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  • S F Hayes

An Extraordinary Courage.

On September 16, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in custody after she was arrested by Iran's 'morality police' for showing a bit of hair. Her death sparked demonstrations against the government and its dictatorial policies -- and these protests have grown steadily since, with chants of "Women, Life, Liberty" and "Death to the Dictator."

It’s hard to understand the kind of courage these kinds of protests require without understanding what it’s really like to live under Sharia law your whole life, and what risks these people are taking. Because in Iran, to protest the dictatorial Islamic government is an offense punishable by execution. The military guard of Iran has no problem shooting protesters to death on the streets.

I myself didn’t understand the depth of the courage of the Iranian protesters until I tried to write about them. Here’s that story:

I have lived in the United States for thirty-eight years; twenty of which I have been a full US citizen. I’m an immigrant success story — our family of four began life in the US squeezed into one room in my aunt’s house, then in a small two-bedroom apartment, and then eventually in our own home in the suburbs. I had the opportunity to go to college and graduate school.

But before all of that, I lived through revolution, war, and an escape from my country. I lived through extreme anti-semitism and a real fear for my life. I’ve spent nights in basements, sheltering from bombs. I still get a flutter when I hear the whistling crescendo of an airplane landing nearby — it sounds a lot like a falling bomb — but the panic is momentary, because I can remind myself that it’s not an Iraqi missile coming to destroy my neighborhood. I am safe.

When I start to hear and read about the current protests in Iran, I know I must write about it — people need to be aware of the fight for life and liberty that is going on in Iran, and of the egregious dictatorship in that country which, among other atrocities, forces women into subservience, into covering their entire bodies and hair, lest they be hauled off by the ‘morality police’ and beaten, or executed, or both.

So I sit down to write. Soon my heart rate has climbed to well above one hundred, pounding in my chest, beating against me, saying stop, stop, stop. They will come for you. Don’t speak out or your father will be arrested and executed. Your loved ones will disappear in the middle of the night. Stop — because you’re just a girl; an indecent, guilty creature, who must cover up her shame under dark clothes and a hijab; who must stay home and shut up. Just stay home and shut up.

My heart rate stays higher-than-normal for the rest of the day and I spend all night tossing and turning in a fitful sleep, terrorized by dreams I won’t remember except for the darkness and terror they instill in me. I spend the next day in bed, lethargic and exhausted. It happens again and again, every time I write about Iran.

All this from a mere detail — I had always thought of the dictatorial rule I lived under in Iran as just a detail of my childhood, to be laid aside, forgotten, scoffed at. But it’s lived in me for decades and highlights the kind of courage it takes to stand in protest against it.

The compulsory hijab that Iranian women and girls are now burning in the streets in protest is not just a piece of cloth; it’s not a head covering worn in solidarity to a set of beliefs; it’s a chain forced on women — a symbol of bondage and a badge of shame. You are less than, it says to women. Cover your bodies for they cause evil in men. No one should gaze upon you. If they do, it is any man’s right to detain you, to beat you, to murder you.

It’s a wound laid in a woman’s soul, a constant daily beating that erodes her self-esteem and buries her under fear — unless she fights. And these women in Iran, as well as the men who protest with them for freedom, have an immense courage to fight.


More about the situation in Iran:

Follow Masih Alinejad on Twitter for ongoing stories and videos from Iran, like this powerful video from July 2022:


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