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Mélina Ariyani, Kiwi-born Iranian Artist 25.10.22

Multi disciplinary artist & software developer, Mélina Ariyani writes about the brave youth of Iran. Sharing their hopes and determination to carve a path towards autonomy & freedom.

"Today, we are witnessing one of the biggest women-led counter-revolutions of our time in Iran, where youth are blazing the path to freedom and are willing to put their lives on the line for it."

It’s 1979. The battle between Iranian people and the Islamic regime has only just begun, and it has only become worse since their basic human rights were stripped away. Ever since the Iranian Revolution, Iranians have been fighting to claim back many of their rights from the "Islamic" regime for nearly half a century. But today, we are witnessing one of the biggest women-led counter-revolutions of our time in Iran, where youth are blazing the path to freedom and are willing to put their lives on the line for it.

For the last few days, I’ve been pondering on how I can best use Ruby’s platform to speak on the matter. After all, how can I condense decades of suffering, injustice, history, and politics into a single piece? I can't. But considering that I was granted the privilege to live in a country where the internet is uncensored, where I can freely choose how I express myself, and incidentally, where I can write a critical opinion piece of the Iranian government, for a fashion label, without being incarcerated for it... It truly puts everything into perspective. How can we help to obtain these same liberties for my Iranian compatriots? Allow me to enlighten you.

To start off, I’ll briefly get you up to speed. Zhina 'Mahsa' Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman visiting Tehran, was severely beaten while in custody of the Iranian morality police (a vice squad created by the Iranian regime to police public behaviour and dress codes of civilians), fell into a coma, and died on September 16th, just days after being admitted to hospital. All because some of her fringe was visible beneath her headscarf, which is a crime in Iran. Her death promptly sparked a massive uproar of women-led riots in Iran's streets, cutting their hair and burning their mandatory headscarves, in an effort to demonstrate to the Iranian government that it cannot continue to murder innocent people.

These same protesters, however, face lethal consequences for even uttering anything critical of the regime. Consequences involving live ammunition, tasers, tear gas, batons, threatening relatives, kidnapping, and r-pe. Might I add that the average age of the protesters who have been arrested so far is 15. Read that again.

So why such brutal measures to keep the public settled? Quick political lesson:

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocracy, which means that overtly religious leaders rule the country. Due to their fundamentalist laws, the regime rules with extremely draconian approaches and deeply misogynistic views, all while parading the name of God to maintain power. So any act of defiance towards the regime is considered blasphemy- which is punishable by death. To them, using these extreme measures is a no-brainer; no one will want to accuse you of anything if the ultimate penalty for speaking up is execution, right?

My main concern has been that some people may believe that supporting this movement comes off as Islamophobic, and to that, I'd like to emphasise that religion is not the foundation of this movement. This movement is about the reclamation of human rights. To put things into perspective, I was raised in a Muslim family, and familiarised myself with the religion to the point where I still recite prayers from the Quran under my breath when I need to feel a sense of safety. I’m not super religious, no. But I know enough about this religion to know that religion itself is not the root cause.

It’s crucial to understand that the ideologies that have been pushed for decades by this brutal regime are not an accurate or true representation of Islam, which advocates for peace, love and unity. These authorities have manipulated the word of God to deceive and abuse the Iranian people, and to legitimise the retaliatory punishments they inflict on individuals who disagree with their laws and objectives. If I’m being honest, it seems regressive to forget the lessons learned from the tragedies caused on 9/11, or by ISIS and so forth- where innocent Muslims were on the frontline to discrimination due to the ignorance of others. It’s the same story here. History has a tendency to repeat itself, but at least we can learn from the past. We don’t condemn religion, we condemn inhumane actions.

Some Muslims may take offence to the symbolic gesture of these Iranian women burning their headscarves as an act of rebellion. But this is not to imply that Iranians are against the hijab, or Islam altogether. It's a "f-ck you" to the dictatorship for bludgeoning the hijab on them. The main issue stems from the absence of autonomy, including but not limited to, clothing, education, profession, self-expression, body and religion. Issues that women all around the world are familiar with. That being said, it’s essential that the world takes a hard stance against this regime; the more time we waste trying to debate whether it’s a religious matter or not, the more innocent lives are lost. Even if religion was not a part of the equation, isn’t mass genocide on unjust terms enough of a reason to speak up?

With the religious and political discourse out of the way, how can people like you and me, help to make a change? It’s all too easy to turn a blind eye to this situation and hope that progressive governments will implement mechanisms that hold these types of regimes and dictatorships accountable to their actions. But that’s half the problem. Getting governments to take action is a huge step in itself. It doesn’t help that the amount of NZ media coverage on this situation has been inadequate. We’re over a month into the events, with countless innocent lives being lost in Iran, global protests and international politicians speaking up on the matter, yet we’ve heard little noise from our local media outlets, and not to mention a disheartening and inadequate response from our government. So how can we get them to take action?

Make some noise.

We have so much power as a collective. Go to local protests. Sign petitions. But the best thing you can do is share informative posts on social media, or discuss the situation with people. This can then greatly ripple into public forums and soon into mainstream media, which ultimately puts the heat on politicians to take action. One example of this is the international disapproval of public executions in Iran. Since the Islamic Regime came to power, public executions such as hanging and stoning, were common. However, amid internal and international outrage, the UN and Amnesty International regularly chastised the regime for its public executions. While I can’t say that public executions are no longer a thing over there (surprise, surprise), Iran’s regime now avoids them as much as possible, because they know that there will be enough international outcry for it to be a concern to their economic interests. So after all, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

When Iranians win their free country back and can live in peace with autonomy, I truly wish that this counter-revolution in Iran will serve as a lesson to the rest of the world. There’s no denying that humans have evolved into a much more compassionate and empathetic society as a whole; while we have so much more to learn, we are on the right track. Humans are not intrinsically hateful. No society should be living under a despotic ruling, and we are actively seeing that change today. Liberty for all is not inconceivable, especially when we all stand together.

Human beings are members of a whole

In creation of one essence and soul

If one member is afflicted with pain

Other members uneasy will remain

If you have no sympathy for human pain

The name of human you cannot retain

“Bani Adam” by Saadi Shirazi, 13th century Persian poet

Written by Mélina Ariyani

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