On Saturday, December 3rd , after struggling to quell the protests, the Iranian authorities announced that they will be reviewing the hijab law, which became obligatory for all women in Iran in April 1983, which was four years after the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the U.S-backed Shah monarchy.
Speaking on Saturday at an event at Qum about “outlining the hybrid war during recent riots,” and commenting on the Hijab issue, Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said, “We know you feel anguished when you witness [women] without a hijab in cities, and do you think the officials would be silent about it? As someone who is dealing with this issue, I say that both the parliament and the judiciary are working on it. For example, just yesterday we had a meeting with the cultural commission of the parliament, and you will see the results within the next week or two.”
To begin with, there were a number of ambiguities in Montazeri’s statement, it could possibly be interpreted as an end to the morality police but may also indicate that the judiciary wants to disassociate itself from this force. However, that did not stop many Western media outlets like the BBC and the Wall Street Journal from falling victim to the Iranian regime’s disinformation propaganda and start reporting that the “Gasht-e Ershad,” or “Guidance Patrol,” has been abolished until afterwards when the media were forced to backtrack.
State-affiliated media outlets ISNA and Al-Alam, an Arab language state-funded channel, strongly denied that Gasht-e Ershad has been shut down, saying that the Interior Ministry oversees the force, and not the judiciary. Al-Alam also blamed international media for miss-interpreting Montazeri’s words as “a retreat on the part of the Islamic Republic from its stance on hijab and religious morality as a result of the protests.”
With respect to the issue of the ongoing nationwide protests, Iranian officials as well as state-affiliated media still maintain that foreign influences are behind the street protests, which they refer to as “riots.” Iran blames the US and its allies, Britain, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iranian Kurdish opposition groups based in Iraqi Kurdistan like Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) and Komala, for carrying out operations inside Iran to destabilize the country.
The idea of a mandatory headscarf law came into being shortly after the Mullah regime came to power in 1979. On February 1st of that year Khomeini returned to Iran after many years in exile. On International Women’s Day, March 8, 1979, tens of thousands of Iranian women marched in the street, protesting against the implementation of the law. By April 1983, the bill became a law and all Iranian girls and women were legally obligated to wear the headscarf in public. The law applied even to Iran’s non-Muslim minorities and female foreigners visiting Iran.
Criminal punishment for those breaching the mandatory headscarf law was introduced in the 1990s and ranged from fines to imprisonment for repeated offenders. The morality police, known formally as the Gasht-e Ershad, was established by Iran’s Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution at the beginning of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rule. The first morality police patrols began in 2006 in order to “spread the culture of modesty and hijab.”
The ‘reviewing of the headscarf’ should not be seen as an indication that theocratic-authoritarian regime in Tehran is softening its position or listening to the demands of the protesters. The people of Iran are demonstrating against authoritarianism and demanding an end to the 43-year tyranny of the Mullahs. It should be well noted that they are chanting “Death to the Dictator” and not ‘Let’s review Hijab Law.’
Let us assume that the regime will report back in two weeks’ time, as it promised, and decides to abolish the morality police. While this would be welcomed as a “goodwill” gesture by some Western governments and some Iranians, the majority of Iranians would not see it as a triumph. This is especially true in those regions where the most intense and persistent protests are taking place, and happening primarily in Iran’s marginalized ethnic communities, such as the Kurdish region and Baluchistan. Compared to the central parts of Iran, those peripheral regions are having higher rates of death and arrest of protesters. David Romano, Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University, writes “The Kurds face a disproportionate amount of repression from the regime. We know that roughly half the political prisoners and executions in Iran are Iranian Kurds when they are less than 10% of the population”.
Speaking to Majalla, Khalil Nadri, the spokesperson of PAK, explains why Kurds, Baluchi and Iran’s other ethnic minorities rose up, “we want all identities (Kurdish, Baluch, Azeri, Persian, Arab and Turkmen) to achieve their common goal, which is to end a suzerain state and a totalitarian and occupying system. There is an attempt by the Persian-speaking media to conceal the reality of non-Persian nations. This is a continuation of the betrayal of these nations for 100 years. The whole world must know that Iran is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-sectarian country. Freedom means that each of these different groups can express their existence and have equal rights.”
“With or Without the Hijab, we’re going to overthrow the Regime”
Mandatory or non-mandatory hijab is irrelevant for Iran’s ethnic minorities, they were equally as oppressed and discriminated under the secular rule of Shah. Mr. Nadri suggests that we look back to one hundred years ago, to the time when the so-called modern Iranian state was established and Reza Shah become its first king. One of the first measures the Shah of Iran took was to attack the Kurds in north-eastern and south-eastern Kurdistan. Mr. Nadri explains that, “The process of Iranization of Kurds and other ethnic minorities began. Or rather, to dissolve the Kurds within the Persian identity.”
It may not be known to many that Amini was the first women in the entire Islamic Republic of Iran to lose her life because she supposedly breached the country’s mandatory headscarf law. That is not saying that before Amini, Iranian women weren’t harassed by morality police or jailed and charged with breaching hijab Law. Doctoral candidate Rojin Mukriyan, who specialized in Kurdish politics, says, “For Iran, killing Jina (Zhina) was a way for them to kill two birds with one stone. First, it sent a strong message to all women in Iran that the regime is willing and ready to massacre all the women in Iran if they do not comply with compulsory hijab law. Secondly, targeting a young woman from an ethnic minority would cause no harm to the regime of Iran, but it would bring more fear and obedience among the people, especially the ethnic minorities.” Dr. Mukriyan continued, “The Kurds have been at the receiving end of absolute enmity by the Iranian regime and Persian nationalists. They have been treated as being insufficiently human to count as a distinct political grouping.”
The interview finished with Mr. Nadri stating his belief that Amini was killed for being a Kurd and a woman, and adding, “the truth is that the main burden and the biggest cost for the uprising has been on the shoulders of the Kurds and Baluchi. The Kurds are proud to have launched the uprising.” The protests are continuing across Iran and, in reaction to the regime’s so-called review-of-hijab law, protesters across the Kurdish region and Baluchistan held major rallies chanting anti-regime slogans: “Death to Khamenei,” “Kurds and Baluchis are brothers and they hate Khamenei” and adding a new one “with or without the hijab, we’re going to overthrow the regime.”