Protests have been occurring in Iran since September 16, following the death of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman who was arrested for “improperly” wearing her hijab. Her cause of death was from police brutality, according to her family. Since then, women have been removing their hijabs and cutting their hair to support Amini.
Since these protests, Iran locals have faced Internet shutdowns that were used as a form of censorship and an attempt to stop the activists, and approximately 488 people were killed in the demonstrations and over 18,000 have been detained. The Biden administration issued sanctions on Iran in October to condemn their handling of the events, with the second execution out of roughly 28 people associated with the demonstrations that took place on Monday.
“These are by far the biggest protests that we’ve seen for a long period of time,” said Paul Fritz, associate professor of political science at Hofstra University. “For the domestic politics in Iran, this is a really big event, in terms of the mass level of protests, but we’re starting to see the beginnings of a potentially larger crackdown by the Iranian authorities.”
Following the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s, the Islamic Republic of Iran enforced Islamic law known as Shariah; With this law, women were mandated to wear head coverings called hijabs, and in 2006, the morality police were formed to implement this law.
“When I was growing up, we thought that the Middle East was modernizing … and then [the revolution] surprised us,” said Massoud Fazeli, adjunct assistant professor of economics at Hofstra University, who finished undergraduate work in Iran in 1978.
“(The morality police) operate sort of outside any kind of rule of law or guidance. They could ignore you with an improper hijab or they can drag you into the police station,” said Stefanie Nanes, professor of political science at Hofstra University. “We see what the implications are– Women can die in the hands of the morality police.”
“You have another wave of liberalization protests, and we saw this originally in 2009,” said David Green, a professor of political science at Hofstra University. “If the movement is successful, I think you’ll see women liberated in ways we haven’t seen since 1979.”
Students at Hofstra University have also been impacted by the events in Iran, particularly through the perception of Islam.
Zahra Omairat, a senior marketing major and the president of Hofstra’s Middle Eastern North African Student Association, expressed concerns about outsiders having the wrong impression of what the protests stand for. The focus should be on women having autonomy over their bodies, she said, instead of thinking Islam, and furthermore, hijabs, are bad.
Omairat also pointed out that controlling the way religion is performed is not exclusive to Iran, and that other countries have tried to either force women to wear hijabs or have forbidden them from wearing them.
“A lot of western countries claim to be very liberal and supportive of women when in actuality they are not,” said Omairat. “Hijabi girls and Muslim girls have been dealing with that issue all around the world in just different forms … regardless if I am in the east or the west.”
“You’d think we’re so past that at this point, but we’re still not. We still have a lot to overcome,” said Romesha Khan, a sophomore biology major and member of Hofstra’s Muslim Students Association.
“Our religion is more about peace, and we don’t talk about forcing anyone to do anything– that’s between them and God. No other person is in control of that,” said Khan. “Don’t say that you’re following the religion because you are just following a culture that you’ve made,” she added. “The religion itself is being misrepresented…it makes all of us other Muslims look bad, who do understand that this isn’t how Islam is supposed to be followed.”