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Don’t Forget About Iran
For the first time since its founding, protests have the Islamic Republic on the back foot.
Not so long ago, as I walked down the street in my Brooklyn neighborhood, I was struck by a vision from my past life: What would my twenty-year-old self think seeing women and girls walk around without hijab and instead dressing exactly as they choose to? I allowed myself, for a moment, to enjoy the feeling of the wind in my hair.
Sadly, I no longer take walks in Brooklyn. Since November 2020 I’ve been living in and out of safe houses under constant police and FBI protection. Last July, a man with a loaded AK-47 was arrested outside of my home. He was, according to the Justice Department’s indictment, part of an Eastern European organized crime group contracted by the Islamic Republic to kill me. The clerics in Tehran have loathed me ever since I started a campaign against compulsory hijab 8 years ago. Somehow I never imagined they would send mobsters after me, but one should never underestimate the depravity and reach of this regime: its tentacles are not contained inside Iran’s borders.
Every day I spend in America is a painful reminder that the rights I now have are not accessible to my Iranian sisters. They have been dealing with the Islamic Republic’s theocracy for the past 43 years. During that time the regime expunged freedom of expression, created a gender apartheid system of government, and reintroduced child marriage. Torture, forced confessions, and corruption are the norm. Iran’s natural resources have been significantly depleted due to greed and corruption.
It wasn’t always this way. Women’s rights in Iran saw significant progress toward gender equality as early as the 1920s. Women were allowed into the country’s first university in 1935. The Iranian Women’s Party was formed in 1942, and education for women became compulsory in 1944. Almost twenty years later, in 1963, women obtained the right to vote. The minimum age of marriage was raised from 13 to 18 and women could file for divorce. By the late 1970s, Iranian women made up a significant part of the country’s workforce and served in parliament and local councils. It was only the 1979 Iranian Revolution that brought the theocracy and regression of women’s rights.
But today, another revolution is underway. Since the killing of Mahsa Amini in September 2022, Iranians have poured into the streets to fight against the criminals who have taken over my birth country. Cries of “Woman, Life, Freedom!” echo across Iran and around the world. Niloufar Aghaei and Elaheh Tavakolian are just two of the brave young women I am aware of who faced down Islamist regime bullets. They each lost an eye because of it, but their hope remains unvanquished. “Anyone whose goal is to control women who like reading, poetry, music, and coffee is fighting a losing battle,” Niloufar wrote on Instagram.
The rise of technology and social media has opened doors that were not previously open. It has shown Iranians the freedom that exists beyond its borders. People outside of Iran live in a world where they can travel across continents, marry someone of the same sex, be whoever they want to be. Iranian citizens desire to live a life free from the violent, misogynistic regime that surveils their every move and strips them of their dignity and self-determination. We are steadfastly determined to remove this regime in favor of a representative, fair government that is kept separate from religion.
We failed once—in 2009—to change the system into a better one. Through past failures, however, we have learned how this regime functions. The Islamic Republic has proven that it will show no mercy or tolerance towards the opposition, so this time, there will be no compromise. We will keep fighting until the Islamic Republic is no longer, and we will build something new—something beautiful.
This revolution is not dying down. In fact, it has only just begun. Former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi says it’s time for a new constitution to be drafted. Former President Khatami says reform has reached a dead end. Reformists are leaving the sinking ship known as the Islamic Republic in droves. With every unjust arrest, every brutal maiming of innocent protesters, every harsh punishment doled out for couples who wish to dance in the street, the flames of this revolution grow hotter. We need the world to keep paying attention.
The Islamic Republic regime is like the monster of darkness: a shapeless black demon that feeds on your fear. My mother always told me that if you are scared, the monster will grow bigger and swallow you whole. If you stare it down, the shadows will disappear.
It is easy to look the other way when the monsters are not yet at your doorstep. But when tyranny is allowed to mutate and spread unchecked, everyone around the world is less safe. Iran’s tyrants will continue to corrode the outside world’s bent toward freedom and democratic government unless they are contained and thwarted. The West must not turn a blind eye to Iranians’ struggles—in part, because injustice should never be ignored; but also because, one day, it might be you who needs your neighbor to come to your aid.
Masih Alinejad is an Iranian-American journalist, author, and women’s rights activist.
Note: The text of this article has undergone minor editorial changes since publication.
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