On September 16, 2022, Mahsa Amini was arrested in Tehran for wearing her hijab “improperly.” She was then beaten to death. This has led to protests in Iran and around the world. The United Nations claims that as many as 14,000 people have been arrested in Iran in just 6 weeks for their role in protests. What has led up to this? What is being protested? And what comes next?
In February 1989, Ayatollah (a high Shiite title) Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew the Western-installed shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Pahlavi was known for his “white Revolution,” a government program pushing “Western” ideas, including equal rights for women. Reactionary students and members of the lower and middle classes participated in demonstrations that led to a mutiny in the army, overthrowing the shah’s regime and leaving space for Khomeini to step in and establish a fundamentalist Islamic government.
Women in Iran lost the right to dress as they wished. Women were forced to wear the hijab. They did not succumb easily. They protested and were attacked by the forces that are now known as Iran’s Morality Police.
Since then, women who rejected the hijab have been marginalized. Men too have been impacted by Khomeini’s dress code, being banned from wearing short sleeves, jeans, and bright colours. These restrictions are viewed as a misuse of power, existing so that the state can make the argument that it should control its citizens’ public and private lives.
The uprising we are witnessing in Iran is less about the hijab and more about freedom. “The movement is about young people refusing to live under the Islamic Republic and all of its institutions.…” They are difficult times — but we hope exciting and transformative times — in Iran.