While the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody after being arrested for improperly wearing her hijab is the spark that lit the fuse of recent Iranian protests, this explosion into the streets has been bubbling under the surface for decades.
Now, the Islamic government of Iran has turned on its own people with violent crackdowns as individuals across the country vent their disgust at the government's brutality, plunging Iran into the throes of a crisis unprecedented in this century. We’ve watched the Iranian government brutally suppress young protesters, killing more than 200 people and arresting hundreds more.
But to reduce these protests down to women’s attire is to dismiss 43 years of relentless violations of Iranians’ human rights. The corruption of the Islamic government and its heavy-handed theocratic policies are to blame for so many of Iran's problems – economic, political, and otherwise – and this is the heart of today’s protest. Iranian theocracy is crumbling because of the very policies the Islamic government has used in trying to enforce it. What the international community has failed to do to dislodge Iran's Islamist government from power with 40-plus years of resistance, and more recently through sanctions, Iran's leaders are doing to themselves as they alienate their own people.
I can attest on a very personal level that the corruption and oppression from the Iranian government has gone on too long. As a student in Iran in the late 1970s, I participated in many protests similar to what the students are doing now. In September 1978, the Shah army opened fire on a group of protesters, killing and wounding hundreds. My wife also faced death twice during this season of protest, but thankfully survived. My brother, however, did not. He was arrested at the young age of 16 for a minor political charge, and after two years in jail, was executed by a firing squad. These stories mirror today's headlines. This violence and disregard for the lives of the Iranian people has gone on too long. It is time for change.
Over the last few years, Iranian protests have increasingly erupted over long-time grievances
stemming from the unfulfilled promises following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The new government promised social justice, freedom and democracy, and independence from the political oppression of the previous regime. However, more than four decades later, Islam operates in stark contrast to those early aspirations of the revolution.
These protests were primed in small part by economic distress, but ultimately this upheaval is about suppressed anger and a desperate need for hope.
Historically, the Iranian government has responded to the people’s outcries with blatant disregard and violence at the slightest dissent. There is outrage among young people, particularly women, who are disgusted by Iran’s corrupt government and no longer willing to be controlled and mistreated. They’ve had enough.
The people protesting in the streets of Iran have one common goal: an end to the Islamic regime. The problem isn’t just forced head coverings or economic conditions but rather a lack of free expression, inhumane killings, plundering of wealth, discrimination, unfair trials and funding of global terrorism. In fact, with no freedom of the press, covert satellite TV broadcasts such as ours have provided a lifeline of hope to Iranians surrounded by chaos, and we hope have been an encouragement to them that they have the support of the international community.
If we want to see change in Iran, we need to look beyond sanctions and listen instead to those who are suffering the consequences of this oppressive government: women, ethnic and religious minorities including Christians, young people, students and others who feel silenced by Islam.
And we must encourage our government NOT to ratify a new U.S.-Iran nuclear deal, which would only create further havoc. The Iran nuclear deal was created to persuade the Iranian government to give up its nuclear ambitions—through which it would seek to destroy Israel and the United States—in exchange for ending the sanctions and billions of dollars in straight-up cash incentives from the U.S. government.
The Islamist government of Iran already has demonstrated a total lack of concern for its own people, as it has consistently put sponsorship of lethal terrorism across the world before the care of the Iranian people. A cash pipeline in the form of renewed oil revenues and U.S. payments would only make a terrible situation even worse—and give Iran the means to fulfill its nuclear ambitions.
We can stand with the people of Iran by exercising our freedoms to call on our government to forego a new nuclear deal. Reach out to your representatives and let them know the American people stand with the Iranian protestors in demanding freedom from oppression and an end to these blatant human rights violations. We must explore every avenue for coming to the aid of the Iranian people against the oppressive theocratic Islamic regime.
Dr. Hormoz Shariat is the founder of Iran Alive Ministries, which provides covert satellite TV broadcasts and online resources to encourage the Iranian people. He shares his story escaping Iran’s oppressive Islamic regime in “Iran’s Great Awakening.”