In the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death, what is next for Iranian society?
In the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death, what is next for Iranian society?
The unremarkable assembly of two government rallies despite intense advertising and the continuation of protests in their aftermath shows that the Woman’s Movement of 2022 is more serious than what the government and certain analysts imagine. The social nature of this movement and the agency and centrality of women in it has caused the government’s usual formula to “cleaning up the issue” – meaning arousing the religious emotions of the part of society loyal to the government by accusing the protesters of disrespecting that which is holy – not to be enough this time.
Considering all this, it is a major mistake to limit this movement only to the part of it in the streets. Another part of this movement, which, if not even more widespread, deep, and important than the part in the street is certainly not less important, is the part of this movement in the homes. In the past few days, in parallel to the unrest in the streets, many family and friend environments (whether in person or online) have also seen unrest and have turned into an arena for frank discussions and debates about mandatory hijab and the government’s cultural policies: Arguments between a father with their child, mother with their daughter, sister with their brother, mother with their grandmother, friend with a friend etc. If the streets were the arena for shouting, the home was also an arena for beliefs that have become weak, taboos that have fallen, the certainty that has been assaulted by termites of doubt. Dissatisfactions have turned into fury, and fury has turned into screams. Naturally, all of the protesters, particularly religious or traditional women, do not have enough opportunity or motivation to be present in the streets, but they also showed their protest through stories and posts on Instagram and Twitter, or even showing through quoting and liking. We should pay attention that even these small and minute actions have had and continue to have very high costs for them in their family, friend, or work environments. And among these, particularly, the protesting actions of religious and traditional women have particular importance.
Previously, in the article “Getting past the government’s voluntarism to society’s self-regulation,” I had written that getting past the current crisis around mandatory hijab to get a level of equilibrium, it is necessary for Iranian society to cross a transition phase; a phase whose crossing is, of course, neither easy nor without cost and during which society will experience an unavoidable level of tension and even violence. What we are experiencing these days is, in a way, the beginning of that transitory phase. The unbelievable stubbornness of the government and its insistence on the failed policy of “Gashte Ershad” and the accumulated anger that sparked from the events of Sepideh Rashnu* and was lit alight with the killing of Mahsa Amini, has changed into a strong catalyst for Iranian society entering the transition stage.
With this having been said, even if the street part of the movement declines and ends (which is not unexpected), not only will the part in the home continue, but it can be said that the woman’s movement of 2022 has already been a great and valuable achievement. An achievement which, if the government had logical and realistic behavior would not need to be at such a high cost and the blood of 40 citizens (until today and official sources).**
No matter what ending the street part of the movement has, this is not a movement that will end, and no matter what, things will not go to what they were like before September and October of 2022. Changes in hijab that started in large cities about a decade ago and include a vast spectrum of the population – from the emergence and spread of new styles of chador (which have effectively transformed the hijab from something that covers and hides into something that shows and flaunts) and the variety of types of hijab and the fluidity in the definition of a “hijabi” to the complete removal of hijab from non-governmental workplaces and public spaces – have with this movement gotten faster and reached a domain beyond that of large cities. Chadors that were folded and put in the closet in this movement will not be brought out again. The knots of Roosaris that became loose will not become tight again. The scarves that fell on the shoulders will not be put back on the heads. Even if the government wants to, it cannot continue the erroneous policy of mandatory hijab with force like in the past. Even if the hateful vans of Gashte Ershad remain, they will not be able to flaunt around like before, and the public fear of resisting them is less. The price of fighting against mandatory hijab has decreased even in formal and organizational settings. Women and girls that do not believe in or like the hijab will have a more fair share of the streets.
This image of the future naturally is not pleasant for parts of the religious body of society, and they will resist it coming true. There are specifically two groups that will show more serious resistance: One is older traditional religious people that have zeal towards the hijab as a Wajib and erroneously think that with the elimination of legal compulsion for the hijab, society will fall down a slope of immorality and orf*** will not able to control things to reach equilibrium. Secondly are the hard core of the religious who are loyal to the government, who, despite using religious language, in reality, have zeal towards hijab as more of a political symbol and one of the signs of the Islamic Republic. Other parts of society, including the young (and particularly female) urban middle class who live a modern lifestyle and have a fundamentally different understanding and definition of hijab and see it more as a form of fashion and way of living, are in the face of these changes, more receptive and empathetic and may even join it.
In any case, the resistance of the two aforementioned groups is natural. In the future, we will likely witness more encounters like the events in the BRT Buses or the disputes between women in the metro and other public spaces (although society will no longer allow one of the sides in the quarrel to sit in front of a confession camera with a bruised eye). These conflicts will be unavoidable as long as they do not go beyond the level of individual conflicts and limited physical conflict and do not reach the levels of serious violence. It would be naively optimistic to think that after years of planting hate and anger in one part of society and instilling them as being “God’s chosen people” and the illusion of being in the majority in the other part of society, we now expect that everything will be solved easily and simply.
But what is necessary by any means is that all social forces and forces committed to society strive to get past this stage with minimal costs and the least violence possible; until reaching a more balanced situation that is a product of society’s self-regulation. A situation in which the religious part of society understands that its fears about the future of freedom about hijab were misplaced and, in fact living with [true] faith (in contrast to rentier religiosity that is in partnership with power and getting benefits and privilege) is easier in such an environment. We can be hopeful that the government can learn from the path taken so far and the experience of this movement and, instead of insisting stubbornly on the current destructive policies, return to its correct position, meaning regulation, so that Iranian society can pass through this stage safely and experience rebirth.
This piece is an English translation of the original article, which was published on the author’s Telegram channel.
*Sepideh Rashnu was a 28 year old woman who got in a confrontation with a member of the morality police on a BRT bus in mid July. The passengers of the bus came to Sepideh’s aid and kicked the morality police woman off the bus. A video of the confrontation went viral both in Iran and on international media. Sepideh was subsequently arrested. State television broadcast a video of her on July 30th giving a forced apology with clear bruises visible on her eyes, sparking outrage across the country. She was released on bail on August 30th.
**This article was written in late September. Since then the official death count has increased.
***The conventions of a given society.