Ruling by force, without the consent of the governed, is a dire and dangerous position.
The massive protests which have been raging across Iran since 22-year old Mahsa Amini died in police custody two weeks ago continue unabated today. According to news reports, 75 people have already been killed during the unrest.
Ms. Amini, who was arrested by Iran’s “morality police” for violating the country’s strict hijab laws, isn’t the first young women to die while in custody of the morality police. These aren’t the first protests to rock Iran.
None of the previous incidents, nor protests, resulted in a regime change.
Still, these protests feel a bit different.
Mahsa Amini was tortured by Iran’s morality police before she was killed, according to her family and eye-witnesses. And these protests are happening during a time of great global unrest, uncertainty and conflict.
“I’m assuring them that there is not a big deal going on in Iran,” Iran’s foreign minister went out of his way to tell U.S. news outlet NPR- and his diplomatic counterparts in western nations- just this morning. “There is not going to be a regime change in Iran. Don’t play to the emotions of the Iranian people.”
When governments as steeped in propaganda as Iran’s say something, it helps to read between the lines. For instance: If there is no big problem, why would the spokesperson of Iran’s government bring it up at all?
“Iran says U.S. attempting to use unrest to weaken country,” reported Reuters yesterday, another direct contradiction of Iran’s official line on the protests: “Nothing to see here, move along please.”
“Iran Strikes Kurdish Separatists Groups in Northern Iraq,” reported the New York Times today. “The death of a young Iranian Kurdish woman in police custody has set off an intense wave of protests across Iran over the past 10 days, igniting fury particularly in the country’s Kurdish minority community.”
The strikes are widely believed to be in retaliation for the protests.
“Iran ‘ready to provide answers’ on nuclear probes, FM says,”- as reported by Middle Eastern news outlet AL-Monitor- seems like a transparent attempt to change the subject.
What’s really going on in Iran?
In July, the Iranian President announced Iran’s so-called “morality police” would be stepping-up aggressive policing of the country’s nationwide dress code.
Not only are the authorities cracking down on women who violate the hijab rules or wear “bad makeup”, the Iranian government announced in early September they would begin using advanced facial-recognition software and surveillance technology to enforce the mandatory hijab rule.
As others have noted, this latest violent demonstration of raw government power has almost nothing to do with “morality” and everything to do with state power and systemic control.
The current Iranian government- like the one before it and every other iteration since the Iranian Revolution of 1979- has been doing a poor job of managing the country. When a nation’s government is failing its people, it has only one choice to stay in power: Force.
Tyrants like the ones in control of Iran’s current government must ruthlessly repress the people they presume to govern. Without the consent of the governed, governments must rule by force.
Political dissent must be ruthlessly suppressed at all times, at all costs.
Governments ruling by force are always in a precarious position. Not only do they have to fend off internal challengers willing to use even more brute force than they, they must also live in constant fear of the people they terrorize and repress.
Iran’s government is tiny compared to its population.
Prior to these protests, the Iranian government- and all the president’s men- were already doing all the things tyrannical governments ruling by force must do.
Persecuting religious and ethnic minorities is a top priority under those conditions. Failing governments always need a scapegoat, for one thing. For another, devotion to a religion not sanctioned by the state, just like a shared ethnic affinity group, can easily morph into a united front of political dissent and a regime challenge.
The people must not be allowed a standard around which to rally against the government.
Censorship is one powerful tool of a failing government bent on staying in power. Propaganda must be intensified. Things like free assembly have to be curtailed, so association is frequently criminalized.
Under the auspices of enforcing Iran’s mandatory hijab rule, the true purposes of the recent crack-down are power and control.
Most of all, the crack-down, and the death of any who fail to comply, is about instilling fear in the population. The message from the Iranian government to its citizens is clear: “This is what we can do to you if you only break our dress code; and we can find you anywhere. Just imagine what will happen if you try to challenge the government.”
The Iranian people, just like citizens repressed by totalitarian governments throughout history, will eventually throw off the shackles of Iran’s ruling party.
Before these protests started, the Iranian government was already doing everything it possibly could do to frighten and repress the Iranian people into submission.
It still wasn’t enough. It never is.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)