The overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979 did not prevent the family from living like royalty with the enormous wealth stolen from the Iranian people. It is important to recall that the Pahlavi dynasty, which ruled Iran from 1925 to 1977, was a “secular regime” closely aligned with the West. High oil revenues allowed the regime to “modernize” Iran and present a “progressive” posture to Western powers. This rapid “modernization” and “Westernization” was realized at the cost of the people, whose “backward” appearance had to be “normalized.” Reza Shah launched an “unveiling campaign—outlawing men’s traditional garb in favor of Western clothing—so coercive that it sparked bloody clashes in Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city. The unveiling was extended in 1936 by measures requiring women teachers and wives of ministers, high-ranking military officers, and government officials to appear in European clothes and hats, rather than the traditional chador.”4Sedghi, Hamideh. Women and Politics in Iran Veiling, Unveiling, and Reveiling, Cambridge University Press, 2007. This “emancipation” was more beneficial to Europe’s economy than to the Iranian people, as European fashion was imposed by force, and a large market was opened to the benefit of German and French manufacturers, all while local producers suffered.
Meanwhile, the forced modernization and Westernization campaign led to the dismissal of government employees whose wives accompanied them veiled. Further, veiled women were banned from certain public services and entertainment venues, such as cinemas and public baths. Headscarves were pulled off and torn to shreds by the police; “officials would sometimes break into private homes or search door-to-door and arrest women wearing chadors in the privacy of their homes.” Veiled women were also denied a number of educational opportunities.5Sedghi, Hamideh. Women and Politics in Iran Veiling, Unveiling, and Reveiling, Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Just as under Reza Shah’s regime, the existing regime punishes the violation of dress codes with imprisonment and corporal punishment. This illuminates the fact that whether women have been required to expose or conceal themselves, the control of women’s bodies remains an integral part of all political orders, whether secular or Islamic. That’s why the slogan “Long live socialism and long live communism” (زنده باد سوسیالیسم، زنده باد کمونیسم) is chanted in Kurdistan in rejection of both the current and the preceding despotic regimes.
There are also slogans chanted against the Basij force, a paramilitary organization which has acted as the primary repressive arm of the regime from the early days of the 1979 revolution. The Basijis repress the university students by attacking them or chanting slogans in support of the regime. They are also in the streets beating the protestors with batons or electric shocks. The protestors chant in response: “Dishonorable Bajis, you’re our ISIS” (بسیجی بیغیرت، داعش ما شمایی). The sector of the clergy that struggled to monopolize power after the 1979 revolution under the banner of Islam are also publicly denounced: “Clergy, Fuck off” (آخوند برو گمشو).
The protestors have creatively modified the euphemistic names of repressive state institutions to reveal the violence and repression these names serve to conceal. For example, the “Guidance Patrol,” also known as the “morality police,” was established in 2005 under the official name of “the program for increasing social security.” It is now referred to as the “Slaughter Patrol” in such slogans as “Down with the Slaughter Patrol” (مرگ بر ماشین گشت کشتار) or “Killing after killing, damn the Guidance Patrol” (کشتار پشت کشتار، لعنت به گشت ارشاد). Protestors in different cities have set fire to a number of police and Patrol cars.
As is evident, the accumulation of grievances from a diversity of socio-political levels and different geographical and social locations has turned Jina’s death into an occasion for collective resistance. The sentence written on Jina’s grave, “Dear Jina, you won’t pass away, your name will become a symbol,” has spread widely through virtual space and through the graffiti now visible throughout the country, showing that her death has turned into a struggle for life, as her Kurdish name indicates–Jina means life. Her death reminds us of the political, economic and ideological threats to our lives—some immediate and others emerging gradually, posed both by repression undertaken under the banner of Islam and by the implementation of neoliberal economic programs starting a decade after the 1979 revolution. It also reminds us that the people’s desire to live will lead them to resist repression, no matter how ferocious.