The recent death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini has sparked weeks of protest in the streets of Iran and caught the attention of millions around the world. The Kurdish-Iranian woman was arrested by Iran’s morality police on Sept. 13 for the crime of showing her hair. She was abused while in police custody and fell into a coma before she died on Sept. 16.
Although Amini was wearing a headscarf, Iranian morality police arrested her because parts of her hair were not covered. Protestors are fighting Iran’s theocratic government, including the morality police and restrictive laws. Some demonstrators are burning their hijabs and cutting their hair – two sacred components of their religion – as a symbol of protest.
Following weeks of protests in Iran, the Iranian government has restricted communication within the country. The protests have led to more than 200 fatalities and the numbers continue to rise as protestors intensify their resistance.
“I am very worried about the fact that morality forces in Iran keep responding to protests with violence,” Dr. Katayoun Salmasi, theater critic, playwright, theater director at the University of Illinois, and immigrant from Iran, said.
The struggle at home
“[Women] are not supposed to be victims about it [not wearing hijabs],” Abdoul Ibidakpo, junior computer science major and president of Cabrini’s Student Muslim Association, said. He believes that since Amini’s death, the fundamentalist government of Iran gave the media fuel to paint a negative image of Muslims.
Ibidakpo said killing others and violence is not an accurate representation of true Islam. He does not support the extremity of the morality police.
Salmasi also does not support recent actions by Iranian law enforcement. “I am very troubled by certain politicians’ abuse of protestors, as well as the seemingly unjustified and excessive use of force against protestors,” she said.
Dr. Joseph Fitzgerald, history and political science professor at Cabrini, said, “The Iranian government is trying to suppress a youth-led movement against patriarchal, and thus sexist control over women’s lives…I’m saddened but not surprised by this event because patriarchy has been a global problem for many thousands of years.”
Ibidakpo noted people who are not familiar with Islam are learning the religion from the media. He fears children around the world will reject Islam because of what they have seen on TV.
“Landlines, mobile phones, the Internet, and social media can’t be used freely [in Iran] … I am afraid that the interruption in communication services will significantly impact society’s ability to share information, conduct economic activities, and use public services,” Salmasi said.
Salmasi explained these restrictions infringe on human rights, most specifically free speech. Still, what is happening in Iran is said to be a misrepresentation of what the people value.
Ibidakpo emphasized the influence of women in the Islamic religion, despite the ways it has been portrayed in popular culture. “I want to teach especially the women about Islam … Islam gives a lot of responsibilities to the women…[they] are highly regarded in society,” Ibidakpo said.
Impact on us all
“In these recent protests, many demands have to do with women’s rights. But as these rights can’t be used without the right to speak out, gather together, and protest, they are also about civil and political rights, which are international,” Salmasi said.
Ibidakpo classified what is happening in Iran as a women’s rights issue. The issue of women’s autonomy is also prevalent in the United States, despite Islam not being the primary religion. A recent study, before the protests, has shown dissociation between women and hijabs. “It is a woman’s choice to wear hijab or not to wear hijab,” Ibidakpo said, “Just because a woman is not wearing a hijab, it does not mean she has to go through hard times. If someone does not want to do something, leave that person alone.”
Fitzgerald agreed. “The United States also has social and political inequality and inequity around gender identity,” he said. “It’s legal to discriminate.”
Salmasi described the struggles the Iranian people are fighting within their nation. “[Iranian demonstrations] are overcoming old political boundaries and raising problems across the entire range of the human rights agenda, highlighting the visibility of those rights,” Salmasi said.
In the United States, protestors have fought to protect women’s rights and their ability to choose. Fitzgerald explained, “States around the U.S. have outlawed pregnant people from exercising complete autonomy over their own bodies by preventing them from obtaining abortions when they want to.”
Like Iran, discrimination and sexism based on personal ideals of acceptable and unacceptable rights exist in the United States.
Hope for the future
What has happened instills hope for society; unification through religion, rather than division through death. “I hope we recognize that solving problems requires each of us to be well informed on the issues and that many of the problems are interconnected,” Fitzgerald said.
Like Fitzgerald, Dr. Courtney Smith, professor and chair of the history and political science department at Cabrini said, “My hope is that the brave protesters in Iran create positive change in that country, and positive change in Iran would benefit the entire world.”