Skepticism

Women Versus Islamic Theocracy #MahsaAmini

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Let’s talk about Iran. I’ve put off making this video because at first I figured that I didn’t have a unique perspective to add to the story, and besides, I’m sure every reasonable person watching this channel already agrees with my take. But this week, the Iranian government has taken down the internet to prevent the world from seeing what’s happening, so fuck them, here’s what’s happening.

Since 1979, Iran has been controlled by an Islamic theocracy, often against the virulent protests of the Iranian people. This includes the criminalization of certain people and behaviors, like the outlawing of homosexuality, the persecution of minority religions, and mandatory hijab for women. “Hijab” refers to the veiling of a woman’s head, neck, and chest so that only her face is visible, as a form of modesty, and in Iran the morality police are authorized to detain any woman who they decide is not dressed modestly enough.

Two weeks ago, a 22-year old woman named Mahsa Amini traveled to Tehran, the country’s capital city, where she was immediately arrested by the morality police because some of her hair was visible around the edge of her hijab. She was thrown into a van where, according to other women who were detained at the same time, the officers insulted and cursed at her. She spoke back to them, at which point they began beating her.

When they got to the police station, she fainted, and after half an hour an ambulance arrived and took her to a hospital over an hour away. According to hospital officials, she was brain dead upon arrival but was in a coma for two days before she finally died on September 17th.

The police told her family that she suffered a heart attack, but the eyewitness reports immediately exposed that as a lie. 

Women across the country heard Mahsa Amini’s story and saw themselves in her: this could happen to anyone. For forty years women have been oppressed, made to fear for their safety every time they leave the house. Throughout that time there have been protests that are then met with police violence and stricter crackdowns, like in 2007 when hundreds of women were arrested for improper dress, even while driving, for wearing things like headscarves that are too colorful.

So this has been simmering for a long time, and now the women of Iran have gone Super Saiyan. Protests started at the hospital where Amini died, and then in her hometown, and then in city after city as more women poured into the streets, burning their hijab, cutting their hair, and shouting “death to the dictator” and the feminist slogan “woman, life, freedom.” They were joined by men who agreed that it’s time for the Islamic theocracy to die.

The government responded with force immediately, quickly going from pepper spray and rubber bullets to using live rounds on the protestors. Dozens of people have been murdered by police, including a popular TikToker named Hadis Najafi, who was only 20 years old and who has now become another heroic symbol. According to her sister, she was shot six times by security forces outside Tehran.

The bravery of these women is overwhelming: they’re literally being gunned down by government forces but they’re continuing to fight, shouting in the streets and even burning down police stations. Last week, Iranian authorities blocked access to Instagram and What’s App, and completely took down the internet in certain areas like Kurdistan to prevent protestors from organizing and to stop photos and videos of human rights abuses from being seen outside of the country.

With that in mind, here are some photos and videos of what’s going on.

There’s not a lot we can do from outside the country, but if you would like to help, you can organize or attend protests in your own city, follow and amplify news from Iranian human rights organizations like Hengaw, or encourage your legislators to condemn the Iranian government. You can even help Iranians access censored social media networks through efforts like the Tor Project’s “Snowflake,” which allows users living in countries with little or no internet censorship to act as a proxy for people in oppressive countries. All you need to do is install a browser extension or even just open snowflake in a tab, turn it on, and leave that tab open.

More than anything, we need to make sure the Iranian government knows that the world’s eyes are on them, and that our support is with the women who simply want to live their lives without fear of theocratic oppression.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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