by Anna Violante
A year after Masha Amini was killed by the morality police for wearing her hijab incorrectly, another girl, Armita Geravand, was allegedly killed by the same morality police for the same reason. Armita was travelling on a train with two friends. Neither of them were wearing the veil. The police stopped them, Armita reacted, she was beaten and fell into a coma. She was in hospital for three weeks before she died on Saturday 28 October. At her funeral on Sunday, prominent Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, defender of the “Woman, life and freedom” movement, was beaten and arrested. A week earlier, two journalists, Niloufar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi, who broke the news of Amini’s death, were sentenced to seven and six years in prison respectively.
What has happened in Iran in a year of spontaneous demonstrations and brutal repression of a young generation guilty only of protesting against a theocratic dictatorship where religious leaders, with the help of corrupt bourocrats, impose their will on the Iranian people by preventing any kind of freedom? Atlas of War asked Asia Raoufi, Iranian expatriate in Italy, activist of the “Woman, Life and Freedom” movement, for her opinion on the situation and the reasons for the uprising.
Raoufi came to Italy when she was 15, brought to Florence by her mother, who didn’t want her to live in Ayatollah-dominated Iran. Now 56, she is a high school teacher of Italian literature and a cultural mediator. After the protests broke out in her country, she decided to join the “Woman, Life and Freedom” movement.
Ms. Raoufi, Armita Geravand’s death comes a year after Masha Amini’s. What has changed in a year of protests and crackdowns?
The regime has shown itself to be more ruthless than ever. The recent demonstrations were not the first in a Country living at the mercy of a vicious religious totalitarianism, but this latest revolution has had even worse results than the previous ones, because there is no limit to the worst. The difference with the past is that 600 peaceful young people have been killed, including 17 women executed (the last on 21 October, ed.). Nevertheless, there is one great success: women continue to rebel.
What does the hijab stand for in the struggle against the regime?
In Iran, the hijab is a symbol of totalitarianism, not religion. However, the protests have not arisen solely from opposition to a symbol but against an entire system that uses corruption and widespread authoritarianism as a means of control, oppressing the majority of the population. In a sense, even the morality police officers are victims of this system, though they may not be aware of their subjugation. The boldness of the young people in their pursuit of clothing freedom has resonated throughout the entire Country.
In Western societies, it’s often assumed that in regions where women are forced to wear the veil, they are also isolated from social life. How does the imposition of the veil fit in with the high cultural and professional achievements of Iranian women?
It’s not a paradox. It’s not a fight for equal opportunities. Education is a form of emancipation. A theocratic and male-dominated dictatorship, carried out in the name of God for 44 years, clearly identifies the educated woman as its enemy. So it’s not surprising that the repression is even more brutal. It’s because women have shaken the foundations of this system. The most significant revolution has come from them and spread. The uprising began with the girls, and their male partners did not betray them.
Is there freedom within the walls of the home or not?
It’s an awakening that is fought for even within families. But for many young people, awareness of their rights is born in families where these rights were already respected.
A culturally emancipated people immobilised mainly by a chauvinist power?
Yes, the young people have learnt about the freedom enjoyed by their Western peers, but they lack the means to establish peaceful dialogue. This educated youth, desiring a different future, faces violent repression.
Is it an uprising only for cultural emancipation or also for greater equality?
It’s a cultural revolution. For the first time, Western Countries have witnessed the desire of an entire nation to live according to their democratic values of the rule of law. These young people have shown that human rights are universal. Freedom of expression is as important as any other right. In Iran there are oppressors who rape and kill. Even the most peaceful demonstration can end in a massacre. But the economic situation is also at risk. You could say it’s a cultural revolution that’s also affecting the social fabric, and it’s started in the cities, where most of Iran’s population lives.
Has a charismatic figure emerged in this year of struggle, and are Kurdish women playing a leading role?
The Country is pluralistic, although there is only one language. Kurdish women are bolder and perhaps more emancipated, but in the struggle they are all equal. The Kurds could be an example, but they are not leaders.
Who could then lead the people against the dictatorship?
Some see Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi as a potential leader of a democratic transition based on the ideals he professes. He doesn’t present himself as a monarch, but only as a transitional figure who will lead to democratic and pluralistic elections. He isn’t welcomed by everyone because of the echoes of his father’s absolute monarchy, but he is the first to acknowledge his father’s mistakes and deplore his authoritarian regime. It should be noted that the universities open to women were founded by the Shah. Queen Farah Diba, in particular, is remembered fondly for her commitment to the emancipation of women and the preservation of the artistic heritage.
Is there no remembrance of the leadership of Mossadegh, who gave the Country hope of becoming independent and democratic, among the anti-regime families?
Mossadegh is synonymous with liberation, but I think it is more a memory of the past. The young generation is looking to the future. They are rebelling against an unacceptable system. Their ‘j’accuse’ is directed at their present, and in their parents’ stories, the Shah’s dictatorship is remembered as a period of emancipation compared to the hell of the last 44 years. The 1979 revolution was based on a misunderstanding, because everyone soon realised that it had led to a worse regime.
Is there no fear of a return to subservience to the USA and, more generally, to the Western powers?
Any Iranian would prefer subservience to the West over a dictatorship that kills a girl for a strand of hair. The priority is to get rid of the regime of the ayatollahs. This is not a political revolution. Ordinary people can’t take it any more. The courage of the young is the real novelty: they are no longer silent, they no longer accept living under this oppression. They believe in the values of Western societies, of the Enlightenment and beyond. This is the future they are demanding.
How do Western democracies behave?
They have completely abandoned us because they do not recognise that this regime is like the South African apartheid regime. It’s a gender apartheid, ours, ignored by the West, which continues a hypocritical diplomatic dialogue with the ayatollahs, with a state that funds international terrorism. Iran attends all international meetings as a negotiating power. There is a tacit agreement between its leaders and the Western States, starting with the United States.
It’s completely unpredictable. Only a genuine isolation of the regime could help break the mafia culture of the Iranian theocracy.
On the cover photo, Protestors take part during a demonstration in front of the Iranian embassy in Brussels, following the death of Mahsa Amini (Sept. 23, 2022) © Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock.com