Updated: Oct 25, 2022
By Leighah Beausoleil
History majors Danni Marquez, Abby Versackas, and Jon Ribeiro held a discussion on the protests in Iran in the Center for Inclusive Excellence Oct. 19.
Attendance of the discussion consisted of 15 individuals, including faculty, staff, and students.
The spark of these protests was the Sept. 16 death of Kurdish-Iranian Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was placed in the custody of Iranian “Guidance Patrol” for wearing her hijab incorrectly, according to Ribeiro, who provided context to the group.
Amini was sent to the hospital under “suspicious circumstances” and was claimed to have suffered a heart attack while detained, Ribeiro said.
He added Amini had no medical history that would back up this claim and leaked medical records revealed blunt force trauma to the head while eyewitnesses cite police brutality as the cause of her death.
Ribeiro said similar protests calling for “zan, zendegi, azadi,” meaning “women, life, freedom,” have been occurring off and on for decades since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
He emphasized these protests are not against the Islamic faith, but for a woman’s right to choose whether to wear a hijab.
Ribeiro explained the protests are being met with force by the government and media coverage and internet access has been restricted.
“That’s another reason why the younger generation is sort of taking charge in this protest - because they have better lines of communication,” he said, adding they are also able to bypass certain internet barriers and get videos and information out to the rest of the world.
This is what happened with the news of the Islamic Regime starting a fire in a prison and killing all of the political prisoners, Ribeiro said.
Versackas said it is important to note that Amini’s death is a part of a “much larger historical pattern of murdering women in the SWANA region and with the result of no justice happening for these women and typically they’re being murdered by men.”
She added, “This is a gendered issue that we’re talking about. This is a hate crime against women.”
Versackas said for the discussion, people should use the term SWANA region, meaning Southwest Asia, Northern African, as that location is commonly referred to as the “Middle East,” which is “highly politicized” and can hold negative stereotypes and connotations.
Marquez said she recently had an experience with the Iranian Guidance Patrol when she was in Iran in April because that is where her boyfriend is from and she was let off with a warning for not having a hijab because even tourists have to wear one.
Following the introduction to the topic, a discussion took place focusing on the lack of media attention to the issue, the desire for other countries to do more, and the similarities between what is happening in Iran and the United States.
Sophomore Alex Szarka said he tries to stay away from the mainstream media’s interpretation of the protests and goes straight to the source by hearing first-hand accounts from Iranians on social media.
History Professor Stefan Papaioannou said he thought these protests would be front-page news and is curious why the mainstream media is not covering them.
Senior Kaya Baptiste said it could be harder for the media in the United States to cover what is happening in Iran given how restrictive the country is with information regarding the protests.
Ribeiro said he could not help but to see the similarities between these protests and the ones that occurred in June 2020 for George Floyd.
Sociology Professor Zeynep Gönen also pointed out the similarities between women in Iran fighting for the right to choose whether to wear the hijab and women in the United States fighting for abortion rights.
“It is not so different - what is going on there and it is not so far away from here,” said Gönen.
Baptiste said at least in the United States, people have the freedom to protest and with that right in mind, she asked why the country isn’t doing more in support of those women.
She added when Floyd was murdered by police, other countries held protests, but the same is not happening for Iran.
Eric Nguyen, director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence, said even in Western countries, women are still not granted the right to choose, such as in France where hijab wearing is banned.
He emphasized women should have the right to choose not to wear a hijab, but also to wear one.
Junior Rami Khalil said, “We should work and help other countries to make these strides toward, not necessarily being just like United States because we have a bunch of issues as well, but the good that we have is good and we should take that as a sort of role model for other countries that really do not have the luxuries that we do.”
[Editor's Note: This article was initially published with an error. Versackas was misquoted due to the recording of the discussion being misheard. The sentence read, "Versackas said it is important to note that Amini’s death is a part of a 'much larger historical pattern of murdering women in the slaughter region and with the result of no justice happening for these women and typically they’re being murdered by men.'" The sentence should have read, "Versackas said it is important to note that Amini’s death is a part of a 'much larger historical pattern of murdering women in the SWANA region and with the result of no justice happening for these women and typically they’re being murdered by men.'" The phrase "SWANA region" was mistakenly heard as "slaughter region." We apologize for this error.]