Born in Iran, I came to the United States in 1981 with a suitcase, 100 dollars in my name and no command of English. I was blessed with incredibly selfless parents in Iran who abandoned me and a loving aunt and uncle here in the United States to build a better life for me.
As you may have heard or seen, the authorities of the Islamic Republic openly and indiscriminately kill its citizens – men, women and children for the simple act of protest for their freedom from oppression and tyranny.
Demonstration is the right of every nation. But the Islamic Republic is killing protesters with batons and bullets, and for good people around the world, silence allows these abuses to continue and puts more innocent lives at risk. Countless Iranians have already lost their health or died from senseless beatings, torture and rape. Since my arrival in the United States in 1981, I have not witnessed such widespread and committed opposition to the regime of the Islamic Republic as in Iran today. While Iran has grown accustomed to mass protests almost once a decade, neither the student protests of 1999, the Green Movement of 2009, nor even the most recent protests of November 2019 compare in fervor or intensity. magnitude to the current protests.
More importantly, for the first time since the establishment of theocracy in 1979, people are openly and fearlessly opposing 83-year-old Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. They are actively fighting to defend themselves against security forces while tearing down billboards and burning pictures of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini.
As always with oppressive regimes, the lack of transparency often hides the actual number of protesters killed, including women and children, as it is likely to be much higher than reports suggest. They were killed with batons to their heads and bullets to their necks as they fled for their lives. But the most novel part of these protests is that they were led by women.
The murder in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, arrested for inappropriate hijab, was the powder keg moment that sparked this latest uprising. Women took to the streets, removing and waving their headscarves and setting them on fire. They cut their hair in protest, even though they know they will be arrested and sent to psychological rehabilitation centers, beaten, raped and even killed. Young schoolgirls take off their compulsory headgear and chant “we don’t want the Islamic Republic”.
The movement’s slogan, Woman-Life-Freedom, is a statement of opposition to a regime built on being anti-woman, pro-martyrdom and repressive.
To be clear, this uprising isn’t just about draconian dress codes. However, the compulsory hijab has become the most visible symbol of the subjugation of Iranian women. Today, Iranian men and women stand side by side against the gender-based apartheid regime of the Islamic Republic, which maintained its power not only through the segregation and oppression of women in Iran, but also through the denial of all Iranians of freedom of expression, association and assembly, as well as fair trials and due process.
Please make no mistake about it. The Islamic Republic is a totalitarian system that uses forced confessions and torture against its citizens to stifle dissent. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, Iran ranks 143 out of 146 countries. The Islamic Republic illustrates why countries with the most discriminatory laws and attitudes against women also experience the most significant unrest, undermining international peace and security.
So, let’s address some myths, which have unfortunately been perpetuated not only by regime officials in Iran, but also by world experts. The first, that mandatory hijab is a cultural issue and the rest of the world should not interfere, couldn’t be further from the truth! You don’t have to subjugate people to observe cultural norms, where schoolgirls defy a lifetime of indoctrination by standing up in classrooms, and people take to the streets and tens of thousands to protest something despite the risk of death at the hands of the authorities. You can safely assume that this is NOT part of their culture.
Coercion that violates human rights has no place in any culture, and Iranians risk everything for the world to understand.
Another myth is that this diet is reformable. Unfortunately, the 43-year-old case study of the Islamic Republic proved otherwise. During this time, the Supreme Leader consolidated all levels of coercive power in the state. And Iranians and the world have been repeatedly deceived into thinking that presidential elections, which have never been free or fair, would make a difference for them. But the elections in Iran are theater. The accession to the presidency of Ebrahim Raisi, who has been a pillar of the oppressive state, involved in crimes against humanity and whose leadership dates back to 1980s Iran, is proof enough that a a culture of impunity reigns supreme in Iran, and that theocracy is impervious to reform.
Like many exiled Iranians living abroad, I firmly believe that Iran’s future can only be written by its own people on its own streets. But no country can go it alone in its quest for freedom and self-determination. If the rest of the world had not intervened, Nelson Mandela would have rotted away in apartheid-era South African prisons.
Every citizen of the world has a vital role to play in helping nations in crisis. The Islamic Republic is not only a threat to its own people. Its human rights violations have become one of its main exports. The catalog of regime abuses in Iran and around the world is well documented. Throughout history, the Islamic Republic regime has taken foreign hostages to use as political bargaining chips. It has intimidated, kidnapped and murdered dozens of dissidents beyond its borders, including recent attempts to assassinate prominent writers and activists in the US and UK.
The potential of the current protests to transform Iran from a theocracy to a representative government could be a geopolitical historical factor. And the most critical key to bringing stability to the Middle East. This is why strengthening global unity and regional capacities against the crimes of the Islamic Republic under international law, including human rights violations, is more critical than ever.
This is what the Iranian people expect from the rest of us. Stop turning a blind eye to their suffering to fulfill our political objectives. For decades, we have responded only to the symptoms of the Islamic Republic’s hostile activities aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and regional aggression. But to answer the cause, we must commit ourselves to intelligently supporting the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people for an Iran that is more respectful and more representative of its citizens.
What does it look like? First, we must unite to fight corruption and promote respect for human rights. And the current crisis in Iran compels us to urgently support the establishment of an independent international investigation mechanism into human rights violations in Iran, because there are no avenues of justice in national level in the country.
At a time when the Islamic Republic’s state security forces are once again using disproportionate violence against protesters, we must document these human rights abuses and atrocities with mechanisms in place to hold officials accountable. Only with this level of global advocacy, coordination and support for accountability and justice for the people of Iran can we address the Islamic Republic as the cause of our nuclear and geopolitical concerns.
But one thing is clear. Human rights abuses on this scale are a symptom of deep political malaise and a government seen as illegitimate by its people. Human rights are intimately linked to respect for the rule of law, and there can be no long-term good governance without the rule of law. Good law-abiding governance makes better regional neighbors and cooperative members of the international community.
While the Islamic Republic does not represent Iran’s 2,500 years of rich history and culture, here is a brief poem, Bani Adam, meaning “son of Adam” or “human beings” by the 13th century Persian poet century Sa’adi Shirazi, which is also inscribed on the entrance to the United Nations building:
Human beings are members of a whole, In the creation of an essence and a soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain, the rest of the worried members will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain, The human name you cannot remember!
The world community should want what the brave protesters in Iran want. It is time for us to stop encouraging the Islamic Republic of Iran and start supporting the freedom-loving people of Iran.
This post is inspired by Nazanin Boniadi’s speech to the UN Security Council.