Iranian Revolution, Political Islam and Global Capitalism

Iran is at a moment of no return. The anger of the people is overcoming the coercive power of the regime. By Laya Hooshyari, Özgür Güneş Öztürk, and Jule Goikoetxea.


Source > Jacobin

Translated from Castilian.

And considering the courage of the new generation, completely detached from Islamic ideology, we can expect that the Islamic Republic will not survive for long.

We are living a social revolution in Iran. But naming this revolution and movement as feminist causes fear in the hearts and stuttering on the tongue. Despite all the fears and doubts, one thing is obvious: this is an uprising of women all over Iran.

The protests that quickly spread across the country following the murder of Mahsa Amini are a showcase of women’s struggles against mandatory hijab in recent years and follow the trajectory of the Girls of Enghelab Street, as well as similar forms of civil disobedience as were the nationwide uprisings of 2017 and 2019. While multiple economic, social and political crises have accelerated this movement, the uprising is strongly tied to the voice of women.

Who can ignore the stormy wave of Mahsa (not forgetting Hadis Najafi) and resist the urge to whisper the main slogan of this movement, “Women! Life! Freedom!”? This slogan was originally created by Kurdish feminists in Turkey in 1987. Later, the Saturday Mothers, who gathered every Saturday in Istanbul to seek clarification about the enforced disappearance of their loved ones, chanted that same slogan, which can now be heard not only on the streets of Iran but all over the world.

Mahsa’s death was no ordinary death but a state murder that, outside of media coverage, happens every day in Iran. Her death was the death of all of us. When young and middle-aged women gathered in front of the hospital where she died, they shouted, “Mahsa could be my daughter, she could be any of us” and “We are all Mahsa!”. Mahsa is not just a woman: she is the symbol of resistance to the oppression by the Islamic Republic, the symbol of all the repressed: students, workers, teachers, the marginalized poor, ethnic minorities, etc. Each of these groups is violently subjugated under the regime of the Islamic Republic and that is why this is not simply a struggle against the mandatory hijab, but a struggle against all the oppressions that Iranian women experience every day at home, at work, in schools, on the streets, in our personal and private spaces. Political Islam is everywhere.

Political Islam appeared in Iran after the defeat of the 1979 people’s revolution as a bourgeois and reactionary political movement that has certainly long since surpassed Iran’s borders to spread across the globe – especially the Middle East and North Africa – as a right-wing manoeuvre to subjugate the impoverished working classes and militant minority peoples (mainly the Kurds) and overthrow the anti-capitalist left movements throughout the region.

The worldview underpinning the Islamist regimes is one more manifestation of the cultural hegemony of heteropatriarchal capitalism that spread relentlessly throughout the 20th century against women’s organizations that, in different countries of the Middle East, including Afghanistan, were fighting since the beginning of the century against patriarchy before being razed to the ground and massacred by the Taliban.

Capitalism and patriarchy

It is important to historicize because capitalism and, most especially, patriarchy tend to naturalise what is and what cannot be. Hence the recurrent forgetfulness of the women’s marches of March 8, 1979, protesting against the misogynist measures of the regime, as well as of the Persian, Kurdish, Afghan, Arab, Turkish, Amazigh, and many other societies of the Middle East and North Africa who fight incessantly for emancipation against the naturalisation of what it is to be a “woman,” especially “a woman of a Muslim country.” It is as if we were to refer to French, Basque, Catalan, or English women as “women from Christian countries” or directly as “Christians.”

Political Islam is a regime and ideology that encompasses various right-wing movements that oppose human rights and deny women their personhood. That is why it is important that European, socialist, anti-racist, decolonial and postcolonial feminisms understand the specificity of this context in order not to reproduce essentialisms of any kind: this should be the germ of radical feminist praxis, the principle that “you are not born a woman, you become one”.

For us, there is no such thing as “woman”, just as there is no such thing as “Black” or “Muslim woman”. To believe this would be an exercise in fetishization. There are women, in the plural, not as a biological fact but as a class, just as there are neither Black nor Muslim women as a biological fact, but as a class or social group. And insofar as women and men are not born, but are made, they are made within material systems of patriarchal, capitalist and colonial domination. Not to assume this implies biologizing us in order to naturalize us with the aim of continuing to perceive ourselves as eternally and essentially Muslim, as Muslim women who are content to live in countries where the state is Islamic because – it is assumed – it represents our religious ideas (when there is an enormous diversity of beliefs).

Fighting against the fetishization of religion, culture and any social phenomenon or identity attribute that blurs invisibilizes and naturalizes the political structures of violence against women in any country is an ethical-political duty. There is no escape from this responsibility if we define ourselves as socialist feminists. Political identities always belong to political structures; what is needed are not multicultural identity politics, but new political, economic and social structures, imagined, organized and built by all.

To think, speak, and fight for emancipation and freedom, it is not necessary to have a specific identity but a situated knowledge. Hence our insistence that the global feminist movement pays more attention to Kurdish women who fight for the freedom of their people; that they read and listen to Persian, Afghan, Turkish, Amazigh, Egyptian, and Tunisian women-and we are not few-to understand and make visible the global character of the movement of Political Islam and its ways of creating hegemony in various sectors of societies around the world through currency, weapons, and faith, as do the rest of the imperialist regimes.

Our radical feminist praxis is linked to the anti-capitalist struggle and Marxist analysis that insists time and again on pointing out that political Islam is a device of rule and control by the elites and right-wing sectors of these regions that were fiercely deployed after the Cold War to integrate into the structures of global capitalism.

At Mahsa’s grave in Saqqez, the mourning women took off their hijab and waved their headscarves in the sky, as if the headscarves had found their true function as part of the Kurdish dance, to stop being a shackle on their body colonizing their whole identity and personality. This extraordinary message reached all of Iran, with men and women marching through the streets with their fists raised and the wind in their hair: “we will not live under oppression”. Universities and schools, silent some time ago, are now full of women who have removed their hijab and are calling for a strike in their departments. In Iran’s smaller, impoverished cities people are also shouting, but for the first time they are saying “sister” instead of “brother.”

We are all Mahsa

Among the people, there is as much hope as fear. But the uprising is glorious, expressing unity and national solidarity among Kurds, Turks, Farsis, Gilakis, Lors, Baluchis… The people have sent a message to each other: “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, we are all together! The response of the Islamic Republic has been to turn these glorious demonstrations into war zones. Many people were killed and arrested, including feminist activists, journalists and students. In addition, since the early days of the uprising, the Islamic Republic restricted access to the Internet, making it difficult to get news from Iran.

We all know that blocking communications and the media is a favourite tactic of capitalist democracies, whether evangelical, Anglican or Catholic. The tactic is not a monopoly of the Islamic republics, and the necroliberal war in Ukraine proves it. Thus, they may not know that Kurdistan has many of its cities on total strike or that regime forces created a bloodbath in Zahedan (southeastern Iran) by killing dozens of Baloch protesting in the streets, while the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shells Iraqi Kurdistan.

While many countries are witnessing demonstrations in support and solidarity with Iran’s uprising, far-right profascist and neo-misogynist movements are spreading across the globe, with monarchists shouting “Man, Homeland, Prosperity” against Iran’s “Women, Life, Liberty” movement, in the same vein as the #BlackLivesMatter movement is counter-attacked by #AllLivesMatter speeches or the feminist movement and struggle by #NotAllMen speeches.

Meanwhile, abortion and gay marriages are banned again, attacks against trans people multiply online, and the streets are filled with white supremacists bashing the poorest. It is part of the reactionary wave that patriarchal and supremacist societies tend to reinforce when poverty, dispossession and exclusion become everyday. In a not entirely metaphorical way, we could say that these movements and political parties are trying to re-establish the dominance of nationalism centred on male domination à la Pahlavi around the world. If the Islamic Republic forced women to wear the hijab, the Pahlavi regime forced them to remove the hijab to show a modern and acceptable face in Western countries. It is clear that both perceive women as sexual objects with no right to choose and no right to control their bodies.

Iran is at a moment of no return. The anger of the people is overcoming the coercive power of the regime. And considering the courage of the new generation, completely detached from the Islamic ideology, we can expect that the Islamic Republic will not survive for long.

Mahsa (Zhina) Amini is not just one person: her name has become intertwined with the names of all the other women who have been arrested, tortured and killed by the Islamic Republic. As written on her grave, her name will be immortal. Her name is our symbol. Her name is our sign to overthrow the foundations of heteropatriarchal and capitalist regimes around the world.

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Laya Hooshyari is an Iranian activist.

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