An Open Letter On Supporting Our Iranian Friends

Jason Smith Jason Smith

October 6, 2022


I don’t think that I am alone in saying that I am feeling a sort of “global fatigue”. I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling stressed out over the news with talks of inflation, viruses, and the such. However, there are issues that are affecting some of our friends out there. In the same way that I called out to support our Black and AAPI friends, I am asking us to stand with our Iranian friends.

What is Happening in Iran?

In order to dive deeper in this conversation, I think it’s important to level set. While interpretations of events may vary, it is important to report on the facts that we do know. A 22 year-old woman named Mahsa Amini died while in custody of Iran’s morality police. This event has sparked global protests.

You may be asking “what is Iran’s morality police” or “why is this controversial”. In short, they are a “police force” that enforces laws based on a very strict interpretation of Islam. While they “arrest” people for multiple things, one thing that is consistently enforced are laws regarding the hijab. In short, women are forced to wear hijab in Iran regardless of their personal beliefs.

There is a lot of history here that, quite frankly, I am not qualified to talk about. Britannica has a pretty good summary here that you can look at. In short, prior to the 1970s, Iran was not much different than America in many ways. Islam was still practiced there but society was more liberal/secular. You can see from old photos that women were dressed and not required to wear hijab.

There was an Islamic Revolution in 1978 where the previous ruling government (a monarchy) was overthrown and replaced by an Islamic Republic. As time progressed, many people began to believe that the revolution had lost its way and became a power grab. Now it is seen as an authoritarian theocratic regime.

This is about individual rights, not religion

I want to be VERY clear here. I am not Islamaphobic. I think many people are afraid to speak in support of the protests over fear of sounding Islamaphobic. I am of course just speculating. I cannot speak for anyone but myself but that’s the hypothesis I am working with.

While I am not particularly religious myself, I respect the human right of being able to practice a religion. I also believe that religion is very personal and can mean different things to different people. People also have the right to not practice a religion. My issue stems from any entity using the force of law to enforce religion doctrine on a population.

In past writing, I have mentioned that I grew up in Texas in a very right-wing Evangelical environment. Growing up, I would often hear people talk about how we need to pass laws that bring “Christian values” into the American mainstream. I use quotation marks because it was clear that it was simply one interpretation of Christian values, not THE translation.

One issue that often came up was prayer in school. They would always say that we needed politicians to bring prayer back into schools. The funny thing is that prayer in school has never been banned. Forced prayers, however, are banned. There is nothing stopping an individual or a group from praying at public schools. You can’t, however, require that everyone say a specific prayer at the beginning of the day. It is unfair and can be offensive to people who may not identify as Christian or have a different interpretation (for example, there is an argument that prayer should be in private).

I see the Iran situation in a very similar light. I have no issue with Islam and I think if someone believes that they should wear hijab as part of their faith, they should be able to do that. I do, however, have an issue with religious practices being turned into law and then punishing people who do not adhere to it. This isn’t isolated to Iran, this is in any nation or society.

Growing Unrest in Iran and Abroad

So what’s happening now? Well in Iran, we are seeing protests happening in the streets. They are also seeing solidarity across society. We are seeing many brave girls and women stand up to the regime. Keep in mind, this issue in particular is absolutely a matter of women’s rights.

As totalitarian regimes tend to do, Iran’s government has tried to suppress the protests. They have blocked Instagram and have implemented various blocks on the internet. It has been reported that around 154 people have died and hundreds more injured in this protest which is reminiscent of the November 2019 casualties when protests were held.

Around the world we are seeing many people join. Some people have chopped off their hair. Even here in San Francisco we saw protests. Many internet freedom activists have tried to find ways to beat the “digital crackdown”. These are all great starting points but we also need to remember the people we know around us.

Helping our Colleagues and Friends

According to a 2019 study, around 577,000 people in America were either born in Iran or have Iranian ancestry. That’s not an insignificant number and there are great chances that there are Iranians in your workplace and your community. Many of them are understandably stressed out.

Many still have family and friends back in Iran that they are very concerned for. Many have other connections to Iran. To many, it’s their homeland. This news is stressful to many of them. They worry about the future of their country, the people back in Iran, and the rights of women.

I request that people check-in with their Iranian co-workers, neighbors, and friends during this time to see how they are doing. Knowing that someone cares when they are struggling can make all the difference in the world.

In addition, here are some things that you can do to help make a larger scale impact.

  • Reach out to your local government representative and ask them to support Iranian protestors, and to put human rights and women’s rights at the forefront of any negotiations with Tehran.
  • Show your support using the trending hashtags on social media: #MahsaAmini #مهسا_امینی #IranProtests2022, #IranProtests, #Iran.Posting content on your personal social media accounts goes a long way. This is especially important now that the government has disrupted internet access.
  • Reach out to your favorite reporters, influencers, politicians and ask them to speak up.
  • Share this blog and start the conversation with people around you.
  • Consider joining the protests in your city to express solidarity.
  • Sign Amnesty international’s petition to end bloodshed in Iran.