Lifting the Veil – Iran

Every popular uprising finds expression in music. Current demonstrations in Iran are no different. A protest song titled “Baraye (Because of)” has gone viral inside and outside Iran – among its Generation Z protestors and supporters around the world with an English version, Italian version, French Version…

The Lyric starts with a the statement “Because of dancing in the streets; Because of the fear while kissing (publicly); Because of my sister, your sister, our sisters; Because of changing rotten minds; Because of shame for moneyless; Because of yearning for an ordinary life; Because of a kid that lives by scavenging (garbage) and his dreams; Because of a (theocratic) command economy”. 

The lyric provides many motivations for change. 

This is not the first time or the first protest song. Every new generation of Iranians has taken to the streets to plea for change, to plea for freedom and democracy – and every time in some way, Iranians have been undermined. You can count on it. Even set your generational watches by it. 5 times in the past 125 years – there’s been a big push for change. 

And three of those five times Iranians nearly toppled their government. And all three times the protests were thwarted (with serious assistance from outside Iran) only to establish new governments that were worse than the ones the protestors wanted to be toppled. And, the other two times the regime in power simply managed to contain them – killing hundreds of protestors and imprisoning thousands.   

It’s probably too early to say which way current protests in Iran will go, but there certainly are serious demonstrations inside Iran – right now. And they show no sign of dying. 

In Iran, the veil, is an enduring symbol of patriarchal norms – but its use has changed depending on who is in power. In images of the uprising that followed the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16, 2022, perhaps the most iconic ones, aside from that of Amini herself, are those of unveiled Iranian women photographed from behind, facing police barricades or raising a fist at the scene of mass protests. The wide use of images of Iranian female protesters, without the headscarf, in the Western media highlights how the veil can often be the single most important measure of women’s rights and well-being.

Indeed, oftentimes outside of Iran, wearing a veil is seen as oppression – and its removal as emancipation and freedom. This understanding, however, fails to consider the veil’s broader symbolism and ignores the complex history of mandatory veiling and unveiling in Iran in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Note that in the protests that occurred in 1979, veiling had the opposite symbolism. It became a symbol of resistance to the Pahlavi monarchy that ruled from 1925 to 1979. For many during the revolution, the veil was a symbol of authentic national identity. It was used to push back against the Westernization and erosion of Iranian values that ignited the revolution.

After the Islamic Republic, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, came to power, the veil became compulsory. Since then, certain forms of veiling – such as donning the chador, a cloak-like garment that covers the entire body and is required of women visiting a mosque in Iran – have come to be seen as signaling affiliation with or support for the Islamic Republic.

Less comprehensive forms of veiling, such as a rusari, or head scarf, and the knee-length tunic or coat known as a rupush, are understood as signs of minimum cooperation and potentially a rejection of the norms of the Islamic Republic. These types of veiling allow the wearer to adjust the amount of hair shown and the fit and the length of the tunic. Women accused of “bad hijab,” as Amini was, are typically those adopting this form of veiling.

Over the past few weeks, I have repeatedly seen comments on news articles that insist, “Women in Iran are literally dying to show their hair!” But a rejection of the head scarf in the context of these protests is not a simple demand for personal freedom.

The rejection of the head scarf should be understood as a rejection of many things. Protesters in Iran are pushing back against an oppressive regime that has refused to brook any dissent and has destroyed voices for reform through imprisonment, exile or death. They are also pushing back against a long history of laws, beginning before the 1979 Revolution, that have used women’s bodies as symbols of political ideology.

The veil that is being removed is therefore not an insistence only on the right to personal freedom and expression – though it may be that for some who are removing it – but also a rejection of patriarchal norms that have animated both the pre-revolutionary regime and the Islamic Republic.

The song’s lyric echoes this sentiment as it closes: “Because of a girl who wished she was a boy; Because of woman, life, freedom; Because of freedom”. The symbolism and the protests are clearly yet another cry for freedom and a push back against oppression – from any source. 

It is worth reminding ourselves of Iran’s recent history – which in turn help us understand the sentiments that inspired the song and the context for the protests. 

This regime has never had any real legitimacy. Iran’s popular democratic revolution in 1979 was in fact hijacked and Khomeini was put in power by the West. Leaders of France, Germany, UK, and the U.S. met in Guadeloupe in 1978 and secretly decided to topple the Shah. Each leader had their own reasons (and grievances) that led to their unified decision to topple the Shah. Carter (the Democrats) wanted the Shah out for many reasons but don’t forget the Shah was a major backer of Richard Nixon (who was Eisenhower’s VP when he came to power in 1953 after being ousted then)!! As Andrew Young, Carter’s Ambassador to the UN once declared Khomeini will be Iran’s Ghandi!!!

Global media entered the fray and peddled an obscure preacher with dubious religious credentials from a suburb in Paris, to photographs of an anointed leader with widespread support among Iranians: i.e. Khomeini stepping down from a French government-chartered Air France 747 in Tehran to immediately take full control of Iran (i.e. replace the Shah).

But not long after this anointment the new (Khomeini) regime fell out with Carter after he let the Shah into America. Even though this regime was soon branded as the so-called enemy of America, it was in fact US backed. Khomeini’s whole entourage – every one of them – Ghotbzadeh and Yazdi were US trained and supported. It did not take long for Khomeini’s buddies to kill or push off his US backed entourage!

The Mullahs Shifted sides to Reagan (once they realized that Carter too had shifted sides by backing the return of the Shah by allowing the Shah to visit the US). There were then secret meetings with Reagan’s camp and a plan was hatched to humiliate Carter for the presidential elections. To in effect hold the hostages past the November elections. Reagan’s camp gave the Mullahs cash to do it!!!

Once Carter’s team found out what the Republicans had done they planned the Iraq invasion – which included getting Iranian pilots trapped and killed to neutralize Iran’s very powerful Air Force in a bogus (Nodjeh) coup. Zbigniew brezinski (Carter’s national security advisor) held numerous secret planning meetings in Jordan with Saddam’s generals before the invasion. US and ALL it’s Allies especially Saudi etc. financed the war and they too had further meetings with Saddam Hussein to provide intelligence and support before the war started. So, let’s not forget who and how all these wars with Iraq started!

Reagan and the Republican camp continued their secret alliance with Iran’s Mullahs for decades. Sold Arms to both sides to extend the War, used profits to finance cocaine imports into America (from Nicaragua) and create the crack epidemic in American ghettos. Within 12 years over 10 million African Americans were put in jail, probation or parole (and therefore ineligible to vote). This was what they were planning to do with the War on drugs!! Hence the Gingrich revolution!! Republicans won the house again after a 20-year absence!!! Wow (talk about rigging elections!). Incidentally, arch Iranian enemy Israel also sold arms illicitly to these same Mullahs they apparently hate! The Mullahs then developed other secret arrangements with the US contacts trading/selling Heroin from Afghanistan and organs (from prisoners in Iranian jails) to the US.

The handling of the hostage crisis and the expansion of the war empowered Iran’s hardliners marginalized and eliminated all moderate forces inside Iran. It Led to the creation of the IRGC and Iran’s current police state theocracy. It reinforced the Mullahs stranglehold on power in Iran. It also eliminated trust between the Mullahs and US (both aware of each other’s evil deeds) with successive Iranian governments fully aware of what happened behind the scenes. In effect, the quest for power in the US by Republicans and all these back-room shenanigans destroyed US credibility as partners. Despite all this there were several attempts by reform minded governments to rekindle relations with the West which all failed. 

The hostage crisis planted the seeds of both Iranian and American demise. Iran is gone; and with it US global unipolar power is receding too. More recently After the killing Of Iran’s general Soleimani by Donald Trump Iran’s Mullahs have completely abandoned any further engagements with the US and have now completely switched sides to align with Russia and China. The Mullahs are now working feverishly to push the US out of the region completely. Iranian proxy forces have basically pushed the US out of Afghanistan and Iraq (after two very expensive invasions that virtually bankrupted America). A total waste of blood and treasure.

The song alludes to all this with more reasons for change: Because of this forced paradise; Because of the imprisoned elites; Because of Afghan kids; Because of all (Because of…)!

The protests – thank fully – are home grown; but one must wonder how long it will take for powers outside Iran to interfere and put in place yet another even worse government in place! US policy in the region has been a cluster f*** – supporting fanatics and uber-religious zealots like the Mullahs in Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Wahabists in Saudi Arabia … 

There are in the wings several fanatic US-backed Iranian resistance groups – like the MEK (Mujahedeen-e-Khalgh or under the guise of Iran’s National Resistance [NCRI] or MKO), with a sordid past and who Iranians already know are Iran’s version of Cambodia’s Pol Pot; or a bunch of other groups who also find inspiration through religious differences (like the Sunni Baluchis and Sunni Kurds) and will lead to Iran being splintered.  

Iranians after 125 years of protests are simply asking for basic freedoms and democracy without bad consequences. Iran was in fact the very first nation in Asia to have a democratic constitution in 1907. Iranians, have in fact, suffered greatly in their quest for democracy.

Perhaps these protests are also sending a larger message to the world: Because Iranians are now insisting on the removal of the veil (and therefore a change in governance), they are in fact sending a signal that no one should try to peddle a more fanatic – worse regime in Iran! Iranians are unified. This should NOT be an opportunity to splinter the country.

Because – it’s simply time for freedom and democracy in Iran!

By Earl Spring 11202022