I am often asked to speak on current events and I understand why but I am not an expert on everything. If something is beyond my area of expertise, I know there are better people who can speak to a given issue. I know that sometimes (often) it is better to listen than to speak. And yet. Sometimes, it’s important to acknowledge an issue we should all be paying attention to. (And yes, there are many, many things we should be paying attention to right now— Puerto Rico dealing with the aftermath of hurricanes and failed infrastructure, millions and millions of people in Pakistan displaced by global warming and flooding, the fuel shortage, protests and instability in Haiti, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and on and on it goes. Thankfully, we can do multiple things at once.)
On September 13th, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman was arrested in Tehran by the Iranian morality police (literally) and taken to a “guidance center.” Her crime? “Improper hijab,” which is to say a small section of her hair was showing.
Mahsa Amini was a vibrant, healthy young woman who, according to reports had a stroke and a heart attack a few days after her arrest. An autopsy also showed that she suffered head injuries consistent with being hit in the head though, as you might expect, Iranian police are denying any wrongdoing or that she was injured in their custody.
At least five protestors have been killed but protestors are undeterred. Women and men have taken to the streets. Women are burning hijabs, cutting their hair, and publicly defying the oppressive laws they have been forced to live with for decades.
Foreign governments have offered tepid condemnatory statements seeking accountability but there is no such thing as accountability in a totalitarian regime. Mahsa Amini’s name, her death, they will not be forgotten, but there is little hope that she and her loved ones will receive any justice. She is not the first woman to die in Iranian police custody, nor will she be the last.
The news of Amini’s death has stayed with me since I learned about it over the weekend. Senseless is the word that keeps running through my mind. Outrageous is another word. Amini should never have been arrested in the first place. There should not be an entire law enforcement system, in any country, dedicated to policing women’s clothing, or any other aspect of women’s lives. A young woman should be able to emerge from a train station and go about her business, instead of knowing freedom for the last time.
We often say that none of us are free until all of us are free, and that tenet indisputably extends beyond America’s borders. Women are not free when their bodies are legislated, whether we are talking about reproductive freedom or gender expression or how we clothe ourselves and move in public and private spaces. We can respect other cultures as feminists while acknowledging practices that are unequivocally unacceptable which the Islamic Hijab Rules absolutely are.
The very, very least we can do from this distance is acknowledge what is happening in Iran. We can continue to pay attention, amplify credible information, and stay informed. We can say Mahsa Amini’s name, rage about her senseless murder, and listen to people who have useful perspectives on Iran and the country’s treatment of women. You might start with Masih Alinejad, Roya Hakakian, and Nazanin Boniadi. In the meantime, her name was Mahsa Amini. She was 22 years old. She was murdered. May her death be the catalyst for long needed change.