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Exploring the Inspirations and Ambitions Behind “Woman, Life, Liberty”

Panel I-7, sponsored byIran 1400 Project, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, November 2 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
The killing of Mahsa Amini in September 2022 produced Iran’s latest social movement, which by year end was a topic of international importance. Much has been written about the leading role of women in this movement and the daring of Iran’s youthful “Generation Z.” This panel will explore the social, political, and economic dimensions of this movement and the underlying conditions that helped bring it about. Among the questions to be examined are: What were the underlying causes of this event? Is it a social movement, a rebellion, or the foreshocks of revolution? What are the aspirations and sources of inspiration of the protesters and what is their vision? What continuities or parallels does this movement share with previous social movements or protests in Iran during the last century, and to what extent is it unique? Why and how did this movement gain the attention of the international political community and mobilize civic organizations around the world in solidarity with the women of Iran? Is this an example of globalization challenging the power and sovereignty of the nation-state? This panel is intended to attract the participation and contributions of sociologists, political scientists, historians, social anthropologists, and political economists to illuminate from various perspectives this movement that may shape Iran’s new century.
Media Arts
Political Science
  • Dr. Kristin Soraya Batmanghelichi -- Presenter
  • Mr. Arash Azizi -- Presenter
  • Ms. Sarah Eskandari -- Presenter
  • Sydney Martin -- Organizer, Presenter, Discussant
  • Azadeh Momeni -- Presenter
  • Tom Walsh -- Presenter
  • Mr. Arash Azizi
    Iran’s new revolution, which broke out in 2022, has been compared by some to 1979. Some of its leading proponents, however, see it as a return to the ideals of the constitutional revolution of 1906-11 constitutional revolution. A useful way for comparing the three revolutions is adopting a global perspective to see what each of these revolutions meant to the global context in which they broke out. Adopting such a perspective, this paper argues that the 2022-23 revolution is fundamentally different from 1979; the latter came at the tail-end of the Long Global Sixties and it represented the era’s spirit of revolt against the global order and conventional forms of government. It went on to found a new regime which was indeed unlike anything the world had seen before. The 2022 revolution is in a dialectical relationship with its global context: it aims to defend the basic values of liberalism and democracy that 1979 denied — and it is thus breaking with the trend of authoritarian entrenchment of the past decade. In this sense, it is indeed a return to the ideals of the 1906 and its age of liberal revolutions that included similar events in Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, Korea and China. The revolution is thus best understood by placing it in both its Iranian historical lineage and its global context.
  • Tom Walsh
    This paper argues that understanding the diversity of social protest is crucial to conceptualising the character, inspiration, and ambition of Iran’s Gen-Z-led uprising. Through this, it addresses several considerable gaps within the social science literature. Previously, few scholars have theorised the specificity of the visual, as a powerful political tool. There is a growing, but limited, literature on social media as a vehicle for change. Furthermore, a lot of this research has focused on Twitter – a platform barely used by Zoomers. TikTok and Instagram are social media platforms that depend on visuality and audio. As such, they create their own specific forms of messaging. A core lens, through which to understand the protests, is generational. This paper seeks to apply a methodology of “Critical Visual Analysis” to the Iranian protests – adapting it to include audio analysis. It uses this carefully devised, process-driven method, to characterise the Iranian protests as distinctly modern, secular, and tech-savvy. In doing so, it aims to contribute to future studies into social protest, encouraging them to challenge previously held assumptions. This applies not only to the discipline, but to Iranian studies specifically. The majority of Iran’s Gen-Z protesters were born after 9/11. As such, they do not possess strong anti-Western views. What they do remember is Khamenei’s brutal suppression of the 2009 Green Movement, his denial of vaccines, and the downing of Flight 752. The Islamic Republic is no longer able to control the youth’s access to the wider world, and their hope of a more liberal life. Although the Iranian youth are more active on TikTok, the Iranian diaspora have been fundamental to the visibility of the protests on Twitter. For a sense of perspective, in the first 2 months of protests there were 300 million Tweets on the Persian Mahsa_Amini hashtag – that is 50 million more than there have been on the Ukraine hashtag since the war began. Many of these tweets are accompanied with visuality, depicting the brutality of the regime and strength of the protesters. Together, visuality and audio define the character of contemporary protest. It is their specific character across social media, that needs properly theorising.
  • This paper examples new epistemological and historical perspectives surrounding the contested discourse of the “mandatory hijab’, as the core cause of Women. Life. Freedom., the revolutionary movement in Iran. One of the primary causes of this movement rests in the multi-dimensional mechanism through which the hejab was mandated by the Islamic Republic, going far beyond institutionalized patriarchy. Cultural patriarchy, deep-rooted in the post-Islamic era, also perpetuated the obligatory hejab and its physical and psychological effects after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Within cultural patriarchy, one can see not only the role of paternal and fraternal patriarchy but also socio-cultural patriarchy. Individuals, extending beyond fathers, husbands, and brothers, believe themselves to be judges and juries of society, responsible for protecting individuals, especially women, should the familia patriarchs be absent. Reflections of this patriarchy are exampled when the supreme leader of the Islamic regime, Ali Khamenei, used Atash be ekhtiyar on January 7, 2017, to encourage his followers to warn, threaten, and even punish people who go beyond defined religious rules. Thus, it is important to examine a multifaceted approach towards the obligatory hejab, not just in terms of a hyper-visible piece of cloth but as a barometer of politics. A means to protect, control, and polarize society into a divided population of veiled and unveiled women. This paper argues that using the politics of gender and lasting cultural patriarchy led to not only fear, torture, and even death of Iranian citizens but also to the exacerbating dehumanization of women and the terrorization of their identities, consequently arousing the current Woman. Life. Freedom. Movement. To understand the root causes of this revolutionary movement, this paper first focuses on the historical background of socio-cultural patriarchy since the mid-nineteenth century when the discourse began of the ‘compulsion’ pertinent to women’s (un)veiling proposed by Qorrat ol-Eyn (1817-1852). She was the first figure who opposed veiling and perceived it as a religious ‘obligation’ and a trap, thus challenging individuals’ perception of veiling. After the Constitutional Revolution (1906-1911), the strictness of veiling lessened, which prompted both female and male activists to step forward and begin influencing cultural patriarchy. However, the endeavors were not enough to make women’s liberation possible, and the injustice persisted and strengthened after the 1979 Revolution by the creation of IRGC, Besij, and plainclothesmen. Iranian women’s defiance today is not just against the mandatory hijab but also against sociocultural and psychological persecution.
  • "A New Lexicon of Resistance:" The Discourse of Woman, Life, Freedom synthesizes and analyzes current trends in the scholarship of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement at its one year anniversary. Reflecting on sixteen interviews conducted by the Iran 1400 Project, this presentation compares and contrasts how scholars of Iran across disciplines see the challenges, achievements, and impact of the Movement over the past year.