There have been on-and-off international sanctions on Iran since 1979. One side effect of this is a slightly warped idea of what goes on there. Our news is filtered through events, biases and outsider gazes. Those of us who have Iranian friends or who have been to Iran to witness slices of lives firsthand still bring our prejudices into the lens. Despite those privileges, and a seemingly constant barrage of social media hashtags and images, none of us can claim to know what’s really going on.
“Iranians are not what you see on the news - it’s how we’re represented. Our isolation since the revolution means it takes longer for stories like the hijab protest to hit the headlines and make front pages in the west. You still have to answer questions like ‘has the hijab always been a part of Iranian culture?’ I’m always telling my friends a potted history.
“One thing I’m always keen to explain is that when I think about my mother and my aunties in Iran during the revolution, they were wearing mini skirts and had their hair in high quiffs with hairspray - all 60s and 70s disco-esque. My mother was pregnant and going to demonstrations.”
Her friends are “gobsmacked” when she shows them family photos from that time. “Look, it wasn’t until the 1980s when the hijab was mandatory in law. In 1975, some of the most progressive family laws in the region were in Iran. Women were educated and were central to the revolution, yet it turned against them. This so-called God’s own government took the marriageable age of women from eighteen down to nine. Girls. It was a massive step backwards for women’s rights - and by that I mean human rights.”
She’s in touch with family in Iran as much as she can be - the internet and phone lines are often down or tightly controlled. During the 2009 Green Revolution, an artist took a known Nokia phone ad, stuck then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s face on it and changed the tag line to say “Nokia: Disconnecting People”.
“The difference now is, I think, that this movement is so diverse and widespread. There’s so much information being collected that it’s almost impossible to stop it all.”
A poem she wrote and filmed herself reciting on her Instagram, "The Revolution Will Eat its Children", has been viewed nearly 12,000 times.
“People on the streets of Iran face the real possibility of being shot. Or of being arrested and killed. It’s unbelievable the level of brutality people are facing - especially the children. I woke up one morning overwhelmed by everything I was seeing and reading. I wrote that poem with no idea that it would be viewed and shared by so many - people want to know what is going on and anything that we do in support of what protesters are trying to achieve will be seen by those who can still get online and it will resonate with them.
Organic protests seem to have a pattern: an injustice happens, people get angry and protest, the state or an authority kicks back, more protest occurs and it’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of reactive actions. Sometimes, they make international headlines - but there’s an expiry date to news cycles and we can already see the headline interest in Iran waning. Until the next terrible atrocity, that is. I ask Roxana what the ideal outcome would be.
“The end of the regime would be the ideal outcome. Stopping the killing of demonstrators would be an ideal outcome. I met a friend who was in prison in Iran who recently got out. She has firsthand experience of exactly what’s going on. She says that the regime can’t come back from this - this level of brutality and violence. But nobody knows how long it’s going to take.”
Roxana sent The Lead a list of links and hashtags in case you want to keep following this story - and amplify the voices on the ground. She says that it’s hard to work out what is happening - especially if you can’t speak Farsi - but these are some of the more accessible links.
For art and images from Iran around the demos, click here.
For up to date videos, head here and here.
For understanding and re-framing narratives around Iran, “this project is brilliant”.
Amnesty has a campaign and Iran Human Rights Dot Org does too.
And here are the hashtags you can follow on your social media channels:
See you on the streets and on the Internet.
Photo credit ©Cairo Sealey