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In Solidarity With Their Sisters

The death of 22-year-old Mahsha Amini in police custody on September 16, 2022 has ignited a firestorm of anger among the Iranians. Protests have erupted in every corner of the West Asian nation. Their anger is manifold, as the Iranian Economy is gradually slowing down, and there is also lack of employment opportunities and social development. Furthermore, Civil Rights, especially Women’s Rights, have become extremely limited under the regime of Islamic Fundamentalists. There have been several protests in Iran in the past few years, and the Administration of President Ebrahim Raisi has suppressed those protests. The Government’s reaction has remained the same, this time. Perhaps, the Raisi Government would be able to stop this movement through repression. Whatever the outcome would be, the character of the ongoing movement is different from the previous ones. This movement is not confined to any particular circle of society, because public anger against the State’s surveillance on women has triggered it.

Mahsa Amini

The ongoing protests are spontaneous, and here lies their strength, as well as weakness… this movement, seemingly, lacks an experienced, central leadership. Youths, most of whom were born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, are leading this movement. The Internet is a great tool of movement for the younger generation. As the Government of Iran had banned Facebook, the movement was initially dependent on Instagram and WhatsApp. As expected, the Government has completely cut off Internet connections. Hence, the agitators are getting separated from one another.

On the other hand, most of the strongest voices for this movement are in exile in foreign countries. The agitators are getting separated from them, too. It can be assumed that the Raisi Administration would take advantage of this opportunity. Tehran has already labelled the protests as a Western conspiracy. There is no reason to believe that the Government of Iran is worried about this movement. However, it is also a fact that class solidarity, like this, has not happened in Iran in recent times.

No wonder that the Iranian Government has chosen the path of repression to tackle the situation. However, the most serious issue is: Whether it is simply undemocratic to ignore the demands for reform that have arisen in Iran? Most probably not… because policies of strict control over women, the most visible manifestation of which is the country’s Hijab Law, are one of the superstructures of the base of Iran’s Islamic Fundamentalist Regime. Loosening that control means denying the very logic of Khomeini’s rule, and it is impossible for the rulers of Iran to ignore the diktat of their Supreme Leader. That is why the protests in Iran have a global significance. Making hijab rule mandatory for women is nothing, but an attempt to deny Liberal Human Rights. In the end, oppression becomes the only weapon for the Fundamentalist rulers to take control of the situation. Any sort of Fundamentalism is harmful for Democracy, as well as for the common people.

Tearing off their hijabs, the Iranian women have called for a total revolution. As they have taken to the streets in different parts of Iran, the spirit of their action has also influenced women in other Islamic nations, including Afghanistan… 2000km away from Tehran. The UN recently shared an image of an Afghan girl in its latest newsletter to confirm this. She has not yet faced death like Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Iranian Kurd lady. Instead, she is still alive, and her fight continues.

Mursal Fasihi, the 17-year-old Afghan girl, knows that she will not be able to return to his classroom, because of rules imposed by her country’s de facto Taliban leadership. Fasihi has been forced out of school. However, she has refused to give up on education. The young girl, who saw the inside of a school when she appeared in her final examination for 11th Grade in July 2021 for the one last time, has stressed: “It is not right that they are deciding for us, ordering us to go with mahram (a male companion), that we should hide our faces, and stop going to school.” Countless Afghan girls, facing AK-47, are searching answers for the question raised by Fasihi. As Fasihi’s dream of becoming a doctor has shattered, she has joined the Youth Peer Education Network (Y-PEER), a UN health agency that focuses on building young people’s life skills to deal with the challenges that they face.

Mursal Fasihi

Whether it is Shia Fundamentalism (Iran) or Sunni Fundamentalism (Afghanistan), the character of the rulers remains the same. However, the way women are fighting on the streets to snatch their basic rights from the rulers of Iran or the Taliban in Afghanistan was not possible in the past for various reasons.

In the previous Taliban era, no woman could step out of her residence alone without fear. Noted Iranian author Azhar Nafisi had begun her professional career, teaching Literature at the University of Tehran in 1979. However, she was fired in 1981 for refusing to wear a veil while teaching. Later, she secretly taught Western Literature to seven young Iranian girls every Thursday at her residence. Finally, Nafisi was forced to leave the country, and she settled in the US. In her memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003), Nafisi has described her experiences living in Iran from 1979 to 1997. According to the author, the West Asian nation had just undergone a revolution when she returned from schooling abroad in the late 1970s, and an oppressive theocracy took the place of a western-influenced monarchy.

Today, the Iranian women are roaring in Azhar Nafisi‘s Tehran. They are staging protests by cutting their hair, and burning hijabs. The women, ignoring the Government’s warning, have taken to the streets. Practically, President Raisi is trying to tackle the situation by pouring petrol. However, his strategy does not work. Human Rights organisations have claimed that the death toll is constantly increasing.

Meanwhile, the Iranian women have inspired their Afghan sisters to march to the City Square in Kabul with posters, demanding the opening of schools. More than 100 girls have shown the courage to stand in front of machine guns in northeastern Afghan Province of Badakhshan, demanding Right to Education and reopening of schools. They have forced the barbaric Taliban of 1996 to call more than 100 female Police personnel in order to deal with the protest. This time, the Afghan girls have spoken to the Policewomen, looking into their eyes. Although the Policewomen have conducted raids at residences of protesters in Badakhshan in the pretext of finding criminals, the Taliban Government has assured that it would ensure women’s education.

Mahsa Amini’s death could be a turning point for women in Iran

It is not that the current generation of Taliban is any less radical than their previous generation. This time, the Taliban has realised that they will cease to exist, if they do not maintain cordial ties with other countries, and accept donations from the Global Community for the well-being of the people of the debt-ridden country. The Taliban need international recognition and massive financial aid. For that, they would have to ensure Human Rights. The West continues to increase pressure on the Taliban to fight terrorism and protect Human Rights. After withdrawing its troops, the US has realised that making Afghanistan, under the control of the Taliban, a terror-free zone would also disturb the security of neighbouring countries. It would ultimately weaken the QUAD (a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the US that is maintained by talks between member countries), built by Washington DC to counter the growing influence of the China-Pakistan-Russia axis in Asia.

The geo-economic and geo-strategic world order has changed radically after the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine War. The West has already accused Iran of backing terrorist activities of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Palestinian Hamas Movement in Gaza and Iraq. Furthermore, Britain, the US and their allies have put Iran under tremendous diplomatic pressure since the Islamic Republic emerged as a nuclear power. Former US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran, and tightened economic sanctions on Tehran. Talks to restore the accord, which began in Vienna in April 2021, have been stalled since March 2022 due to disagreements between Tehran and Washington DC on several issues. Now, both sides continue to negotiate indirectly through the European Union (EU) coordinators.

The Iranian and Afghan women have realised that it is the right time to fight back against radicalism. They have decided not to tolerate Fundamentalism anymore. The Global Community is anxiously waiting for their victory.

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