Review: Died for showing some hair

Iranian officials say she died after suffering a “heart attack” and falling into a coma (she was arrested for breaking hijab-wearing rules). But Amini’s family — and protesters across the country — aren’t buying it. Seeing dramatic images of protesters burning their hijabs, cutting their hair and violent confrontations with security forces shows how little has changed since my teenage years at the hands of police and Revolutionary Guard brutality.
I was 13 years old in 1979 when the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Iranian monarchy. Although revolutionary leaders pledged to expand social freedoms, within a year, women’s rights to self-expression were violated. Dancing, wearing bikinis, even holding hands with our boyfriends in public were largely forbidden.

I was one of those who spoke out against the regime and paid the price, but not as dearly as some of my activist colleagues. At the age of 16, I was accused of being anti-revolutionary and sent to the notorious Evin prison in Tehran.

Even now, decades later, every night when I go to bed, I think about my roommates. Many are dead, executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran in the 1980s. And those who survived, like me, were tortured in prison. The guards and interrogators, all men, tied us to bare beds in small windowless rooms that reeked of sweat, urine, and fear, and tied the soles of our feet with long cables — heavy, hard, and cruel. It hurt so bad I couldn’t even scream. Later I was taken to a mock execution, threatened and raped. I was practically a child and so were many of my roommates. We dared to protest against the fanatical and autocratic laws of the newly formed regime with Ayatollah Khomeini as supreme leader.

I was arrested on January 15, 1982, more than 40 years ago. Back then, I would never have believed it if someone had told me that in 2022, I would be lying awake in bed in Canada at night thinking that innocent young women were still being beaten in Iran for being “immoral”. In the Islamic Republic, beauty remains a mortal sin.

As I languished in Evin, I kept telling myself that the people of Iran would save my roommates and me. We were daughters of Iran. We have been torn apart. We were terribly and viciously wronged. We waited and waited, but no one came. The bodies kept piling up, but no one came.

Our parents, friends and neighbors were horrified. They heard of torture and mass shootings. The regime had guns, mobs, armies, torturers and prisons. I guess the good people decided to cut their losses and leave them for dead. Those of us who survived and went home hit a wall of silence. Our loved ones did not want to talk about it because it would lead to more problems. The message was “forward.” And we tried. God knows, I tried. But what I experienced and saw took many years to overcome the soul that left me in a coma.

I was released from Evin in March 1984, when the authorities decided that I was destroyed, that I was no longer a threat. (I moved to Canada in 1991). In the few years since, there have been many protests in Iran that have revived hope that the end of the Islamic Republic may be within reach, but each time we have been disappointed.

Like any other autocracy, the Iranian regime and its Revolutionary Guard are corrupt, and with years of extreme inflation, lower and middle class Iranians are finding it increasingly difficult to put food on the table, while the ruling elites. they are getting richer.

This economic situation leads to more public disillusionment with Iranian women and youth being beaten and even killed for protesting or simply being “immoral”, which leads to more protests. As much as I would like these protests to bring an end to the Islamic Republic soon, I highly doubt they will. Iran is a deeply divided country on many levels, including ethnically and ideologically, and these protests lack a charismatic leader to unite them.

Most protesters want the Islamic Republic to disappear, but what will take its place? Who will lead Iran to a better future and what will that future look like in practical terms? These questions are still unanswered.

I had just become a teenager when the streets of Tehran were filled with demonstrators chanting “Death to the Shah” and “Independence, Freedom, Islamic Republic”. People did not know that freedom was inherently incompatible with the Islamic Republic of Ayatollah Khomeini. History always moves forward, albeit very slowly, and not always towards a better future. It would be extremely difficult for a country that has been under dictatorship for many decades to find a way to permanent freedom.

But miracles do happen in history. The problem is that they are usually neither quick nor easy – and they cost a lot.