Protests in Iran have entered their 13th day and spread to dozens of cities, after Tehran’s “morality” police beat to death 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for not wearing a hijab, a Muslim headscarf, required under the laws of the Islamic regime.
Amini’s brutal death sparked protests from Iranians who identified with the young woman, in that they or their female relatives and friends could have been the ones killed in Amini’s place.
“I don’t know if the next person they’re going to kill will be my sister,” a U.S.-based Iranian student named Ellie told ALL ISRAEL NEWS at a protest outside the United Nations headquarters last week. According to Ellie, her sister lost her job as a physics teacher in an Iranian school and was arrested for not wearing a hijab.
In recent days, footage has spread of Iranian women cutting their hair or burning their hijabs in public, in defiance of the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. According to Iran’s state media, Iranian security forces have killed at least 41 protestors and arrested hundreds more since the protests broke out on Sept. 16. Local human rights organizations estimate much higher casualty numbers.
Western media outlets could not corroborate the numbers, but the Associated Press’ review of the authorities’ official statements counted at least 13 dead, with more than 1,400 demonstrators arrested.
Women in Europe, the United States and the greater Middle East have expressed solidarity with the women of Iran, with local rallies or on social media. Among them is British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was reunited with her family in March after spending five years in an Iranian prison and one year under house arrest.
In a video obtained by the BBC, Zaghari-Ratcliffe cuts her hair, saying: “For my mother, for my daughter, for the fear of solitary confinement, for the women of my country, for freedom.”
Iranian-American journalist and human rights activist Masih Alinejad has been vocal on the issue of a required hijab for years. Her anti-regime efforts caught U.S. headlines recently after it was revealed that she was the target of an Iranian kidnapping plot.
In Iran, Alinejad became a well-known figure from a viral social media campaign she led in 2014. The campaign turned into a movement that encouraged Iranian women to share self-portraits without the Islamic head covering.
Alinejad is the author of the book titled “The Wind in My Hair: My Fight for Freedom in Modern Iran” and is now calling on Westerners to speak out and show support for the Iranian women’s struggle, in worldwide demonstrations planned for Oct. 1.
“Join us. Make a video. Cut your hair. Burn a headscarf. Share it on social media and boost Iranian voices,” she posted on Twitter.
The Iranian-American advocate said the “brutal death of Mahsa Amini can be a tipping point for the Islamic Republic.”
“For years, we have been ignored,” Alinejad said of anti-regime protestors. Now, she said, this “tipping point” should see Western support in the form of actions, not just words – and she means sanctions.
Alinejad observed that condemning Amini’s murder without stopping negotiations with her murderers “means that they are going to give billions of dollars to the same people that they condemn.”
This month’s demonstrations are considered the largest in Iran since 2019, when masses took to the streets to protest soaring fuel prices. In their global resonance, the ongoing protests are reminiscent of the 2009 anti-regime uprising led by the “Green Movement,” to protest the election results and the alleged fraud that had taken place.
A 26-year-old student named Neda Agha-Soltan became the face of the “Green Movement” demonstrations, after Iranian militiamen shot her to death in the street.
In 2009, former U.S. President Barack Obama faced harsh criticism for not backing the anti-regime movement enough. Thirteen years later, the Biden administration is showing more support for the protests; on Thursday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions against Iran’s morality police “for abuse and violence against Iranian women and the violation of the rights of peaceful Iranian protestors.”
Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian women embraced similar dresses to those worn in the West, wore makeup and showed their hair; they were freely able to attend sports events and mix with men in a liberal fashion. In the 1930s, the Shah banned the hijab, as well as the traditional chador, the cloth that covers the woman’s whole body. He went so far as to order police to forcibly remove headscarves from women.
In 1983, the new Islamic government imposed a mandatory dress code that required all women to wear a hijab. More than 100,000 women and men took to the streets in protest against the law; the opposition to it has never gone away. The Islamic regime established its “morality” police in 2015, which has terrorized women in Iran ever since.