The Kurdish Struggle Is at the Heart of the Protests in Iran

Protests in Iran have erupted following the death of a young Kurdish woman for “inappropriate dress” — laying bare not only the theocratic brutality of Iran’s government but the Iranian state’s historic repression of the Kurdish people.

People waving Iranian and Kurdish flags fill Trafalgar Square in solidarity with those protesting across Iran on October 1, 2022, in London, United Kingdom. (Mark Kerrison / In Pictures via Getty Images)

In September 13, a twenty-two-year-old visitor to Tehran named Jîna (Mahsa) Amini found herself in trouble with Iran’s “morality police.” Her supposed crime was inappropriate dress, for which she was detained.

Such encounters are not uncommon in Iran, ruled by a reactionary government that hijacked the 1979 mass uprising against the county’s US-backed monarch, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. However, while most morality police detentions are nonlethal, for Amini it proved otherwise. She fell into a coma in custody and died three days later. Authorities claim she suffered a heart attack, but evidence suggests she was severely beaten.

Amini’s death has proved to be a lightning rod, sparking a wave of popular protests across Iran.

“Intersectional Imperialism”

As might be expected, given the antagonistic relationship between the Islamic Republic and the United States, this eruption of unrest has been greeted with sympathy in the halls of power in Washington, DC. Indeed, the gendered nature of the violence that led to Amini’s untimely death, and the role women have played at the vanguard of the anti-government protests, plays into a kind of “intersectional imperialism” that seeks to justify military and diplomatic escalation with Iran in the name of female emancipation from Islamic “barbarism.”

There are other false friends of the protesters: numerous groups among the exiled Iranian opposition are keen to claim kinship with the protesters, from “Crown Prince” Reza Pahlavi to the supporters of cultlike Mojahedin-e-Khalq. Perhaps the most striking example was journalist and Voice of America employee Masih Alinejad, who received a fawning New Yorker profile that proclaimed she was “leading this movement.”

The reality is that the rebellion is an outburst of popular anger directed at a stifling and repressive theocracy — a capitalist oligarchy dressed in the garb of a pious alim that endeavors to discipline the Iranian masses through the imposition of its vision of Islamic morality. In many ways, it is Iranian women upon whom this draconian vision falls the heaviest — hence the central role of women in the protests. However, to reduce the “feminism” of the revolution to a question of individual self-expression — the “stealthy freedom” Alinejad has sold to self-satisfied liberals and anti-Muslim conservatives in the West — is to undersell the reasons why so many Iranians are taking to the streets.

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