22 September 2022


It began on September 13 when Iran's "morality police" arrested Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, who they claimed had been wearing her headscarf incorrectly.  That might well have been the case; women in Iran commonly express their defiance of the theocracy by wearing headscarves in ways which push the limits of the mullahs' onerous laws.  Within four days, Amini was dead.  The regime's thugs claim she suffered a heart attack, but her family denies that she had any history of heart trouble, and there's evidence that she was brutally beaten in custody, as detainees in Iran often are.

(I have seen it claimed that her real name was Jina Amini, but that she was not allowed to use that as her legal name because "Jina" is Kurdish and ethnic Kurdish names are banned by the regime.)

Almost immediately, huge protests erupted across Iran, with women engaging in mass burnings of their hijabs in scenes reminiscent of US feminists decades ago burning bras.  Men rapidly joined the protests.  Protesters openly fought the police, and in one northern town they tore down pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei from the façade of a public building.

Amini's death acted as a trigger, unleashing a wave of repressed anger in a society long seething at theocratic repression.  See how protesters in Rasht swarmed and kicked one of the regime's enforcers, who was lucky to escape with his life.  Others attacked police cars.  This is the justified rage and hate of people who have suffered all their lives under religious tyranny, with no freedom of speech or action, with arrogant thugs roaming the streets enforcing religious dress codes, and with arrest, beatings, and even death as the potential price of any dissent.

While the regime is a theocracy, Iran itself is not a particularly religious society.  A 2020 survey showed that self-identified "nones", atheists, agnostics, and humanists add up to about 30% of Iranians, comparable to the US.  Real adherents of Shi'ite Islam, the official religion of the regime, are less than a third of the total population.

This is not a medieval country being ruled by a regime natural to it.  It's a fairly modern society in which the religious-reactionary minority (a class that exists in many countries, including ours) are organized and empowered and rule over everyone else by brute force.  It's not too uncommon for Iranian women to push back against the dour turban-wearing bullies who roam the streets being assholes to anyone whose clothing or behavior they disapprove of.  The theocracy originally seized power during the chaos that followed the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 -- meaning that the Iranian people have been subject to this dreary religious totalitarianism now for 43 years.  It's no wonder that anger and impatience are reaching a breaking point.

As the protests escalate, the regime has tightened restrictions on the internet in the hope of blocking people from communicating with each other, and of hiding the reality of the situation from the outside world.  Even without that, some Western social media such as Twitter have long helped the regime hide its crimes.

The current wave of protests probably won't bring the regime down.  But its rule, resting on nothing but force, can never be stable.  The day will come when it will fall.


Blogger Lady M said...

Wow - 60% of the population is not even Muslim? Incredible.

22 September, 2022 07:01  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

It seems incredible, but maybe not. We think of Iran and most of the Middle East as "Muslim" because of tradition and inertia, the way we think of Europe as "Christian", but most of the people in western Europe are not "Christian" in terms of what they actually believe, and that's probably been the case for at least a generation.

The "Muslim"-in-some-sense proportion in Iran could be closer to 50%, since "spiritual" can mean almost anything, and tends to mean a mushy and undefined version of whatever the dominant religion is. On the other hand, not even all of that Shi'ite 32% should be considered likely supporters of the regime. The fraction which is fanatical true believers must be a lot smaller, just as hard-core fundies in the US are only a fraction of self-identified Protestants.

Many Iranians think of themselves as more European than Middle Eastern. Among Iranian students I met at university, the depth of racism against Arabs was startling, and it's probably fair to say that Iranians in general tend to look down on Arabs as inferior. Yet their Islamic religion was forced on their ancestors by Arab invaders. It's a paradox they're surely aware of.

22 September, 2022 07:23  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

A creeping sense of what could happen here came over me as I read this. We've already seen how anti-female men and women in high places here in the US are only too eager to put girls and women under their thumbs and threaten them with various punishments unless they submit to their fanatical religious ideas on girl's and women's reproductive health.

22 September, 2022 11:12  
Blogger Mike said...

"arrogant thugs (right-wing conservatives) roaming the streets enforcing..."
We dodged a bullet when we got rid of tRUMP. We need to make sure he stays gone. I'm cheering on the New York AG.

22 September, 2022 12:57  
Anonymous NickM said...

I was also surprised by that pie chart.

I am though well aware of the utter difference between Persian/Iranian culture and history and that of the Arab ME. The most obvious marker being linguistically. For a few years now I have thought the most likely big war in that neck of the woods would be Iran vs. Saudi Arabia. I mean they are already fighting a proxie one in Yemen.

On the bright side you may be wrong about the protests. Revolutions have been ignited by much less in the past. I seem to recall. I seem to recall a certain fracas over the taxation of tea escalating somewhat in the late C18th ;-)

Bitterly ironic considering, for all the USA's many positives, I've never managed to get a decent cuppa over there :-( For shame! You can land a man on the moon but tea!

22 September, 2022 14:30  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw/Mike: It's very unlikely to happen here. We have a long tradition of democracy which Iran didn't, and we're not likely to have a period of chaos following the fall of a dictator (like Iran in 1979) in which an organized minority could seize power by force.

NickM: The languages are certainly very different, but there are a lot of other differences too, notably history and strength of national identity (the first Persian Empire lasted 230 years, and it fell before China became a unified state for the first time).

I hope their respective mafia-regimes don't drag Iran and Arabia into a war. There's really no reason for one. Arabia, or at least the Bedouin, traditionally weren't all that religious either. The enemies of both are their rulers, not each other.

I hope I'm wrong about the protests and they do build up to the fall of the regime. But I keep remembering 2009, when Iran saw the largest protest demonstrations ever to happen anywhere in the history of the world, and yet the regime survived. Well, we shall see. There have been another 13 years for frustrations to build up.

You went to Georgia, right? I could well believe there's no decent tea there.

22 September, 2022 15:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of it has to do with the nature of the 1979 revolution: Pro-democracy groups working alongside religious fanatics. This alliance could not survive, and the fanatics very quickly did what fanatics do. There is a semblance of democracy, in that they have elections, but unelected mullahs have veto power over everything.

I wouldn't be so sure it couldn't happen here. That's the whole point: Democracy only exists so long as you protect it.

The interesting thing: Ahmed Chalabi was an Iranian agent. Naturally the tankie blame another country beginning with an I for the Iraq war.

23 September, 2022 05:56  
Blogger nick said...

As you say, in a democratic society extreme religious ideas don't usually gain any traction and can generally be ignored. But religious politicians harbour these extreme ideas and would like to see them acted on. A number of politicians in Northern Ireland are still passionately opposed to homosexuality, which they see as an "abomination". Thank goodness their opinions are only that - opinions.

23 September, 2022 13:18  
Anonymous Reaganite Independent said...

Besides draconian moral enforcement, the mullahs don’t know what they’re doing in any other area of management either.

Iran should’ve been as wealthy as France by now, but where there’s no freedom there’s little economic growth- nor intellectual growth (in today’s idea economy). Meanwhile they pissed what money they do have away on grandiose weapon plans and funding Hezbollah terrorists. The Iranian people have been robbed of everything by this government.

23 September, 2022 23:35  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

It's so sad what happened to her but it's great to see people even the men fighting back over these ridiculous rules. One day maybe the people will be able to rise up and take over.

24 September, 2022 11:44  
Anonymous NickM said...

I've also been to N.Y, TN, FL, D.C., LA, VA, MD and very briefly AL...

24 September, 2022 13:16  
Blogger Green Eagle said...

It is a good opportunity to meditate on the fact that the United States overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran, and replaced it with a vicious dictator, who we supported with military assistance to the point that it took an uprising heavily financed by external Muslim groups to overthrow him. The result was a fanatical religious government which was largely the result of American intervention on behalf of oil companies, and decades of instability in the region, including a war with another American client dictator, Saddam Hussein, which killed a million people. No, everything there is not our fault, but as the I Ching points out, when things go bad, it is a good idea to focus our attention on what we did to make it happen, and at least try not to do it again.

24 September, 2022 14:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Anon: There was also the issue that the Shah had destroyed all the democratic opposition, but was a bit more hesitant about cracking down so ruthlessly on the clergy. So after he fell, the clergy had a more intact organization than anyone else, which helped them take over.

Nick: It's a problem everywhere -- see our own Supreme Court. But the circumstances that allowed the mullahs to seize power by force in 1979 are very unlikely to be replicated in the Western democracies.

Reaganite: Besides incompetence, there's the corruption which seemingly goes with any authoritarian regime, and which rots out a country from within -- as we've seen with Russia.

Mary K: It seems to be getting to the point where people feel that life under the regime's rules is hardly worth living. They don't have much left to lose.

NickM: Good tea would still be hard to find.

Green: Indeed, I've mentioned the overthrow of Mosaddegh in a couple of earlier posts on Iran.

24 September, 2022 23:59  
Blogger Daal said...

the fact that we ended up with 4 years of Trump should be proof enough that governments aren't always of the same mind as their people are. for some reason, Americans seem especially bad at understanding this

25 September, 2022 19:53  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Good example. We have a bad habit of using the name of a country when we really mean its government, like "Iran did this" or "Russia did that" when we really mean the ruling regimes did those things, and most of the country and its people had no say in it and nothing to do with it.

26 September, 2022 05:58  
Blogger NickM said...

Thhings can change very rapidly - often for the better. Not that long ago RoI law was very socially conservative in many ways. Then they elect a Taoiseach who is gay (and from an ethnic minority!!!) and gay marriage and abortion rights follow. Changes that were very popular. I think this is an excellent example of democracy putting right the balance between the rulers and the ruled. And the difference between a "nation" and a "state". As Infidel points out a ruling regime is not always on the same wavelength as its people... The Iranian Islamic Revolution was much like the Russian one in that the Shah (etymolgically connected to "Tsar") was unpopular but whilst the Bolsheviks were not a majority (despite their name claiming so) they were better organised than the rest of the opposition to Tsarist totalitarianism. Same thing in Iran.

27 September, 2022 17:49  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

In Ireland, things changed rapidly following a similarly rapid change in public opinion because Ireland is a democracy. Once all the revelations about the Catholic Church's abuses had destroyed its hold over most people's minds, they were free to vote for changes that swept away the Church's use of civil law to enforce its taboos.

I'm sure the corruption and tyranny of the mullahs has been just as obvious to the Iranian people for decades, but they're very constrained in what changes they can achieve by voting, so the only way to achieve freedom is by force -- which is not easy against a brutal authoritarian state.

27 September, 2022 19:18  
Blogger run75441 said...


Much of this was the result of WWI and the drawing of borders by France and England breakin p the Ottoman Empire. Did you watch "Lawrence of Arabia?" Kind of true. https://www.jadaliyya.com/Details/32140

03 October, 2022 20:02  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sorry, what? Iran's borders were completely unaffected by World War I or Sykes-Picot, nor did those things have anything to do with the overthrow of Mosaddegh or the 1979 revolution. Are you perhaps confusing Iran with Iraq?

03 October, 2022 20:41  

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