About four weeks ago, Iran’s security forces killed a young woman named Mahsa Amini and unwittingly set in motion the wheels of a new revolution against religious tyranny in that country. For a multitude of reasons, these unprecedented protests no longer qualify as uprisings but foretell of a blooming insurgency for secular democracy. For over forty years, Iranian people have endured a number of now high-profile massacres, namely the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, the massacre of 1500 pro-democracy protesters during the November 2019 uprising, and so on. Yet the free world has by and large viewed these atrocities through the lens of ambivalence.
Yet, the ferocity and longevity of the present-day protests have reminded us all that the people in Iran abhor self-anointed monarchs, fascists, and unelected mullahs. They want a complete regime change. The considerable international response to both the brutality of the regime as well as the valor being demonstrated by protesters is notable but is unfortunately insufficient. Beyond words and encouragement, the free world, as it correctly did in the case of Ukraine, must take immediate steps to recognize and support the Iranian people’s right to defend themselves against ruthless aggression.
In over four decades of rule, the clerics in Tehran have murdered over 120,000 of Iran’s best and brightest. They have built massive prisons atop the already large prisons built by the former monarch. They then proceeded to fill them with innocent soles, political or apolitical innocent prisoners – young, old, men or women. They have tortured Iran’s children and subjugated the country of over 80 million to medieval tyranny the likes of which modern civilizations have not seen since the dark ages. They thus initiated a war with Iran’s populous from the outset, subjected its proud women to systemic misogyny, and showered some European nations and others in the East with cash drawn from the people’s wealth – all to feed an army of terrorists across the globe and advance a useless nuclear project, so a shield themselves against visibility and justice.
Videos, credible reports, and images from Iran depict gruesome extrajudicial killings, senseless targeting of the youth, the regime’s use of deadly force, and valiant resistance despite the costs. More than 400 have been killed and more than 20,000 have been arrested thus far, with very little impact on the public determination to overthrow this regime. The latest is a wave of coordinated strikes across Iran that promise to paralyze the mullah’s putrid mafia-style economy.
More than anyone else, the regime itself knows that concessions will fuel people’s wide-ranging demands. Expanded repression is hence its only option, a losing proposition in itself, as this strategy will certainly feed public anger. One of the most profound statements on this budding revolution was from the powerful Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). “Whether through the simple, brave act of removing a hijab, standing in solidarity with those who do, or documenting the regime’s crimes against protestors and telling their story to the world despite increasing violence and communications blackouts, these expressions reflect an honest truth and deeply-held desperation we shouldn’t ignore,” he said. But the eyes of the world must remain on Iran as its women and men display a deep well of courage to voice long-standing grievances…The U.S. & the international community have an obligation to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.”
Of the tens of thousands killed in Iran over four decades, almost half are female. In perpetrating the 1988 Massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, for example, the regime’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, its current president Ebrahim Raisi, and their cohorts aimed to silence this resilient demographic. They have failed. The misogynist rulers in Tehran knew then, as they know today, that the women of Iran are the engine for growth and change. This calculus explains their hatred towards women enshrined in their laws and actions. They particularly despise those who stand up for their rights, including Mahsa who was ostensibly arrested for failing to adhere to a dress code, but in reality, beaten to death for daring to stand up for her God-given human rights.
Between the end of World War II and the fall of the last monarchical dictatorship in late 1979, the women of Iran rebelled against the erosion of their choices, including the right to practice their religious beliefs. Over that period, the majority of women in Iran rejected the forced removal of the hijab (hair cover) endorsed and promoted by the monarch as a way to “modernize” Iran. Women’s sacrifices over the past four decades testify to the fact that this demographic also rejects the compulsory practice of religion and curtailing of freedoms, including the decision to choose or reject hijab. Despite the regime’s deadly reprisals, the leadership of women in the ranks of the Iranian resistance, visible participation, and sacrifice in the resistance units across Iran is truly inspiring. At the core of their grievances is the illegitimacy of the regime itself – from the years leading up to the 1988 Massacre to the present.
The chants of “death to the oppressor, be it shah [king] or [supreme] leader,” encapsulate people’s aspiration for a truly secular, democratic republic. The Iranian resistance movement has therefore been led by women, by design. Iran’s largest and most organized resistance organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), for instance, is led by women. With unflinching determination to inspire and direct democratic change through the empowerment of women, its President-Elect Maryam Rajavi and her supporters have rekindled in the streets of Iran, the Persians’ century-old reverence for self-determination and liberty.
America is a republic and the flag bearer of secular democracy which can and must recognize the Iranian people’s democratic aspirations and their right to establish a free, secular, democratic republic in Iran. The longstanding U.S. Congressional support for the Iranian people’s democratic demands is of course notable. In the last 2 sessions of Congress alone, a number of House and Senate Resolutions have highlighted and encouraged the Iranian people’s right to resist oppression and seek freedom. In the current session, H.Res.118 with its 257 bipartisan cosponsors explicitly expresses, “support for the Iranian people’s desire for a democratic, secular, and nonnuclear Republic of Iran.” That the formal recognition of this sentiment in policy terms would be a game changer in favor of Iran protesters, would in fact be an understatement.
Western condemnation of the regime’s behavior, though extremely helpful, is nevertheless insufficient. Condemning the clerics for their violent suppression of protesters must be coupled with tangible steps to hold authorities in the Iranian regime accountable for crimes against their citizens. Specifically, the Iran regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and its president, Ebrahim Raisi, must be held accountable for killing scores of freedom-seeking protesters. In addition, the regime has shut down the internet across Iran to kill and arrest protesters in obscurity. To save the lives of the innocent and far beyond private sector steps already taken or in process, the United States should utilize its capabilities to make the internet readily accessible to the people, and women of Iran.
Dr. Majid Sadeghpour is a human rights activist and the Political Director for Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC), a nonprofit, nonpartisan network of Iranian-American societies from across the country, based in a Washington, D.C.