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Artillery Row

Tyranny and hope

Iranians have not stopped their fight for freedom

It’s nearly a year since Mahsa Amini’s death at the hands of Iran’s so-called “morality police”, and I’m finding it hard not to feel deflated.

Because we’ve been here before, haven’t we? Grave injustice. Mass protests. An equally massive crackdown. And eventually the noise dies down. That’s not to say that all has returned to normal in Iran — brave women are still taking to the streets without their compulsory headscarves, and being beaten and arrested for it — but the early optimism of the 2022 “revolution” has certainly faded.

Was the “new revolution” just another false dawn, like 2009 or 2019? Is oppression and suppression still set to reign in Iran?

Certainly for the time being, at least, it’s difficult to come to another conclusion. Not only have the street protests largely disappeared, but protesters continue to be tried and in some cases killed for their involvement in what a year ago truly seemed like an unparalleled event that may set the ball rolling for the end of a tyrannical regime.Perhaps it still will, but it’s hard to remain optimistic in the face of such a sustained and brutal response by the Islamic Republic.

As the anniversary of Mahsa’s death draws near, a new crackdown has been taking place, targeting any group seen as a threat — whether unrecognised religious minorities such as Baha’is or Christian converts, or the families of killed protesters, who have been arrested and threatened en masse. One thing’s for sure in the Islamic Republic: the regime certainly knows how to wear its people down.

So systematic and prolonged is its iron grip, that it feels almost inconceivable that the Iranian people would be able to cling on to even a vestige of hope.

I remember my first visit to Iran, in 2008, the year before the Green Movement protests, when it seemed to me as though the Iranian people had been successfully suppressed into a suffering silence. There seemed little fight left in the individuals I met — even those (and there were many) who voiced vehement opposition towards the regime.

A number of these individuals had been arrested before, or had seen family members arrested, and it seemed to me at that time that the Iranian authorities had learned not only how to suppress their people into silence, but also how to allow them just enough leeway to accept their imperfect existence.

But a year later, the Iranian people showed me that I was wrong; that they still had fight left in them. And then it was beaten out of them, and they seemed once more to retreat, only to rise again — and so the cycle has kept repeating.

In 2019, at least 321 protesters were killed — some said the real figure was closer to 1,500.  In the protests last year, at least 500 more were killed, and thousands more imprisoned. I’m reminded of a quote from The Lord of The Rings, when King Theoden says: “So much death! What can men do against such reckless hate?”

And yet, in spite of everything, the Iranian people show time and again that they have the same courage as Aragorn, who responds: “Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them.” Time and again, the Iranian people do just this. They come back onto the streets, risking their lives — and livelihoods — again and again.

And you can be sure that on 16 September — the anniversary of Mahsa’s death — they will do so again. En masse. Regardless of the cost.

For this is the thing about the Iranian people; they have a steel about them

For this is the thing about the Iranian people; they have a steel about them to match their famous hospitality. So while the regime will without doubt continue to try its best to suffocate them — with some success — I doubt the Iranian people will ever abandon their fight for freedom. And this gives me hope that, in spite of the significant challenges that lie ahead, the ball that started rolling in September 2022 may yet one day lead to the toppling of the tyrant.

A year ago, trusted Iranian friends told me there was no way back for the Islamic Republic. That this time was different. That this truly was a “revolution”, and not just another wave of protests soon set to be snuffed out. In the months since, my faith in this prediction has wavered ever more, as every new story of suppression has filtered in. Did our optimism grow simply because so many of us hoped so much that this time really would be different?

Honestly, I don’t know. 

But I do know that hope remains, and while they say that it’s the hope that kills you, I think it’s also hope that keeps the Iranian people fighting. 

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