Can Activism Spark Change in Iran?

Op-Ed by Amanda Warren

The West’s history of intervention in Iran has often been fraught with human rights abuses, coups and the ongoing spectre of the nuclear threat that Iran supposedly poses. That said, Iran’s own history of abuse toward its people is incontestible, and seems to be coming to a legitimate boiling point among its populace.

Some will rightly question, given the above-mentioned “history” of the West in Iran, how much of the new unrest is genuine street-level activism versus yet another attempt at destablization and foreign control. After all, it is something we have seen not too long ago with the Arab Spring and remains an ongoing concern wherever the U.S. has focused its military power and economic interests. However, if we just look at the global devaluation of human rights, particulary over the last three years, any compassionate human being would be moved to send Iran love – just as we would any nation in the grips of a ruling class that has put its own interest far above the people they claim to protect.

From the CIA-plotted coup in 1953, Operation Ajax, to the ongoing sanctions today, the targeting of the abusive Iranian regime by foreign forces has done little if anything to elevate an historically oppressed population. On the contrary, in addition to the crippling economic conditions, basic human rights in Iran remain under fire to this day. Most recently, it is the actions of the Guidance Patrol, aka “morality police,” in Iran, who are alleged to have severely beat a 22-year-old woman, Masha Amini, who dared to remove her hijab. Her injuries led to her later death at a hospital, sparking the largest country-wide protests in decades.

The ensuing protests, and the reaction by security forces, have reportedly led to nearly 500 deaths of activists standing up against the mandatory dress code for women imposed following the 1979 revolution (considered to, at the very  least, be “blowback” from previous U.S. intervention). It’s important to note that there were also widespread protests at the moment this new declaration was issued, signifying the immediate recognition that this was a severe violation of basic freedoms.

1979 Iranian Women Day’s protests against mandatory hijab laws – Source

The entire world should now be very familiar with the stigmatization that can result in the wake of mandatory masking and other dictates, often resulting in exclusion, conflict, and outright violence being directed toward those who are seen as not being in compliance with government directives. The world should also be familiar with how powerful it can be to stand one’s ground, even in the face of what seems to be an overwhelming tide of oppression, as some recent authoritarians have now requested amnesty for their actions.

If the full scope of history has taught us anything is that lasting change never comes from the top down. Whatever it is that the Iranian people want, they – like oppressed people everywhere – must mobilize and demand change through non-compliance, peaceful resistance, and community activism at the most local level. For those of us on the outside looking in, we can lend support by maintaing our own moral compass in the face of propaganda that wishes us only to see the dangerous “other,” leading us away from supporting basic human rights and into supporting the same forces of oppression that wish to rule over all of us.

The United States has a long history of resisting tyrants, as well as recognizing and attempting to undo the harms of bigotry and exlusion; this should compel us toward empathy whenever we encounter people being brutalized simply for desiring to live free.

Image: Pixabay

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