We cannot know Iran or Persia unless we look back at its history of thousands of years. It is impossible to discuss thousands of years of history in a few words, but some important highlights, turning points, and events must be remembered to understand and support Iran’s revolution in 2023.
Iranian tradition and culture is very tolerant and peaceful at heart. This is well reflected in Iranian literature. Saadi’s poem “Human Beings” is displayed in the United Nations building in New York, and says all human beings are parts of the same body. It reads, “If one member is inflicted with pain / Other members uneasy will remain.” Iranians today want the same from the world. They are fighting for their basic rights, freedom of speech and lifestyle, and for their country to be at peace. It is estimated that at least 326 people have been killed during the nationwide protests which began in September 2022. Hundreds of protestors were reported to be imprisoned with death threats, rape and other forms of sexual violence made against them.
Since 1979, the Islamic Republic regime has taken away those rights from them and Iranians’ fight against the regime’s intimidation, murder, torture, prison, threats has persisted since. Unarmed Iranian women and girls, next to Iranian men and boys, are demanding freedom and standing against a ruthless criminal regime. Their examples of courage and awareness are rooted in the historical awakenings.
Two similar turning points in the history of Iran have changed the progressive trajectory of that ancient land. Around 632 A.D., Arab Muslims from today’s Saudi Arabia, invaded Iran — then known as Persia or Iran-Shahr — and committed genocide. Before the invasion, Iranians were the Zoroastrianism followers and believed that a good life is made by good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. The Muslims slaughtered, raped, stole, intimidated, and threatened Iranians to convert to Islam. For 200 years, Iranians resisted the imposition of Islam. The Muslims believed Iran was the treasure of Islam and treated Iranians as inferior humans, calling them Majus or Ajam, which are racist, pejorative terms. Iranians had only a few choices: pay a fine for not converting to Islam — if they got lucky, surrender and convert to Islam, become slaves, or die. The once prosperous and progressive Persia under the last Persian kingdom of Sasanians collapsed a few years after the invasion. After the invasion, Islamic power and influence diminished over time.
In 1925, the Iranian parliament voted to appoint Reza Shah Pahlavi as the king of Iran. Pahlavi is considered the father of modern Iran. He instigated the creation of railways, the first Iranian university, a modern healthcare system, a modern judiciary system, among other achievements. Before Pahlavi Iranians struggled with deadly diseases, hunger, and illiteracy without the establishment of official support services. Pahlavi’s greatest gift was to the Iranian women who were oppressed, deprived of social and economic rights, and dictated to cover their hair, face, and body with a hijab. Pahlavi opposed the Islamic-forced hijab and commanded that since Iranian women are half the country, they must be present in society, be dignified, and help rebuild the country to its former glory. His son, Aryamehr, dismantled feudalism and gave farmers the right to own land, gave women the right to vote — many years before Switzerland did the same — and made factory workers shareholders. Pahlavi and his son reminded Iranians of their ancient heritage, and revived a long forgotten ancient nation and patriotism. The year 1979 is analogous to the Arab Muslims’ invasion of Iran in 632 A.D., which moved the progressive, peaceful Iran of the Pahlavi from light to darkness, from truth to lies, from tolerance to oppression. What was once a glorious land with thousands of years of human advancements and rights, modern architecture and artistry, universities and postal systems, philosophical enlightenments, and a modern ruling system of a vast land entered a new times in which once again women are suppressed, freedom is in peril, and people struggle to live.
The inception of the Islamic Republic’s regime in 1979 happened with the slaughter of the brightest minds and souls, unjustly and according to the Sharia laws, in the kangaroo court established by Islamic-Marxist groups. The people of the Islamic Republic’s regime were against progressive, patriotic ideas during the Pahlavi constitutional monarchy — a ruling system similar to Sweden, the United Kingdom, Japan, and the Netherlands. On March 8, 1979, thousands of Iranian women protested forced hijab, but it was too late. The Islamic Republic regime was a throw back to the darkest time in Iranian history.
What the Pahlavi sowed in Iran grew into the protests that we’ve seen and heard about in the past few months — a new awakening. Iranians are risking their lives to fight one of the most criminal and ruthlessly violent mafia regimes like their ancestors, and they chant: “Reza Shah, Bless Your Soul.” Over centuries and despite the invasions of Arab Muslims and Mongols, Iranians have kept their rich culture and identity alive through literature, art, architecture, and rituals and celebrations like Nowruz, Chelleh Night, Tirgan, or Sadeh. Iranian culture will never die because it celebrates earth, water, fire, nature, and life of all kinds. As the Iranian saying goes, light will always prevail over darkness. Let’s repeat what brave Iranians chant these days in the streets of Iran: “Woman, Life, Freedom,” and “Man, Country, Prosperity.”
To follow updates on the current Iranian protests, individuals can follow #MahsaAmini on social media.