Initially, I intended for this final installment of our series at WWB to provide a note in the nature of “let’s wrap this up” and “here is an overview of what happened to Iranians both inside Iran and dispersed all around the world since September 16, 2022, when Mahsa-Jina Amini was killed in the hands of the so-called morality police.” But I don’t think that is what I am going to do after all.
First, I want to move my own language away from a passive position, of things happening to us, and recast the sentence in the active voice, in which we are subjects with agency at the center of all that has been going on. I want to think about what we have done and made possible, both the positive and negative manifestations of laying bare what has been dormant, in this last round of uprisings against the Islamic republic regime.
And the more I think about it, the more I fail to imagine such a summarizing text to bring this offering to a close, because we are still in the midst of what we started last year, the impetus for the series: a historic struggle that we are only going deeper and deeper into, even though you, our non-Iranian readers, might think otherwise, because there is not as much coverage by your media since no large-scale protests are currently going on.
New incarnations of resistance are forming and reforming every day, stronger than ever before, so I do not want to suggest that things are coming to an end for the Iranian people opposing the regime. Especially as we head toward the anniversary of the killing of Mahsa-Jina, I do not want to provide a simplified overview, because our goal was never that. Instead, the #WomanLifeFreedom series aimed to bring you live witness narratives, from everyday posts on social media and material sent to us by people on the ground or fighting alongside from far away. The collection was just a fraction of the sea of material produced, since the documentation of this uprising and the critical analysis of our conditions, present and past, have been immense and unique in so many ways, but our hope was to invite you, via those samples, into the complex web of our experience living through this moment as Iranians.
Instead of looking back at our curation of the past several months, as is traditional when a series comes to an end, I want here to provide a list of some of the most recent incidents of violence committed by the Islamic republic regime. This list is a gesture toward keeping open the documentation of #WomanLifeFreedom and its translation. Our work needs to continue, and for years we will have to investigate and express ourselves with and through language and art, in as many forms as possible, to attempt to get closer and closer to the heart and soul of this movement and this moment.
Here is the list, which is not comprehensive:
- The latest victim of the regime’s prison system is Javad Rouhi, a protestor who was arrested in September 2022 for dancing in the streets. Unfairly convicted and tortured, he suspiciously died on August 31, 2023.
- At least twenty female activists have been arrested around the country only in the past few weeks on fake allegations.
- University students, as well as professors, continue being dismissed from campuses around the country, while the conditions for those struggling to keep these institutions thriving and resisting continue to worsen, while the rate of brain drain from the country reaches unprecedented numbers. Meanwhile, new professors aligned with the regime are hired en masse to further tighten freedom of thought and action on campuses.
- Families who have lost their loved ones to the bullets and tortures of the regime continue to be harassed in new ways every day; they are arrested, threatened against holding any kind of ceremony for their loved ones’ death anniversaries or birthdays, banned from social media, fired from their jobs, disappeared, etc.
- Even the tombs of those killed by the regime are desecrated in different ways: from walls built around their graves to changes to the cemeteries’ settings to redirect visitors away from the tombs to headstones broken and destroyed to the continuous presence of guards and surveillance cameras at their cemetery blocks, the regime’s fear of memorial sites has no bounds.
- New rulings continue to be announced against artists and labor activists, with new arrests made every day. Most recently, pop singer Mehdi Yarrahi was arrested after his latest release “Roosarito” [Your Scarf] went viral.
- Harsher laws are passed every day regarding birth control, pregnancy health, and prenatal care, harming not only the mothers but also their babies.
- Prison conditions, especially for imprisoned female activists, continue to worsen, affecting access to phone calls, family visits, health care, and basic resources.
- Young women continue to be, for alleged crimes of indecency, the target of femicides, oftentimes carried out by male family members, crimes that are supported by the legal system.
- New methods of harassment and oppression are used against women who continue to defy the hijab laws forced upon them in the streets and other public spaces.
- With inflation rising, economic conditions continue to worsen, with many people unable to afford nutritious diets or medication.
- Foreign governments continue to make behind-the-scenes deals with the Iranian regime, enabling them to continue to hold on to power and play a role in global politics.
This list can keep on going, and, unfortunately, I have no doubt that by the time this piece goes online there will be further updates to be included here.
Like many long-term resistance movements, we continue to face other challenges as well: from the failures of opposition groups in diaspora and the harms brought upon the movement by opportunists, to concrete issues such as lack of resources and the difficulty of securing a decent livelihood while resisting, to environmental disasters, to the practical issues of organizing under constant surveillance and tyranny, the movement has demanded many sacrifices.
As Iran’s herstory is in the making, what is certain is that the young people of my country, especially those living inside Iran, especially women and other marginalized groups—whether it be because of their gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic conditions, or religion—continue to maintain their agency day in, day out. They continue to put on display their “art of presence” (the term sociologist Asef Bayat uses in reference to everyday practices of resistance that are integral to revolutionary movements, especially in the Middle East) and perseverance more fiercely than ever before to stand up to patriarchal, ideological tyranny in all its manifestations. They continue to publicly breathe their will for life, at all times and in all places, in a way my generation never dared to. Despite all the violence, and with no centralized leadership—or under false guidance of self-proclaimed leaders—the people of my country are creatively and organically planning ways to commemorate the anniversary of our beloved Mahsa-Jina’s killing and to reignite the fire of protest and other modes of resistance.
As many scholars attest, the #WomanLifeFreedom movement has already won many battles on various social grounds, including gender, family structures, education, religion, culture, and rituals, as well as the on-the-ground practice of grassroots and collective action.
It is in such a context that the role of multivocal documentation and witness narratives has been underlined more than before. The multilayered, complex insights they provide are indispensable not only to archiving this transitional era but also to shaping our collective endeavors and the futures they secure.
So, allow me to invite you here to check out a few forthcoming books that are doing exactly that kind of work of documentation.
I should begin with one that actually came to life as a result of one of the essays published in the #WomanLifeFreedom series here on WWB. The essay “I Am a Witness” by Anonymous (published on January 25, 2023) grabbed the attention of Michael McCaughley, editorial manager for foreign literature at the French publisher Calmann-Levy, who reached out to me, through WWB, to discuss the possibility of the essay being turned into a book-length manuscript. And now it has. The book is forthcoming in English in October 2023 in the UK under the title of In the Streets of Tehran: Woman Life Freedom (Ithaka Press) in my translation and with an introduction by Christina Lamb, as well as in French in September 2023 as Dans Les Rues de Téhéran (Calmann-Levy), translated by Ambre Morier. There is also the English anthology Woman Life Freedom, Voices and Art from the Women’s Protests in Iran, edited by Malu Halasa (who also did an anthology of narratives and artwork from Syria called Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontlines some years ago), from Saqi Books; as well as the German collection Frau, Leben, Freiheit, edited by Marjane Satrapi, with translations by Hainer Kober, Regina Keil-Sagawe, and Sarah Pasquay.
I want to end this note by recounting a conversation I’ve had with many college students and others at my home institution as well as at events in nonacademic spaces in the past year. The reason we need to learn about and engage with what is going on in Iran is not just because these events provide a larger context for the Iranian literature and arts we study, or because they help to expand our knowledge of foreign affairs and politics, or simply because we must feel empathetic and care about others (what does that even mean if that feeling is not supplemented by meaningful actions?). More importantly, we need to learn in order to see the shared roots of the injustices against which the people in Iran, especially the youth, are protesting, even risking their lives to bring change. The fight for rights over one’s body, to choose freely one’s life in all its aspects, to access resources, to protect nature and one’s environment, to choose and build alternative modes of governance, to imagine new ways toward an inclusive and fair future, and so on, are fights that the youth, and all of us across age groups, everywhere in the world, are fighting, should be fighting, more urgently than ever before. We need to see the interconnections of the resistance movements that are happening all over the world because our problems are not that different from one another’s. Yes, their extent and particularities and the ensuing levels of horror are different, but they are all manifestations of old, corrupt, patriarchal, and ideological systems of tyranny that are holding on to power with all their might. And we the people should unite beyond borders to make meaningful change possible, not just in theory or in closed-off settings but out there, all of us together. Our world cannot afford to live under the current conditions anymore, and we need to acknowledge that it is in pain. To heal it and make a livable future for us all, in the words of the late Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri, “We should wash our eyes / See the world anew.”
This movement is not just a surface-level one aiming to exchange a single political regime for another. It is a foundational struggle that is exposing historical fissures and scars, necessitating close observation, demanding deep thinking and questioning, and pushing for hard conversations, consequently manifesting untapped potentials and enabling new unities. It is a movement of mythical proportions that has changed us forever, and even though the regime is still clinging to power, we are not going back to what our life was once upon a time, before September 16, 2022. #WomanLifeFreedom has already been victorious, and this women’s revolution is here to stay and to be continued . . .
Note: The title of this essay references a quote by Mehrangiz Kar, an Iranian lawyer, writer, and human rights activist who lives in exile.
Copyright © 2023 by Poupeh Missaghi. All rights reserved.