Iranian regime fears revolution while women lead the way to total change

October 22, 2022

From the November-December 2022 issue of News & Letters

by Terry Moon

“Hijab has nothing to do with morality, religion or ethics” but is “what the political elite wants, and it is how they came to power. Making hijab mandatory for all means that the regime governs your most private realm and is present everywhere. If it had to do with religion, it would have been a private matter between women and their God. But the Iranian government has declared itself as the force of God and their legitimacy depends on it.”

Elham Gheytanchi, associate professor of sociology, Santa Monica College

“The anger isn’t over just Mahsa’s death, but that she should have never been arrested in the first place. Because [protesters] have nothing to lose they are standing up and saying, ‘Enough of this. I am willing to die to have a life worth living.’”

Shadi Sadr, a prominent human rights lawyer

A fraction of the crowd of students at Amir Kabir University protesting forced hijab and the whole Iranian Regime on Sept. 20, 2022. Photo: Wikimedia/Darafsh


As we go to press the revolution in Iran continues to deepen. How fearful the Iranian regime is can be measured in the inhumanity of their reaction. Their main enemy are the children of Iran. Even the leader of the thuggish “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps” (IRGC) admitted that the average age of those arrested is 15—meaning that many are younger.

Sixteen-year-old Sarina Esmailzadeh, was murdered by Iranian security forces in October of 2022. Photo: Radio Zamaneh.

Schoolgirls are the leaders. So terrified is the regime of these children that Iranian security forces are raiding schools, barging into classrooms, roughing up schoolgirls, shoving them, throwing them into cars, firing teargas into school buildings, and beating them so brutally that several have died and others have been hospitalized. The regime could not contain its savagery as in the murders of Sarina Esmailzadeh and Nika Shakarami, two sixteen-year-old protesters. “The security forces smashed Nika’s skull, broke her teeth and dislocated her cheekbone, her mother has said in interviews; Sarina’s head was fractured after she was hit repeatedly with a baton until she bled to death.”

Sixteen-year-old Nika Shakarami, beaten to death by Iran security forces in October of 2022.

Children who are not beaten to death or shot outright by bullets aimed at their hearts and heads, are being rounded up and locked into so-called “psychiatric centers.” We have yet to hear the horror they are being subjected to in these concentration camps. The problem for Iran’s rulers isn’t that Iranian youth are being misled by the West or don’t comprehend their reality, it is that they do.


The revolt is everywhere. On Oct. 15 a huge fire broke out at Iran’s torture chamber, Evin Prison, built originally to hold those fighting the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi regime in 1972. It is now famous for torturing and executing tens of thousands of dissidents in the 1980s. Iran Wire calls it “one of the most savage political mass killings in modern history.” It continues to hold and torture dissidents to this day.

On Oct. 15, 2022, a fired broke out at Evin Prison. Even as the fire spread, prisoners could be heard chanting against the regime. Photo: Iran Wire.

Two days before the Evin fire, 40 women prisoners held a meeting where they solidarized with those fighting the regime. Many spoke at the meeting, including human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, who said: “For 43 years, an authoritarian and misogynistic government has controlled all aspects of Iranians’ lives, and everyone who has protested faces brutal repression. Our fathers and mothers were imprisoned, tortured and executed in the 1980s by the same authorities who are violently killing our 16-year-old boys and girls in the streets today.”

Schoolgirls, prisoners and millions of others are joined by petrochemical workers who are striking in Asaluyeh near the Persian Gulf, inspiring other workers in Bushehr Province. Chanting: “This year is the year of Blood! Seyed Ali Khamenei is done!” and “Down with the Dictator!” Workers have blocked roads leading to the factory and set barrels of tar on fire.


Many petrochemical workers hail from minority ethnic groups, thus their chants caught on video: “Long live Iran! Long live Lurs, Turks, Kurds, Arabs and Bakhtiaris!” and “Don’t be afraid: We stand together!” They are calling for nationwide strikes: “This is only the beginning of our path, and we will continue our protests every day in solidarity and in tandem with the people from all over the country.” The strike has spread to tanker drivers who have refused to move oil in their rigs.

Business centers are also experiencing strikes, many in Kurdish cities such as Kermanshah, Boukan, Saghez and Sarpol-e-Zahab.

Sixteen-year-old Asra Panahi was beaten to death by Iranian security forces who raided her school in Ardabil on Oct. 13, 2022, and demanded the girls sing a pro-regime song. Photo from a video.

Teachers unions have announced solidarity strikes and “students in at least 28 universities” are participating in a nationwide boycott of classes. The Coordination Council of Iranian Teachers’ Trade Associations called for Yousef Nouri, Iran’s Education Minister, to resign, calling him an “incompetent and good-for-nothing element.” They were responding to the attack on girl students in Ardabil—an Azeri region—where the girls refused to sing a song praising Ali Khamenei. They were beaten so brutally by government agents that sixteen-year-old Asra Panahi died on Oct. 13 and another girl is in critical condition while many more had to be hospitalized.


That these murders have only fueled the movement was articulated by a 19-year-old woman: “I don’t have a single relative in Ardabil, but with this brutal crackdown on our sisters, who were just 16 years old, they’ve awakened the whole nation. We never knew we were so united—across the Baloch regions as well as the Kurdish regions. The world has heard about Nika, Sarina and Asra, but there are so many other nameless children who we know nothing about.

“It’s not just Asra’s death,” she said. “The Islamic Republic has been killing our people for 40 years, but our voices weren’t heard. Let the world know this is no longer a protest—we are calling for a revolution. Now that you’re all listening to our voices, we will not stop.”

That the Iranian regime was counting on splitting the nation’s ethnic populations was made clear by its mass killings in the Kurdish and Balochistan provinces. On Sept. 22, Iran bombed the Kurdish opposition forces in Iraq. The hated IRGC claimed they were targeting “terrorist and anti-revolutionary groups” based there. They as well shot down at least 76 unarmed demonstrators in the Kurdish region of Iran on Sept. 28, some of them children. They wounded and jailed hundreds more, as well as at least 20 journalists, including the one who broke the story about Mahsa Amini’s death.

Twenty-two-year-old Mahsa Amini was killed by Iranian morality police thugs for supposedly not wearing hijab “properly.” Photo from family given to Iran Wire.

The murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini (called Jina Amini by her family and fellow Kurds) by Iranian morality police thugs for supposedly not wearing hijab “properly,” was the event that prompted weeks of outrage and revolt that continue as this is being written. Three days after she was taken, she was dead, her face and head bruised and battered.

Raha Bahreini, a lawyer and Amnesty International’s Iran researcher, pointed out that one of the regime’s deadliest days was Sept. 30 “in Zahedan, Sistan, Balochistan province, which is populated by Iran’s oppressed Balochi minority. The security forces opened fire on protesters and bystanders, and in the course of several hours they killed over 85 men, women and children.” In these areas the security forces roam the streets, randomly firing live rounds into people’s homes along with tear gas canisters.

This ploy to split the opposition has failed. Even the slogan of solidarity, Jin, Jiyan, Azadi (Women, life, freedom) was first a Kurdish slogan.

Meanwhile Iran’s ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi—he who decreed that conservative dress laws be implemented “in full” and loosed the morality police on the women of Iran—tries to lie, lie, lie his way out of what his regime has created: a theocratic state monstrosity that cannot properly feed or house its population or offer its youth a future. Drenched in hypocrisy and corruption, the IRGC and the despised Basij enrich themselves by stealing the future of the Iranian people.


Since Amini’s murder the regime, from Iran’s president on down, continue their mendacity. Not only about death, but claiming all the murdered youth had serious illnesses or committed suicide and the rest are agents of the West and/or have been brainwashed. President Raisi promised that Amini’s death would be investigated. No one believes his “investigation” was anything more than a coverup. No one believes any of the forced confessions or the grieving relatives tortured to lie to protect those still living.

Poster in solidarity with women in Iran, September 2022.

The regime should be afraid. The cries of: “Women, life and freedom!” “Death to the headscarf!” “Death to the dictator!” “We’ll support our sisters and women, life, liberty!” fill the streets. Demonstrators led by women and girls burn down police stations, chase police cars, torch Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s billboards and pictures. Protests have spread internationally, with Iranians and their allies protesting in Paris, Sweden, Turkey, the U.S., and other countries in Europe—wherever there are Iranians. In solidarity, women cut their hair, and in Athens, in homage to the fight against racist sexism in the U.S., protesters held signs reading “Say her name!”


Iranian women have taken off their headscarves in front of the police, burned them, waved them in anger, shaved their heads and publicly cut their hair to show that they are the ones to decide what happens to their bodies and what they wear. At Amini’s funeral women threw off their headscarves, waving them in anger, and chanted “Death to the dictator.” Crowds kept the police from rushing the burial and the police fired on them and threw stones and teargas.

The breadth and depth of the uprising mirror the deep anger and discontent of the Iranian population. Thus, poor and rich Iranians are uniting for the first time since the revolution that overthrew the Shah. Amini was Kurdish, but that has not stopped other ethnic minorities as well as those in the Fars majority from coming together in outrage and demanding fundamental changes—so fundamental that they include the end of the Islamic Republic of Iran with the aim to create a country that values human life and freedom.

Now the revolt has spread to over 80 cities, probably more by the time you read this, and women are leading the way. Iran’s most religiously conservative cities, such as Qom, are also beset by protests and outrage. There is some evidence that members of the security forces have joined the protesters, and while the military seems strong, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t dissension in their ranks.


On Jan. 29, 2018, in one of Tehran’s busiest squares, a woman tied her head scarf on a stick and waved it in protest. Photo: Mojtaba Nariman.

Weeks before Amini’s murder, Iranian women rebelled against President Raisi’s “chastity and hijab week,” by posting selfies of themselves unveiled or walking bareheaded through cities. The regime took to beating forced “confessions” out of women picked up and brutalized by the morality police. (See “Woman as Reason: Fight against forced veiling,” Sept.-Oct. 2022 News & Letters.)

It is no accident that the first step of counter-revolution after hijacking the 1979 revolution was enforced veiling of women. Iranian women have continuously fought it. As Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian human rights attorney currently on furlough from an Iranian prison, posted on facebook:

 “We will not forget the memory of women who have been the target of state violence for defying the compulsory hijab. From Homa Darabi who was expelled from the university due to compulsory hijab and burned herself [on Feb. 22, 1994] (see “Iranian feminists fight fundamentalist oppression,” N&L, May 1994) to women of Revolution Street who have been subjected to violent assaults and beatings, to Nastaran Darabi whose beautiful hair was stomped upon under the boots of a hateful and violent man from the Morality Police, to Sepideh Rashnoo who was heading to her job, to thousands of young girls and women who are subjected to insults and attacks and arrest on a daily basis, all weigh heavily on our memory of yesterday and today….In the not so distant future, these waves of violence will turn on you.”


Over 40 years ago, the people of Iran—the people­­, not the mosque—made a revolution that shook the world. Then, the Shah of Iran, propped up by the most powerful country in the world, was overthrown by a revolution of women, men, and youth, workers and students. From that moment on, those who stole that historic uprising and diverted the people’s goal from freedom to religious rule have feared revolution above any other reality.

Women Marching on International Women’s Day in Iran, 1979, the day after Ayatollah Khomeini ordered that Iranian women must wear the veil. Photo by Hengameh Golestan.

Then, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini blamed women’s objection to mandatory hijab as coming from “Western imperialism.” Today, nobody believes it, though the Iranian regime is again trotting out that dead old shibboleth.

 Then, on International Women’s Day 1979, though some leftist men tried to protect the women who marched by the thousands in the streets rejecting mandatory hijab, many more attacked them. Those women foresaw the future when they chanted: “At the dawn of freedom, we have no freedom.” Today, the men are with their sisters in unity and solidarity.

Then, secular and religious people were on different sides. Today, The New York Times reports: “religiously conservative Iranians have spoken up alongside liberal ones. On social media, women who wear the hijab by choice have started solidarity campaigns questioning the harsh enforcement of the laws….”


There is no question that the people of Iran have, at one and the same time, reached a new level that is determined to transform widespread revolt into revolution and that they require the deepest solidarity from those who work for a freedom-filled society based on new human relationships. Women in the U.S. are not being shot in the streets in the hundreds, but we do have to struggle to be comprehended as human beings and can learn a great deal from the revolutionary activity and Reason of our Iranian sisters. Hoda Katebi, an

Demonstration in solidarity with women in Iran, UC Berkeley, Sept. 23, 2022. Photo by Urszula Wislanka.

Iranian-American writer and community organizer, put it this way:

“The 1979 Revolution began as a cry for freedom from a foreign-backed monarchy, but religious slogans and symbols were quickly co-opted to build and maintain another repressive state. The protesters are now demanding that the original promises of the revolution—freedom, independence, social justice—be fulfilled.

“Today’s protests echo the decades of resistance led by women, both veiled and unveiled, against the hijab’s co-optation as a tool of repression since its imposition in the 1980s. This struggle is interlinked with similar struggles for women’s liberation globally.

“Whether fighting for the right to control our reproductive lives in the United States, the right to life without military occupation in Palestine or Kashmir, or the right to free speech in Saudi Arabia, women are left with few options but to rise up….

“Women’s rights are under attack globally, and Iranian women are on the front lines of this battle.”


The regime’s legitimacy has fractured. A potential flashpoint is the expected death of the so-called “Great Leader” Khamenei, who is planning to foist his son, Mojtaba, as his successor. Already that move is opposed. “Mojtaba, Mojtaba, we will die before we see you as the leader!” joins the profusion of chants in the streets of Iran.

Part of the women’s march in Tehran, Iran, on International Women’s Day, March 8, 1979.

Of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Raya Dunayevskaya[1] wrote at the time that the Women’s March on International Women’s Day that lasted five days, not one, showed women “striking out on their own as a way of deepening the content of revolution.”

Then and now women are doing so again, signaling that, to them, the content of revolution is not only the question of getting rid of the existing decrepit and inhuman leadership and replacing it with something a little bit better. They are showing by their actions, their bravery and their leadership that this revolution has to be so deep and so total that they and their generation will be the ones to determine their own lives and future.

No revolution has freed women.[2] The events in Iran make it clear that from now on, that must be both revolution’s measure and goal.

[1] See The Political Philosophic Letters of Raya Dunayevskaya, Vol. II, and see page 4 of this issue.

[2] Women have been at the forefront of revolutions and struggled to become free. See Raya Dunayevskaya’s Women’s Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution: Reaching for the Future.

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