My name is Afshan Mizrahi and I am a Jewish Iranian-American. I have lived in Montgomery Country my entire life and identify strongly with my Iranian, American, and Jewish cultures. On September 16, 22-year-old Mahsa Zhina Amini, a Kurdish Iranian, died while in morality police custody after being arrested for allegedly improperly wearing her headscarf. When in public in Iran, women are expected to follow the mandatory hijab laws that have been in force since the early 1980s.
Many Iranians, and those who stand in solidarity with them, are protesting across the world. The movement is being led with chants of “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” which translates to “Women, Life, Freedom.” The chant, translated from Kurdish, “Jin, Jiyan, Azadî,” originates from the Kurdish freedom movement. Though the current movement is mainly led by Iranian women, both men and women have taken to the streets to protest the wrongful death of Mahsa Zhina Amini and the mandatory hijab laws, which includes the law that requires women to veil their hair. To be clear, the Iranian people are protesting the right to have a choice of whether to follow the rules of Islamic law. These protests have since evolved into an outlet for the Iranian people to express their pent-up frustration with the Iranian government and the devastated economy. Nonetheless, it took the death of Mahsa Amini to ignite these widespread protests.
Since the 1979 Revolution, Iran has been governed by the Islamic Republic, a system of government that is an intricately designed theocratic structure meshed with democratic elements, subject to Islamic law. This mix between state and religion trickles down into the enforcement of law. One type of police force is the morality police (Gasht e Ershad) who are responsible for enforcing Islamically-compliant dress codes and, for instance, preventing public displays of affection between opposite genders out of wedlock.
Typically, protests that have taken place in Iran have been due to economic hardships, while the fundamental reason for the current protests are for women’s equality and women’s rights. This round of protests has allowed the people to air their many grievances against the Government of Iran. Other countries and influential people have been making statements at apolitical events. Some examples include:
– The Swedish Women’s National Team for soccer took a photo at their match in Gothenburg where they held up a jersey that read, “WE ARE PLAYING FOR OUR GIRLS IN IRAN.”
– In Kabul, Afghanistan, women protested in front of Iran’s Embassy.
– About 80,000 Iranians and their supporters marched in Berlin, German in solidarity with
ongoing protests in Iran.
– Swedish lawmaker Abir Al-Sahlani cut her hair at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France to support Iran’s anti-hijab protests: “We, the people and citizens in the EU, demand the unconditional and immediate halt of all violence against women and men in Iran” Abir al-Sahlani said.
– Coldplay in Buenos Aires, Argentina: “We support the people of Iran and the women all over fighting freedom.” Coldplay performed Iranian protest song, Baraye by Shervin, that has been banned by the Islamic Republic during their Buenos Aires show in support for protesters. The song was performed with exiled actress Golshifteh Farahani. During the performance, lead singer Chris Martin said, “We would like to do something to show that we support all the women and everybody fighting for freedom in Iran.”
– Popular American singer, Britney Spears, tweeted: “Me & my husband stand with the people of Iran fighting for freedom.”
Many Iranian-Americans are currently protesting across the United States as well, including locally in Washington, DC. The protests have taken place on weekends in downtown D.C. following the death of Mahsa Amini.
As a Jewish Iranian American, it’s hard to process these feelings. I do not have much family left in Iran as many immigrated to the United States during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. I cannot imagine what the people in Iran have to live through every day, in a country that has taken so much freedom away from its people, especially women and minority groups.
As both an Iranian and Jew, I am witness to the historical context and generational trauma passed down to me through my ethnic background. Much like religious minorities who have lived in fear of being ethnically cleansed, my parents fled Iran just before the 1979 Iranian Revolution, as the country was shifting to an Islamic Republic, and it was unclear of the impact this would have on Jewish-Iranians. I have had to navigate within a world where I see the both the Iranian and Israeli government prioritize preserving its own power at the expense of the people. I have never visited Israel or Iran for fear of being unable to visit Israel if I visit Iran, and being unable to visit Iran if I visit Israel.
Overall, I am bothered by those who advocate for more sanctions or armed intervention to force a change in Iran’s government. We’ve seen how U.S. intervention has led to harm and violence in countries like Libya, Syria, and Iraq. The United States, as well as Russia and Britain, have been similarly meddling in Iranian affairs for over a century. I believe the Iranian people in Iran control their own destiny, as they always have. I support Iranians in Iran who continue their acts of protest on a widespread and collective scale until their demands are met.
Americans can continue to amplify the voices of Iranians in Iran by continuing to call attention to the ongoing protests and noble acts of civil disobedience in Iran. Americans can also reach out to their congresspersons to demand that they carve out specific exceptions to sanction regulations that would ease the pressure on ordinary Iranians. People outside Iran should continue to amplify the voices and protests of the people in Iran. I believe widespread acts of civil disobedience will lead to the best form of change in Iran. So far, such acts of civil disobedience are growing in strength and is sending the message to the Government that the Iranian people, especially Iranian women, have had enough. Protests at every level in Iranian society, from schoolgirls in grade school to oil rig workers, are essential to the coming change. The continued, widespread, yet small and spontaneous acts of civil disobedience, will surely bring about the desired change people want to see.