Hazem Saghieh

Mahsa Amini as a ‘Founding Mother’

In the sense in which the leaders of the American Revolution, and the nation and state that emerged from it, are referred to as "founding fathers," “founding mother” could be used to describe Mahsa Amini in the future. That is, if Iran manages to survive its Islamic Republic experiment in one piece and lives on as a nation-state.

In the experience of this young lady killed a year ago because of her “inappropriate” hijab, and in the revolution that followed, lie major contributions to the benefit of her country, but also to enriching Middle Eastern political thought as a whole.

This is the first time that the murder of a woman directly sparks a revolution, and we all know that, in our region, murdering a woman is incomparably less significant and dramatic than killing a man, especially nowadays. It is also the first time that women lead a revolution; indeed, women are not traditionally taken seriously in questions of far less substance and significance than revolutions.

Moreover, this is not the case of a woman being exalted for performing roles that, in patriarchal societies, are men’s jobs and are thus attributed to “masculinity.” Mahsa Amini did not go to prison because she was fighting colonialism, and she was not celebrated because she hijacked a plane, nor because volunteered in a paratrooper squad, threw fried oil on her occupiers, or wanted to impose the hijab on other women because of her opposition to “Western values”.

The Arabic idiom “a sister of men,” which is used to commend women who show the strength and bravery that are presumed to be masculine qualities, does not apply to her. She was killed precisely because she presented an antithesis to these models: she wanted to be free, as a human being, a woman, and an Iranian citizen.

Another matter this experience reveals is that the link between patriotism and the social question has changed and is changing, at least among the promising milieu of youths. In previous decades, patriotism was synonymous with opposing the West, while the answers to social questions were found in replicating the Soviet model. With the Khomeinist revolution and then the waning of communism, the social ideal became embracing values antithetical to those of the West and going back to embrace the values of our righteous predecessors.

With Mahsa and her friends and companions, patriotism and social model became one and the same. Both have come to mean, first and foremost, the embrace of freedom and individuality, and opposing the papering over of actual challenges and their replacement with all kinds of illusionary conflicts against perpetually proliferating devils and imperialists. Thus, the stance one took toward the West or other external powers took the back seat it deserves to occupy in classifications of political forces and objectives, and revolution began to mean nothing more than confronting a regime that oppresses freedom, in this instance, a regime that “happens to be” “anti-imperialist”!

The primary issues the Iranian experience revolved around were the mandatory hijab and Iran’s morality police, whereby “the hijab uprising” became among the names given to the Iranian revolution. This amounts to a rupture with the not-so-narrowly adhered-to definition of revolutions (and military coups that call themselves revolutions) as processes that reinforce despotism by imposing tyrannical control over the most minute aspects of social relations.

Here, with the comrades of Mahsa Amini, we do not find youths with tense faces and clenched fists looking for prey to kill, crush, and hunt, turning the world into a place of deep animosities and spiteful grudges. Connecting with the world has become a goal pursued with an abundance of color, pride, and promise. In turn, and because of the media, technology, migration, and asylum, the world now has more tools to present and define itself, affording us previously non-existent opportunities to become familiar with it beyond narrow jejune political binaries.

Naturally, rifles, machine guns, and bombs are no longer the tools of the new revolutionaries; they are exclusively the regime's. Indeed, the Iranians' revolutionary work has maintained the peaceful nature that characterized the first phases of the Arab revolutions and has been maintained by scattered uprisings like that in the Syrian province of Sweida today.

A Kurd, Mahsa Amini set the Kurdish regions alight, but she also sparked the revolts of other oppressed minorities in Iran, like the Baluchis and Azeris. At the same time however, her murder brought back to light an Iranian cause whose expression has been constantly and violently stifled, and whose essence has always been a demand for freedom and a way out of the closed Khomeinist prison cell into the world. This indicates that, in contrast to the mood prevailing in the region today, it is possible to combine the political aspirations of the people and the nation as a whole with those of minorities.

The highest virtues of this climate were made apparent when it was manifested in the recent statements of Iranian Sunni Imam Molavi Abdolhamid, who called for “respecting all human beings, regardless of whether they are Muslims or not, and even if they are polytheists or atheists. This is more necessary than prayer and performing Hajj.”

In all of these senses, it would be an honor to Iran and our region, in this potential new phase, for the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini to be considered a founding mother. Without this specter of hope, we are promised nothing but rot and mud soaked with blood.