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The Woman, Life, Freedom Uprising: A Turning Point in the Struggles for Justice and Liberty in Iran

Panel VIII-23, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
The tragic death of a 22-year old Kurdish girl, Jina Amini, in September 2022, while in police custody, sparked mass protests across Iran and resulted in the most serious challenge to the Islamic Regime’s authority and legitimacy since its inception in 1979. The slogan of the movement became Jin, Jiyan, Azadi, Kurdish for Woman, Life, Freedom, originating in the Kurdish resistance movement in Rojava, and Jina Amini became the visual symbol of the Iranian uprising. This panel showcases some of the recent work on social movements and resistance in Iran, with a clear focus on the history of protests movements in Iran (since the Green Movement of 2009), digital and networked feminist activism in online platforms, and the role that the Iranian diasporas play in the current struggles for justice and freedom in the country. The first paper, Not so Green: Paradigm Shift in the Iranian Political Resistance Discourse and the Political Economy of Protest in Iran from 2009 to 2022, opens a discussion for this panel by situating the current uprising in a conversation about a paradigm shift in the Iranian political resistance discourse, as they have manifested themselves in the public sphere since the Green Movement of 2009. The second paper, Insurgent Grammars and Feminist Digital Activism: Iranian Feminist Networks’ Rise against Multifaceted Modes of Power in Light of Jina Uprising, sets out to analyze the ways in which insurgent textuality and activist labour of Iranian digital feminism wrestle with hegemonies of racial capitalism, patriarchy, and religious-nationalism of the Iranian Islamic state. Authors of the third paper, Datafication of Politics in the Time of Dissensus: Reflections on Iran’s Media Climate in the “Woman, Life, Freedom” Movement, examine how the networked media platforms are reproducing the consensual perception of the political possibilities through datafying the political “dissensus” (Rancière, 2015). The authors of this paper aim to look at the ways in which collective dissidents are mediatized and datafied across platforms by online public figures and so-called celeb-journalists. Relying on a self-reflective auto-ethnographic approach, the author of the fourth paper, Confessions of a Diasporic Mind: Long-distance “Nationalists” and Transnational Political Activism among Iranians Abroad, investigates the contours of political belonging, voice, and dichotomies such as, inclusion/exclusion, insider/outsider, and conservative/progressive, to interrogate the current debate on what role diaspora Iranians have in shaping the future politics of Iran.
  • The Woman, Life, Freedom movement has once again brought to surface the debate on the role Iranians in diaspora play in shaping the future of the country. Since the 1979 revolution it is estimated that between three and five million Iranians live abroad. The various waves of emigration, starting from the refugee wave in the 1980s, to the current wave of economic, labour, and educational migration, have brought different socio-economic and political groups of Iranians as settlers in mainly Canada, USA, Europe, and Australia. But the question of their political agency vis-à-vis the affairs of Iran, and their rights as expat Iranians to “chime in” on the political affairs of the country, has always been a point of contention among the Iranians, inside or outside. While the general consensus is that Iranian political parties and resistance movements in diaspora have largely been ineffective in mobilizing Iranians abroad in their common fight against the Islamic Regime in over four decades, the recent uprising of 2022 has galvanized diaspora Iranians like no other protest movement prior. The political coalition that is currently gaining momentum (as of February 2023) and is largely comprised of arguably centre-right and neoliberal political figures, such as Reza Pahlavi, Masih Alinejad, Nazanin Boniadi, and Hamed Esmaeilion, has emerged out of the diaspora, given also that most of the prominent political activists inside Iran are already in prison or heavily monitored, making political mobilization and organization very difficult. Among Iranians, as reflected on social media posts, this diasporic coalition has come under intense criticism, mainly on the basis of the question: “what rights do expat Iranians have when it comes to deciding the future of Iran?” Relying on a self-reflective auto-ethnographic approach, I, a diasporic Iranian subject, set to investigate the contours of my own political belonging, positionality and voice, in relation to dichotomies such as, inclusion/exclusion, insider/outsider, and conservative/progressive, to interrogate the current debate on what role diaspora Iranians have in shaping the future politics of Iran. In this reflective piece, I will also focus on the roles media play in not only providing a platform for voices to be heard, but also I will be critically reflecting on their discursive power in setting the agenda and the trajectory for the Iranian liberty and justice seeking movement efforts.
  • The last months of 2022 have heralded a unique uprising, widely known as a “feminist revolution in the making,” in Iran and beyond. The spark for this uprising was the state-murder of Jina (Mahsa) Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman, which triggered nationwide and global demonstrations against the numerous intersecting inequalities in Iran. The uprisings led by women and ethnic minorities have transformed fear into rage and anger, subordination into agency, and forced invisibility into collective voices for change. Throughout the uprisings, digital media have become a stage where feminist activists, inside Iran and in the diaspora, voice their struggles while seeking ways to translate their concerns into global expressions of solidarity with marginalized bodies around the world. This research sets out to closely read and analyze the ways in which insurgent textuality and activist labor of Iranian digital feminism wrestle with hegemonies of racial capitalism, patriarchy, and religious nationalism of the Iranian Islamic state. Through conceptual frames of discursive activism (Young, 1997; Shaw, 2012) and mediated solidarities (Nikunen, 2018), I argue that Iranian feminist networks are forms of subaltern counterpublics (Fraser, 1992), using the capacities of digital platforms to strategize and practice discursive arenas to challenge the dominant discourses of power –capitalism or religious authoritarianism– by exposing power relations embedded within these discourses. The current research asks: In what ways have the Iranian digital feminist activisms disturbed and refused to fit in with the discursive and material practices that have constructed the category of Iranian woman? And what are the ways in which these feminist networks employ digital technologies to enable mediated resistance and generate solidarity with other marginalized bodies? The empirical terrain through which I examine the complexities of mediated collective actions is the Instagram accounts of activist groups, including feminists4Jina, Lilith collective, Jina-collective, and the voices of Baluch women. By tracing the movements of radical feminist networks between September 2022 and the end of January 2023, I argue that Iranian digital feminisms have invented grammars of insurgent care as a response to the escalation of state-sanctioned brutality and gender-based violence. Additionally, these activists have amplified their calls for solidarity by promoting insurgent resistance against all forms of capitalism. Such expressions of feminism in the aftermath of the Jina Uprising in Iran could incite feminists from the Global South to cultivate more potent transnational alliances and engage in more passionate feminist resistance against the continuously emerging patriarchal worlds.
  • Co-Authors: Mozhgan Fazli
    Protests and slogans have been a mainstay in the Iranian political resistance discourse, especially since the so-called Green Movement of 2009. In this study, we trace the development of a dialectical challenge by the Kurdish women’s movement and its interaction with broader discourses of political resistance in Iran from the 2009 Green Movement to the 2022 social rupture triggered by the murder of Jina (Mahsa) Amini. The study draws on three factors to contextualize its discourse analysis: (1) The function and structure of the Iranian public sphere is contingent on the reproduction of the economic base structure of Iranian society, particularly intra-state core-periphery relations where national margins emerge; (2) The Iranian public sphere structurally marginalizes discourses and voices that are fundamentally associated with class, nationality, and gender as nodes of concern in the social system, which constitutes elements of epistemic injustice; and (3) The Iranian political resistance discourse is a contest over “legitimate resistance” by the different interlocutors, including status quo supporters (regime remainers) and the Kurdish women’s movement. By compiling and analyzing slogans employed during protests—as a medium of political discourse—changes in the language of resistance in the Iranian political resistance discourse specific to the legitimacy of reform and reasons for resistance have been observed. We consider such discursive changes to be symptomatic of a greater transformation of the Iranian political resistance discourse. Furthermore, the study examines existing literature on the prolonged internal contradictions of the Iranian state’s political-economic social structure that gradually surfaced in the 2010s, punctuated by the 2017-2018 protests and the 2019 “Bloody Aban” uprising, as well as the most recent uprising of 2022, under the slogan of “Woman, Life, Freedom.”
  • Co-Authors: Nastaran Saremy
    This study aims to examine how what we term FarsiTwitter reproduces the consensual perception of the political possibilities through datafying the political dissensus (Rancière, 2015). The “Women, Life, Freedom” (hereafter WLF) momentum brings together intersectional socio-political dissidents that continuously decentralize the existing phallocentric idea of the political society and nation-state. While the revolutionary uprising gains its “constituent power” (Negri, 2009) from its polyvocality, representation- both in terms of media representation and political representativeness- tends to unify the heterogenous multitude through datafication. Drawing upon the combination of “the atlas of the invisible” and “deep mapping”, we unravel the invisible patterns and map the non-representational elements that are involved in crafting the dominant narratives in FarsiTwitter. This extends far beyond the bounds of the platform and showcases the ways in which agitational methods, often associated with mass media, are intertwined with computational politics. We then employ data analytics to explore the ways in which collective dissidents are mediatized and datafied. Highly dependent on the technological affordances of the online platforms, the online public figures attempt to homogenize the self-expressive uprising that resists consensus. These celeb-journalists have spread disinformation and conducted online polls and surveys. Benefiting from the algorithmic engagements of the users and the sponsored power of the mainstream media outlets, they forge a hierarchical intervention inconsistent with the multiplicity of the political imaginaries. Keywords: datafication of politics, polyvocality, dissensus/consensus, constituent power, disinformation.