gender-based violence statutes; Iranians inequal access to sporting stadiums; discrimination at work; and workplace sexual harassment.
- A friend of 34 years asked me what was most important to her. She is saving up to move to Sweden. She said, “I would like to live in a society that doesn’t ask me to submit a full-length photo of myself when I submit my resume for a job.” A 22-year old woman answered the same question and said she wanted to be able move freely in public places without fear or stress.
- The evenings have felt like the city has been under curfew since the protests started. Last week, I was surprised to find that almost everything in a street in north Tehran was closed when I went down it.
- One security guard at a trendy cafe said that the police had told them to close. A few smaller establishments said that they had closed earlier to allow their employees to return home safely.
- Nearly all young women were wearing their head scarfs at the open juice stands and shopping centers. Middle-aged women also wore them while shopping.
- It was fascinating to see bareheaded women riding motorcycles down Enghelab Street at cafes that are frequented by university students.
- A young lady sprinted past a stall selling head scarves and shawls at an outdoor mall in eastern Tehran. “Pack up, sir. She shook her head, gesturing to his items. He suggested smiling, “Why not you buy them and burn them?”
- My family’s north Tehran
- My family’s north Tehran neighborhood finally showed signs of political life last week just before midnight. I was initially suspicious when the shouts came from a nearby building.
- It was a chorus of voices that began at once and raised my suspicions. The most opulent building in the area was the source of the shouts.
- It is a confection made up of narrow white rococo columns and adorned with Versailles-inspired topiary. This building would be a dream to live in and one could afford it.
- The doorman rushed out onto the street to check for the floor that was demanding the death of the leaders. Soon, the calls picked up and were heard all over the hillside. One strong, female voice led the neighborhood to chant more about “woman, freedom, and life.”
Ayatollah Al Khamenei
The state responded to the nation’s dissent on Oct. 3, just a few days after my departure from Tehran. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Al Khamenei called the protesters rioters and accused them inciting the United States of Israel.
Local officials say that around 1,500 people were arrested. Although it is unlikely that the state will make any concessions or relax its dress laws, there are many precedents in life for tacit changes.
Authorities could remove the morality police from the streets and allow de facto freedoms for women’s clothing without acknowledging any change in their position.
This would be considered weakness. This would be consistent with “siyasat e amali,” which is considered practical politics.
Is it all happening? What is the revolt? What is this revolt? It could be all of them at once.
One thing is certain: morality policing is going to be forever tainted by the death Mahsa Amini. He was viewed as an insult to public honor and not its defender. Threeteen-year-old schoolgirls know the power of collective protest.
This is regardless of whether the system uses the force of its brute force, if protests diminish, or if anyone has any idea of what the alternative might be or how to get there.
Niloofar stated, “Even though it stops tomorrow it’s still a victory.” It has taught them a lesson that they will never forget.”