By Robert Bernstein
Susanna McIntyre is President and CEO of Atheist Republic. Last year she spoke to the Humanist Society about “Building Godless Community and International Engagement”.
Her latest Humanist Society talk was about the true situation of current revolutionary uprising in Iran, which is very different than what the corporate media portrays. And, which is quite different than what Western feminists and progressives have portrayed.
Hence her provocative title: “How Western Left Leaning People Have Failed Iran”
This revolution is not just about women having choice over their clothing and lives. And it even goes beyond overthrowing this Islamist regime that has oppressed the people of Iran since 1979. It goes to the heart of dislike for Islam itself. And this is not seen as politically correct by many in the US.
Susanna noted that March is National Women’s History Month and March 8 is International Women’s Day. She also noted that Southern California is home to the largest expatriate Iranian community in the world.
She asked us to imagine a movement for justice, freedom and feminism that was met with silence from those who claim to champion those very values. What is happening now in Iran is the greatest struggle ever for women and against Islamism.
On September 16, 2022 22 year old Mahsa Amini was murdered by the Iranian “Morality Police” for allegedly wearing her hijab (head scarf) improperly. She was taken into police custody, where she was brutally beaten to death. Susanna noted that brutality is an essential part of what the Islamic Republic is all about.
Mahsa was a Kurdish woman traveling with her family into Tehran. Outrage about the senseless and brutal murder started in Kurdistan, but spread to all of Iran.
Susanna noted that hatred of the Morality Police is a great unifier in Iran. Almost every young person has experienced their indignities. Every woman knows it could happen to them. And every man knows it could happen to a woman he cares about. Being rich doesn’t help. Nor does being Persian in a country with ethnic divides.
The murder of Mahsa brought a bold response that the regime did not expect. Women took to the streets publicly to unveil themselves. Even burning their veils.
The chant at these events began in Kurdish as Jin, Jiyan, Azadî. In Persian: Zan. Zendegi. Azadi. In English: Woman, Life, Freedom.
Here in Santa Barbara we have had many rallies in solidarity with these protesters. Here I covered one of the first rallies back in October 2022.
Susanna showed a series of powerful videos that have been shared online.
The first one she showed had this title on YouTube:
“Mahsa Amini Death Row | Protests Escalate in Iran, Women Burn Hijab | The Quint”
Susanna went on to “Dissecting the Hijab Issue”. It is more than just freedom to choose what to wear, though that is important. Modesty issues go back over 100 years in Iran. If the regime fails to enforce “modesty” it has failed in its mission. She showed a 1979 photo of a woman challenging a mullah, soon after the Islamist revolution.
Next she showed a video “13 women against 13 clerics”. Facebook doesn’t allow embedding it here, but here is a link.
My favorite was the first. A young woman who responds to a cleric demanding she put on a hijab. “I don’t want to, you stupid man!”
The cleric responded, “We have many martyrs”. A reference to his view that many of his people died to achieve the Islamist state in Iran.
To end compulsory hijab wearing is to end Islamist rule. This has consequences for all Iranians, not just women.
Such compulsion is “fascist to the core” Susanna explained. It requires government over reach. Lashes, imprisonment, torture. Forced confessions on TV. To reject the hijab is to reject the Islamist Republic.
Clear and bold calls to overthrow this government go back years. What is new is widespread support and the rate of increase. “Barandaz” is a word to listen for in chants. It means “overthrow”.
Susanna went on to play more video clips. She said to pay attention to what is said and what is not said.
October 8: Islamic Republic, we don’t want. Guns, tanks and fireworks, mullahs go to hell!
December 5: A parody of a Shia worship song with twisted and reversed words. “I hate your religion, your ethics, your callous on your forehead. Your hypocrisy. Death to [Supreme Leader of Iran] Khamenei.”
The callous on the forehead refers to supposedly devout worshipers who pray so much with their foreheads to the ground that they develop this callous. Susanna noted that some fake these marks of devotion in a true display of hypocrisy.
December 16 in a conservative Sunni area in eastern Iran. She showed Baluchi women in full veiling in a niqab chanting:
“Death to Khamenei, Death to this child-killing government. You are our ISIS. You are our terrorists.”
This is a big deal. The Baluchis and Kurds are minorities that are treated especially badly by the regime.
January5: “No to Islam, no to the Koran. My life is only for Iran.”
Susanna noted it is “wild” to see this en masse. Openly anti-Islamic. A shift of the “Overton Window” of what is normal.
The final clip she showed was at a concert. The song stated, “Until the mullahs become covered in a funeral shroud, this homeland is not a homeland.”
Susanna went on to talk of “Wielding Blades”. Women cutting their hair became a symbol of rejecting the regime. Historically it was done as grieving for a loved one. Becoming like a man. A woman stated, “If you will kill me for cutting my hair, better to have no hair at all.”
She showed an iconic image at the grave of Minoo Majidi. A 62 year old peaceful protester. She was shot dead on September 20, leading to even wider protests. At her burial on September 22, women unveiled and chanted against the regime. The iconic image shows her own daughter standing at the grave, holding her own cut hair, unveiled, with a white scarf around her neck.
“This is who the regime has to fear. You have taken everything from me. What more do I have to lose by fighting this regime?”
Susanna went on to talk of Civil Disobedience and how she can barely scratch the surface in her talk. She showed an ordinary scene of two women eating in a cafe, unveiled. But not ordinary in the Islamic state of Iran. They were arrested.
Male and female students refused to eat in segregated campus cafeterias. Some ate outside together. Others tore down the partitions inside their dining hall. She said it reminded her of the lunch counter protests during the US Civil Rights movement in the South.
The chador is the Persian equivalent of the total veil of a burqa. Susanna described scenes of a chador-clad woman spray painting “death to the dictator”. “This is powerful and significant.”
Another chant to listen for is “azadi”, meaning “freedom” or “liberty”.
Protests have spread worldwide, due to the Iranian Diaspora. Perhaps on every continent except Antarctica. “Let me know if there was a protest in Antarctica!”
She showed a photo of a Berlin rally with 80-100 thousand protesters. Atheist Republic members were there! She showed another photo of a rally in LA with 100-180 thousand that she attended.
As of February, she had this tally:
530 protesters killed
71 children killed
70 regime forces killed
4 protesters executed:
Mohsen Shekari, Majidreza Rahnavard, Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini
Susanna noted that 70 regime forces killed represents the most killed in the history of the Islamic Republic.
The brutality is extreme. Systematic and intentional torture and rape of protesters. Both men and women. Doctors trying to treat them have been killed. Protesters have deliberately been blinded. The regime has been doing that for years. Such cruelty is intended to terrify the population against protesting.
Recently, there have been mass poisonings of school girls. Each injustice increases the resolve to overthrow the regime. It all started with the regime killing people to show that it didn’t kill Mahsa.
This is not a protest. This is a revolution.
How have people in the West responded? In Susanna’s view it has been a matter of betrayal. Dismissing and diminishing the protests. She singled out this sort of misinformation:
“Iranians are protesting against sanctions.” As if it is all about the US, rather than about the rage of the Iranian people against a brutal regime.
“Iranians just want to end the mandatory hijab.”
“They just want to abolish the Morality Police.”
That sounds like reform. There are no chants about sanctions, hijabs or the Morality Police.
The chants are for overthrowing the regime and an end to Islamist rule. Many chants are against Islam itself.
It drove Susanna crazy to see Kim Kardashian retweet a post by @parmidabarez:
“Iranians are not protesting against Islam or any religion. They are fighting for basic rights.”
No! They are protesting against Islam!
Someone called @feminist with 7 million followers tried to compare the compulsory hijab with abortion rights in the US. Yes, the overturning of Roe is terrible. But it is dismissive and diminishing to compare this to the oppression of women in Iran.
Professor Ed Husain at Georgetown University went so far as to say that burning a hijab is as silly as the government imposing it by force. He implied that these women were inspired by French women burning their bras. As if the women of Iran have no autonomy to think for themselves.
An Iranian immigrant woman had an art exhibit at McAllister College that portrayed women in Muslim garb defying Muslim limits. They posed in sexually suggestive ways and one was giving the finger. McAllister shut it down as “offensive”. They said that it caused “deep pain” and “harm” against Muslims. An inversion of the reality of Muslims causing real pain and harm to real women.
Under protest, the college reopened the exhibit, but the art was shrouded with black cloth. Just as the Islamist regime does to real women in Iran! They also posted a “content warning”.
The Swiss ambassador to Iran met with Iranian officials in February in a full length black veil. Far beyond the hijab requirement. A great photo op for the oppressors. An insult to Iranians and Swiss. She was validating the oppression. Susanna questioned why she was even there during this time of protest.
The Iran flag since 1980 has had a symbol of Allah on it. Susanna showed a video of people pushing the Allah off the flag. Iranians are sick and tired of this Islamism.
Susanna thinks that those on the left squirm when there is talk of regime change in Iran because of the disastrous history of US interventions in the Middle East. Notably the 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and the installation of the hated Shah.
Susanna finds this frustrating, as the Iranian diaspora is clear in saying that they don’t want foreign intervention. They just want foreign leaders to “stop supporting our murderers”.
She went on to talk of some relevant positive work by Atheist Republic. A web site Operation Iranian Renaissance opirren.com
It provides practical information of how to maximize safety while protesting. How to deal with tear gas. How to treat gunshot wounds. She invites people to donate to that site.
She said that Iranians are very appreciative of support from non-Iranians. Reach out to Iranians and show your support. Attend local rallies.
She took questions from an audience that included people from around the world.
One man asked what Internet access is like in Iran. She said that the regime uses a “throttle system” where it can get very slow during crises. It is very rare that it is cut off. When that happens it causes panic and alarm.
It also depends on the region. Tech literacy can help. Some use a VPN to conceal their location. She suggested contacting Musk and asking for more Starlink access there as he has done for Ukraine.
Some asked how to network with Iranians. She suggested looking for a local Iran community center or Persian market. A lot happens on Instagram. She noted a page called Middle East Matters and ps752justice. If there is a rally, show up and see who is in charge. Talk to them. It will mean a lot for an outsider to show them support.
She also suggested contacting Democratic legislators and getting them to support the Mahsa Act.
Just talking about the situation with others helps.
I would like to add my own comments. Susanna gave an excellent presentation about the horrors in Iran. And she set the record straight that this is a total revolution in progress. Not just against the regime and not just against Islamist control of Iran. But against Islam itself.
She emphasized that Western liberals make things worse when they get “politically correct” about Islam.
I would like to point out that it is the Republican Party that has been the bigger problem. It was under Eisenhower that the Dulles Brothers engineered the coup in 1953. The major airport for DC is still named for them.
And it was Reagan who rushed to send weapons to the Islamic Republic as soon as he took office. I was very active and aware at the time. There were stories of how Reagan’s team struck a deal with the Islamists in Iran to keep holding the American hostages in order to help defeat Carter. The expression at the time was “October Surprise”.
Some of those stories were debunked, but it is important to remember the scene of Reagan being sworn in as president simultaneous with the hostages being released. The New York Times published an article on March 18 about a man named Ben Barnes who said he was unwittingly a part of the nefarious deal. Taken to the Middle East by his mentor John Connally to broker the deal.
Reagan sold weapons to these Iranian terrorists and illegally used that money that money to fund “contra” terrorists who were blowing up schools and hospitals in Nicaragua. I was in Nicaragua at that time and saw some of the effects.
It is similar to the situation with the Climate Crisis. Democrat Joe Manchin is an infamously corrupt obstacle to moving to sustainable energy. But we must remember that every single Republican is an obstacle as well. It is good to call out Democrats and progressives when they are at fault. But we should remember who is the real problem. End of rant.
Again, I do thank Susanna for her good work for the people of Iran and for all of her work with Atheist Republic!
For more information about upcoming events with the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara or to become a member, please go to https://www.sbhumanists.org/