What’s happening in Iran?

By Ainsley Feeney

Last Wednesday, Nov. 30 the Politics and Government Department, along with the Gender, Queer, and Sexuality Studies Department hosted an informational session titled “What’s Happening in Iran?” The session was used to address and inform students about the “protest movements and the severe government crackdown in Iran following the killing of Mahsa Amini,” as stated in the promotional information for the event.

The lecture was proposed by Professor Greta Austin and was hosted by Professors Sam Kigar of the Religion Department and Patrick O’Neil of Politics and Government. Professor Kigar’s work centers around Islam and how the religion of Islam impacts laws and society in primarily Islamic countries. Professor O’Neil’s work focuses on comparative politics in Middle Eastern countries, namely Iran. During the lecture, both professors spoke on the current conflict in Iran through their specific lenses of study. Professor O’Neil referenced many past revolutions in Iran’s history — such as the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the 2009 Green Movement — to point out how Iran is a revolutionary state with many different political, religious and ethnic groups. This paradigm combined with a theocratic government has pushed Iran to its current revolution

Professor Kigar focused on how the theocratic government, enforced by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has propelled Iranian citizens to revolt. In general, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries hold a distaste for the West and Western culture, which is why Islamic values are so heavily enforced. One of the many ways the Supreme Leader enforces Islamic values is through dress code, which mainly affects women who are required to wear hijabs or other head coverings. In this way, women’s bodies become objects of the state, used to further political power. In many ways, the Iranian hijab burnings are about protesting sexist policies in Iran. However, it is crucial to note that hijabs are not inherently oppressive; many Muslim women choose to wear hijabs freely. For many people, the hijab now represents a greater level of government control, the true subject of the protests. Kigar says that, all in all, the Iranian protests are “protesting the government using religion as a tool of oppression.”

In the West, it is easy for us to see the Iranian protests and write them off as a symptom of Islam but it is important to understand the violence civilians are facing for what it actually is — pure governmental oppression.