Iran is a lesson in the failure of authoritarianism

Syrian Kurdish women take part in a demonstration in Syria’s northeastern city of Hasakeh, to express their support for 22-year-old Mahsa Amini (portrait), who died while in the custody of Iranian authorities.
Syrian Kurdish women take part in a demonstration in Syria’s northeastern city of Hasakeh, to express their support for 22-year-old Mahsa Amini (portrait), who died while in the custody of Iranian authorities. Photo: AFP

Iran yet again proves what English writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley said – we never really learn from history.

It has been weeks since protests started to flood the streets of Iran over the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody. After being arrested by the Guidance Patrol, an absurd force in an absurd country, for wearing the hijab loosely, Amini was tortured and beaten violently, resulting in a coma and then her death on September 16.

Of course, the government has denied all of these claims. Instead, being loyal to historical precedence, it has been violently cracking down upon the protesters.

According to estimates by human rights groups, there have been more than 200 casualties, of which about 20 are children. Students are being sent to re-education camps by the authorities. Throughout the country, the internet has been reined in.

But it all has backfired.

Now, people have started demanding the resignation of the Ayatollah, filling the air with chants as revolutionary as "Women, Life, Liberty!" and as sinister as "Death to the Dictator".

People overthrew the dictatorial regime of the Shah in 1979 through revolution, hoping for liberty. Little did they know that they were entering into another cage which would be made by exploiting religion.

Soon, the social contract was broken, the economy started to decline, and people were denied participation in politics. They were even deprived of their rights as citizens and humans.

The force in the public's crosshairs, the Guidance Patrol, was set up to monitor public modesty in 2005, with the officers enforcing the state moral code. But the religion from which it's claimed to have originated has no provision for such a force. It goes without saying that the motive was entirely political.

Governments around the world are steering into a more authoritarian role in subtle ways in many parts of the world and in not-so-subtle ways elsewhere. They've found an appetite for deciding for others what their dresses are going to be, how they ought to behave, what language they should speak, and what culture they should call theirs. Ukraine, Hong Kong, Inner Mongolia, the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and the Rohingyas in Myanmar are still bearing the brunt. And in all those places, government efforts have utterly failed, and the enforcers have incurred heavy blows to their legitimacy.

How many more backfires and casualties are necessary before these authoritarian leaders understand that dictating people's lives doesn't work? How much more humiliation and public outrage is needed for them to realise that a citizen's body does not fall under their jurisdiction?

If there's one thing the 40-year-long Iranian experiment teaches us, it's that no matter how many policies the governments come up with to control their people, it's always going to hurt the governments themselves and that it's the people who should control what the governments do.

Women were instrumental in the Iranian Revolution. They are also at the forefront this time around. The uprising in Iran makes me wonder whether another spring is at hand. 

Iran might also prove another thing – that history repeats itself.

Abdullah lives in a world as Finnegans Wake, roams through the dark alleys of Dostoyevsky's novel, and is always drunk on poetry like it's his Cutty Sark. Tell him Ça suffit at [email protected]


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