For a week now, protests have raged across Iran, spurred by anger over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the country’s ‘morality police’ for breaking the code dress of the state and who later died in their custody.
The government said Amini died of a heart attack due to pre-existing conditions and said an investigation was underway. Amini’s family said she had no pre-existing heart conditions. The hospital where she was treated said she fell into a coma and died of traumatic brain injury, Iran International reported, and a senior Iranian health official confirmed the cause. of death was head trauma.
Eyewitnesses report that Amini was severely beaten by police with batons and banged her head against the side of the van, which many suspect was the cause of her death.
Due to economic interests, we might not see much more from Western governments than performative remarks condemning human rights abuses.
The fact that so many of the protests are led by women makes the tenor of the civil unrest different from that of past protests, which have been largely led by men. But one thing is certain: for these protests to result in meaningful change, they must be accompanied by international solidarity and pressure. A significant potential hurdle is that currently the disruption of oil supplies following Russia’s war on Ukraine – and the West’s insistence on getting involved by sanctioning Russia (an imperative morale that seems noticeably absent when the victims of violence are brown, not white) – could make the US and the West soft on Iran in hopes of opening up the country’s oil to the rest of the world.
In other words, due to economic interests, we might not see much more from Western governments than performative remarks condemning human rights abuses. (Example: The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday announced sanctions against Iran’s morality police and some state officials in response to anti-government protests; but the move is largely symbolic and carries no conditions or actions. substantial.)
Some experts have anticipated that restoring the Iran nuclear deal (and therefore lifting sanctions) could still be a diplomatic priority with Iran this week, despite the civil uprising: “It’s a Gordian knot that some Western diplomats may attempt to resolve on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly,” reported Golnar Motevalli, Bloomberg Iran Correspondent.
Many Iranian activists have identified the need for international pressure to succeed with this movement, drawing a parallel with the international outcry over the death of George Floyd and imploring the world to offer the same kind of solidarity. “This is Iran’s George Floyd moment… and I hope we keep pushing and the whole world keeps supporting this, so we have finally changed,” British-Iranian actor Omid Djalili said in a video shared on Twitter.
“Women supporting any movement like #metoo, if you don’t know what’s going on in Iran or if you know but don’t care enough about it, I don’t know how you can call yourself a feminist,” said Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani. said on Instagram. “Please be the voice,” she said earlier in the post.
The protests are among the largest and most disruptive Iran has seen in recent years, so much so that WhatsApp and Instagram, two of the platforms available there, have been restricted, according to NetBlocks, an internet watchdog that measures network data. It also identified “near total disruption of internet service in parts of Kurdistan Province”, where Amini was from. NetBlocks describes this as “the toughest internet restrictions since the November 2019 massacre,” when more than 200 people were reportedly killed during anti-government protests over gas prices in the state.
Social media footage from the current protests showed women tearing off their hijabs and burning them, some cutting their hair. Reports say between 17 and 31 people have died, with hundreds injured, as protesters demand an end to the Islamic Republic, which emerged victorious from the 1979 revolution.
The revolution, which also included liberal and secular factions, sought to overthrow the US-backed regime (the CIA had been instrumental in installing and maintaining the regime, which is partly what produced such a strong reaction at the time). Activists today reminisced about the pre-revolution era, sharing old photos of Iranian women without hijabs, uncovered or on the beach in swimsuits.
“I think at this moment in history we have to remember that when George Floyd was killed by police in America, there was global solidarity,” said Nazanin Boniadi, another British-Iranian actor and ardent defender of human rights, on PBS NewsHour. . “You’ve seen images from inside Iran, from inside Syria – places where they themselves are in dire straits – showing solidarity. The least we can do in the West is show our solidarity with the people inside Iran.
But the West’s tireless solidarity with Ukraine – which comes in part in the form of sanctions against Russia, one of the world’s biggest oil producers – has had endless ramifications. Sanctions have made Russian President Vladimir Putin increasingly desperate, which will lead to more bloodshed, and have led to rising inflation and growing global inequality, fertile ground for populist forces and fascists, to name a few. And now Iran has been dragged into the shifting balance of power.
“To punish Russia for invading Ukraine, the US and EU are rushing to find coherent long-term strategies to reduce Russia’s geoeconomic grip in Eurasia,” says the Carnegie Endowment for International. Peace. This, in turn, gave some urgency to the lifting of US sanctions against Iran. “The EU has long wanted Iran to play a role in its energy supply…but sanctions have so far stood in the way.” Suffice it to say that supporting the protesters’ end goal of toppling Iran’s current regime – and a power vacuum that could result from it – could dash the hopes of many of these countries for an oil deal with Iran.
There would be a perverse irony in the West claiming moral superiority in its approach to Russia and Ukraine if part of that reckoning involved tacit support for a regime that kills its citizens for being gay. and, it seems, so as not to cover their hair. But then again, the valuing of human life is very different when it is not white – and when economic interests are potentially at risk.
So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if Ukraine enters into the West’s calculation of whether or how much to support the protests in Iran. We should be watching closely and demanding the kind of international solidarity that we have offered to Ukrainians. To truly honor Amini and the protesters, we should insist on nothing less.
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