Iranians are done debating

By | October 23, 2022

Alireza Eshraghi writes:

On September 20, three days after the women-led protests erupted across Iran in response to the death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini, the state-run radio and television channels began airing a series of debate shows.

In them, men—yes! dozens of men—were featured discussing women’s bodies and grievances. Meanwhile, on the street, according to leaked documents published by Amnesty International, state forces were being instructed to “mercilessly confront” demonstrators, even to the point of death.

Two days later, when more than 80 cities held simultaneous demonstrations across Iran, Fars, the news agency managed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ security apparatus, equated the unrest to a normal “couple’s dispute.” The main headline on their landing page read, “Compatriot! Let’s Talk to Each Other!” (“Hamvatan! Bia ba ham harf bezanim!”). This invitation to national dialogue came across as farcical in the context of women being shot at or beaten for removing or burning veils on the streets. Thousands of interlocutors in the supposed “national dialogue,” including activists, artists and at least 40 journalists from across the country, are currently being interrogated in jail.

For over four decades, secular and Islamic feminists have argued against the mandatory hijab, often by appealing to the Islamic government’s permitted means of persuasion. Even those who were not believers largely abided by the codes of conduct when talking to the nezam (the Persian word for the “regime” used by the Islamic Government). There were, of course, exceptions like Homa Darabi, who in 1994 immolated herself in protest against coerced hijab. Today, women and young schoolgirls en masse are done debating with the regime over whether they can exert their bodily autonomy. They are doing it.

Recent protests mark a tectonic shift in the method and rhetoric of expressing dissent in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Green Movement in 2009 argued with the nezam, largely on its terms and using its terminologies. Demonstrators appealed explicitly to Islamic signs and messages, invoked and appropriated the memory of Ruhollah Khomeini, cited the legal texts ratified by the regime’s institutions and begged for the support of the Shia marja’s to no avail. The 2022 protestor has not bothered herself with any of these. She doesn’t care anymore about persuading the nezam. In 2009, wearing the green scarf was a symbol of dissent, as demonstrators resisted within the regime’s codes of hijab. In 2022, removing and burning scarves has become the ultimate act of rebellion. If the Green Movement played jiu-jitsu by converting the regime’s own sources of power in discourse, the #Mahsa_Amini movement is playing Karate: overwhelming the opponent by breaking his sacred discourse. [Continue reading…]

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