Comedian Negin Farsad reflects on oppression in Iran

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You may have heard of the protests in Iran, triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini. The scale of the protests is remarkable, sweeping cities across the country. They have even led to international protests in support of Iranian women leading the charge. As an American-born Iranian-American Muslim, I have watched with anxiety what is happening. It gives me feelings of hope mixed with fear and then. . . no more fear for all my family living in Tehran. I try to keep optimism in view because for the first time in a very long time, this movement poses a real threat to the authoritarian regime of the Islamic Republic. This movement could free the people I love.

Like thousands of people before her, Amini was arrested for violating the dress code. In Iran, women are required to conform to the “hijab”, which is usually a headscarf and loose clothing that hides the contours of a woman’s body. Apparently Amini’s scarf was too loose and didn’t fit “properly”. She was detained for this violation, and she died in custody.

The government officially attributes his death to a pre-existing heart condition, but, of course, there are those who know the variability of the truth. Especially in these situations. Especially with women.

Women, including women from my own family, have been the symbolic standard bearers of Islam in Iran since the 1979 revolution. Before the revolution, women in Iran looked like women in any western country, with their miniskirts and bell bottoms. But the masked western street style the brutalities of the Shah’s regime with its secret police, its detentions and its suppression of speech.

To hear my aunts say it, in 1979 revolution seemed necessary, but the resulting Islamic regime was not what the revolutionaries had bargained for. In fact, Ayatollah Khomeini first term required all female employees to wear the hijab in government offices. In 1983, women were required to wear the hijab everywhere. Women became billboards, people who could send a message to the world: Look, we are an Islamic Republic, as you can see from these scarves. Women were a marketing opportunity and their control was central to the Ayatollah’s vision of Iran.

Growing up in Palm Springs, California, I remember family members having after-dinner conversations that started out amusing but invariably turned into hardened frustration at the Ayatollah’s outbursts.

Outbursts such as: “These pretty women“, he said in an Italian magazine, “who wear makeup and expose their necks, hair and bodies in the streets. . . . They do not know how to make themselves useful, neither to society, neither politically nor professionally. And the reason is that they distract and irritate people by exposing themselves. They were talking points that seemed to say to the world, We are a real power! Look how well we have captivated these women!

But during my childhood, I did not see or feel any of this, not at first, at least. I have never experienced Iran except as a passenger. We used to been in Tehran for weeks at a time – not quite the Hamptons, but as a kid I loved it. Almost all of my extended family lived there: more than a dozen aunts and uncles, both sets of grandparents, the whole Persian shebang. They showered me with love and attention, with faloodeh and saffron pudding, and they provided me with an endless supply of cousins ​​to play with. I have very fond memories of my stay there.

This movement poses a real threat to the authoritarian regime of the Islamic Republic. This movement could free the people I love.

We skipped a summer at one point and when I was 11 I was told that when we visited I had to wear a headscarf and long jacket in public. In short, I had to respect the hijab. Girls in Iran reach this dreadful milestone at the age of nine. As a teenager who had a penchant for pop music and eye rolling, this totally sucked in. I remember feeling hot and uncomfortable; I remember not understanding how everything had to fit together. I remember wishing I could feel the sun on my skin.

Again, I was passing through, a tourist of this kind of oppression. At the end of the summer, I could go home and enter college in shorts and a nice tank top. I could experiment with lipstick. My cousins, on the other hand, were forced to carry the Ayatollah’s will on their heads every day.

The people who enforce the dress code? The hated moral police. They carry guns and walk the streets, staring at the ladies and waiting for them to slip. Often the morality police are made up of other women, colloquially known as “the Sisters”. As a Southern California girl obsessed with boys, fro-yos and glitter pens, I tensed up at the sight of the sisters. Their black chadors and their AK47s made felt. . . a bit too much.

One summer, when I was 16 or 17, I casually strolled with my aunt through the streets of Tehran, whistling this one Song Skee-Lo about wanting to be a little taller when we ran into a few Sisters. My aunt pinched my arm. I was like “Ouch! What?” She leaned over and quietly told me that I should stop whistling Western songs because we didn’t want to get in trouble with the Sisters. At that point, a whistled Skee-Lo cover could make me an enemy of the state.

On another occasion, maybe when I was 19 or 20, I was arrested for wearing sunglasses that were deemed too fashionable. I don’t mean to brag, but I have a taste for accessories – and that taste can be very intimidating in autocratic regimes. A sister stopped me and asked me to take off my off-brand aviator sunglasses. Of course, I immediately did because she carried a gun and was deeply creepy. I mumbled an apology. Was that an excuse for needing sunglasses in the sun? Was this an excuse for the existence of the sun itself?

Around the same time, my mother was walking with one of her sisters and was also arrested for fashionable sunglasses. The police asked her to remove them, and in a moment of panic, she handed them to her sister, as if to say: These are hers, I don’t know anything about sunglasses. They laugh when they tell the story now.

I was troubled by the government’s obsession with sunglasses. What I didn’t realize at the time was that sunglasses were seen as a way to hide eye makeup. Oh yes, makeup was also forbidden. They thought about how to control every square inch of a woman’s body.

These run-ins with the morality police were almost cute – a rebuke, not much else. But I have many members of my family who had much more serious encounters in Tehran. Some were held in prison for hours, days. Because so many forms of courtship are prohibited, I have a family member who was detained for going on a date. The couple were whipped as punishment. Whipped. It took them two weeks lying on their stomachs to recover.

For Iranian women, it is never a question of if you will be detained but when. My aunt was once arrested while carrying a bag of groceries. The strap had pulled back his sleeve, revealing his wrist. She was with her two small children. They detained her and the children in a car and released them after 30 minutes. But if she had said anything suspicious in any way, she could have suffered the fate of Mahsa Amini. She could have died from an exposed wrist.

From an early age, while visiting Iran, I had the overwhelming feeling thatthese people don’t want to go on living like this. Whether it was my aunts and uncles’ lingering concern about the lack of job opportunities (Iranian diplomacy had made him an international pariah, riddled with sanctions) or the women around me constantly cursing their headscarves , it was clear that the oppression had taken off ringing. In addition to being inhuman, violent and cruel, it is simply exhausting.

It is Iranian women who have borne the physical burden of a totalitarian regime. They did it without collapsing, without getting completely lost. They managed to be amazing engineers and scientists, Olympians and Nobel laureates. We in America get upset if we are asked nicely to use public transportation or save electricity or vote. Can we even conceive of this type of resilience? Can we imagine standing up to guns, tanks and torture?

Yet, we really should because if we’re not careful of our own rights in America, we might have to borrow from the strength these women have shown. Through the mundane act of visiting my family for so many years, I (temporarily) experienced what it was like to be a woman without rights. It helped me to understand that for all my life I had the rights that Iranian women yearned for. Sometimes it makes me feel guilty, but more importantly, witnessing this oppression has inspired me to become an American patriot and activist.

I stand in solidarity with Iranian women and hope that our leaders will not only support them, but also learn of them. This regime has put every conceivable barrier in their way and yet they persist. I hope this movement will bring real change. I hope my cousins ​​will feel the sun on their skin.

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