Sat, Jul

Woman, Life, Freedom, and Stunning Perseverance: An Embrace for A Sorrowful Nation



SAY WHAT? - Even as deaths mount from violent attacks by security forces sometimes firing live ammunition, tens of thousands of unwavering Iranians are still taking to the streets to protest the murder by Iran's "morality police" of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini - for the crime of improperly wearing her hijab - and, increasingly, to call for the end of their country's brutal regime. This week, huge women-led crowds again defied police to commemorate the 40th day since Amini's death, a key Shiite Islam tradition. As thousands traveled to her grave in her Kurdish hometown of Saqqez to grieve, pay their respects, and furiously chant "Death to the dictator!", Iranian forces fired both live rounds and tear gas at them. Six weeks after her death, similar scenes played out the same day across the country as police opened fire on massive crowds of protesters still there, still chanting, "We will fight, we will die, we will take back Iran."

The violence has been replicated across the country; the Norway-based Iran Human Rights estimates at least 234 people, including 29 children, have been killed by security forces who often seem frighteningly out of control. This week, they killed eight more people, largely, stupidly, unconscionably by attacking the funerals of victims of earlier police violence. Thursday, they again opened fire on a crowd in the Kurdish city of Mahabad who'd gathered to mourn a 35-year-old protester killed the night before; in response, many in the crowd began chanting, "Kurdistan, the graveyard of fascists." In Zahedan, the site of a September massacre that killed up to 90 people protesting the reported rape of a teenage girl by a police commander - violence so egregious authorities sacked the chief of police for "deficiencies" - police opened fire yet again Friday and killed three more, including a 12-year-old boy. Twitter raged, "Down with the Islamic Republic of Murder."

This week many also honored 16-year-old Nika Shahkarami of Tehran, another victim who like Aminii has become a face of the unrest after disappearing during protests; a week later, her family was told she was dead. Officials variously said she died after being thrown off a building's roof, she fell, or she committed suicide. But a CNN investigation of her final hours unearthed dozens of videos and eyewitness accounts documenting that, after she burned her hijab before a crowd, she was chased and bundled into a car by burly security forces; her death certificate says she died from multiple injuries from blows with a hard object. Thursday, marking 40 days since her death, crowds traveled to her grave in Lorestan for a ceremony by her family; instead, mourners were met by security forces who blocked roads, beat people and, again, opened fire. In response, video shows furious, frustrated mourners - shades of Palestine - throwing stones.

Video of the violence is in fact surprisingly available online, despite the best efforts of Iran's repressive, famously opaque rulers to not just block the Internet there but to track protesters' plans, locations and conversations through their cell phones using sophisticated digital manipulation. But the brutal truth emerges. There are videos and images of police kicking and beating random passersby, of other young victims of state violence, of young girls in hijabs at school chanting "Death to the dictator" before security forces begin firing tear gas into the school, of the final moments before 35-year-old Shirin Alizade was shot and killed as she rode in the passenger seat of a car with her seven-year-old son, fearfully exclaiming at the violence around her before she herself is hit. The text accompanying the video urges, "Never forget the blood that these animals have shed, and the families they've destroyed."

Still, massive throngs of people keep fighting back. Women walk bare-headed through the crowds, stand in roads blocking traffic, clamber atop cars and overturned garbage bins to pull off hijabs, set them alight, wave them in the defiant air, chanting "Death to Khamenei!" "This Is the Year of Blood!" "Kids Are Dying Here!" "Mahsa Will Not Be Forgotten!" "Jin, Jiyan, Azadi!", Kurdish for, "Woman, Life, Freedom!" Women at protests resolutely cut their hair; art students at Tehran University made the word "woman" -  زن - with theirs. Women online, echoing victims, urge, "Don't be scared - we're all together." People make protest art: violent A1-generated videos to blood-red nooses in a park to searing photography to show "the life women live" to a song echoing their hopes and fears that garnered 40 million hits on Instagram before authorities removed it. At open embrace stations, young women without hijabs offer hugs to passersby; in Tehran's Ekbatan district, a sign behind them reads, "An embrace for a sorrowful nation."

Outside Iran, others still speak out. Last weekend saw rallies in D.C., L.A., Berlin, etc; at New York City's Guggenheim Museum, an anonymous collective of Iranian artists unfurled a soaring "intervention art" banner honoring Amini. And as Iran's tyrants, sunk in denial, feebly seek to dismiss an unprecedented resistance movement as "rioters influenced by foreigners," their seething populace has evolved from rage at one unjust death to a deep hunger for regime change, and new lives. "You cannot imagine how tough it is to go to the streets knowing they are ready to shoot," says one woman. "But we are not afraid. It's about the next generation." Online, what Iran's women are doing is deemed "bravery in absolute form." "Many went before them trying to stand up and fight," it's noted. "Support them. Spread the information far and wide. They are real freedom fighters."

(Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. Email: [email protected])