Bahareh Hedayati, an Iranian women’s rights and human rights activist who has been arrested and imprisoned several times, was last arrested on October 11 amid the protests that started after the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police.
Hedayati was a founding member of a petition for women's rights in Iran known as the One Million Signatures campaign for the repeal of discriminatory laws against women that was launched in 2006. Four years later she was sentenced to nine and half years in prison for “propaganda against the regime”. She was also arrested and sentenced to four years and eight months in prison for participating in a peaceful rally to condemn the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 by the Revolutionary Guards in January 2020. In total she has already spent seven years in prison.
In 2012 Hedayati was awarded the Edelstam Prize for outstanding contributions and exceptional courage in the defense of human rights.
Now, in a letter from Evin prison about the ongoing nationwide protests in Iran, Hedayati writes that a revolution is the only choice for fighting the Islamic Republic.
Below is the complete text of Bahareh Hedayati’s letter from Evin prison.
This is the umpteenth text that I am writing and I cannot finish it. My sentences are so overflowing with anger that I am afraid it will mangle my logic. But controlling your anger when a 22-year-old man is hanged for blocking a street to protest is tough, or perhaps impossible to do, especially anger at a government that has blocked the vital highways to an ordinary and honorable life for the people and especially for the women of this land.
The revolution is inevitable
To argue that the Islamic Republic is the enemy of this land, of this nation, has been redundant for a long time. The nature and the fate of this government is decay and it must go. Getting rid of this criminal government is bound to be costly and fraught with danger, but there is no other way but to pay this cost and face up to the dangers because this power structure is unable to recognize new social forces and to assimilate them within itself. In other words, there is no chance that the existing regime can extricate itself from the situation that has emerged, because neither can a tiny part of the protesters’ demands be fulfilled within the present system, and nor can the majority of the people waive any of their demands.
The government cannot fulfill these demands because all possibilities and mechanisms for flexibility within the power structure have already either been eliminated or have lost credibility. And the people cannot forgo their demands because these demands are tied to their normal, everyday lives. No matter how we look at them, these demands are legitimate, undeniable and self-evident. As a result, these demands are now confronting the power structure itself, which is going to crumble whether they are fulfilled or they are resisted. Therefore, revolution is inevitable.
We must be on guard against uncontrolled violence
By its nature, a revolution is a perilous and violent affair. So, although forbidding violence is practical up to a point, insistence on absolute avoidance of violence is the same as forbidding the revolution itself, meaning canceling the revolution, denying the necessity of bringing down the existing power structure and of arriving at a new social covenant.
What has been going on in the streets in the past few months is the strongest argument that we have in response to those who are still not convinced that the Islamic Republic must be brought down or argue against it. But we have to say to those who believe that this is a necessity that although — unfortunately — a revolution is not devoid of violence, we have to keep a red light on to warn against uncontrolled violence.
When it comes to violence — besides the moral issue that might genuinely be disturbing to some — the more important issue is the stability of Iran after the collapse of this regime. Therefore, the kind of violence that would start and sustain a cycle of revenge after the downfall of the regime must be avoided because it would threaten the stability of Iran and the survival of the government that is borne from the coming revolution.
We, the 1980s generation, were the last to test the possibility of peaceful change
No impartial observer can accuse the Iranian people of impatience or a propensity to violence because, in these past decades, the collective minds of Iranians have repeatedly tried every possible way to peacefully change the existing situation, but each and every time these methods have been blocked by the ruling totalitarian regime.
We, part of the generation of the 1980s whose lives were spent in war and under relentless ideological indoctrination, and whose adolescence and youth came during the so-called reform period, are perfect examples of those who tried to find the last possible outlets for change. We even agreed — mistakenly — to gamble on the social capital accumulated through the Green Movement [the name for the protest movement of 2009-10 – IranWire] under the illusion that fulfilling some of the people’s demands — normalization of relations between the government and the world and its inevitable consequence, namely the government’s compliance with modern rules of governing — would make the lives of our fellow Iranians better without violence.
At every juncture, however, the government was adamant about continuing its wrongful ways. We did everything to prevent violence, but this fear of violence both backfired and gave rise to a misunderstanding. It backfired because it gave the appearance that no action in the streets is acceptable and the reformists, following this misinterpretation of avoiding violence, virtually stopped protesting in any shape or form! It was a misunderstanding because the government came to believe in the illusion that we were afraid for our lives and even our former friends imagined that the policy of avoiding violence was the same as compromising with power! But both these ideas were illusions.
Explaining why both friends and enemies were under such an impression requires extensive discussions at another time, but suffice it say sociopolitical upheavals revolve around the forces that they release from within themselves, not prescribed guidelines and advice.
Green Movement’s trenches of resistance fell
Before all these tests, the greatest political experience of our generation, the Green Movement, met defeat despite all our hopes and sacrifices and despite giving birth to a precious political identity that, if nothing else, was a few steps ahead of the previous generation that was contaminated by political Islam.
Not only were some of us killed, but many, many of us were sent to prison. We were not only suppressed but we were also forced to accept the last remnants of political Islam within ourselves when we trusted reformist leaders and Mir-Hossein Mousavi personally as allies of the movement. This was clear from our slogans. At that time our trust was not unjustified, but, more importantly, we had no other choice.
Nevertheless, as long as the movement survived in the streets, we of the Green Movement were the victors of this coalition. As long as the streets were ours, it was we who defined the movement and its demands, and Mousavi and the reformists followed us. But when the movement was suppressed and we were forced to take shelter in our homes, the trenches that we had left undefended were taken over by the reformists’ interpretation of the movement, gradually, but more and more with the passing of the years.
The moral defeat of Mir-Hossein Mousavi
Only a few months ago Mir-Hossein Mousavi put the last nail in the coffin of the political identity that “we”, the 20-somethings, had built a decade earlier with our blood and toil. Cut off from reality and using the Shah-Khomeini duality, he defended the organized and continuous crimes of Khomeini’s regime with an undeniable clarity and called the man who bloodied and set on fire a region or perhaps the world and condemned the women of this land to hijab slavery an “ever-awake soul”.
He did not even glance at young supporters of the Green Movement to see that he owed them his new political life over the past decade, young people who, at a critical political juncture, welcomed him as an ally of the Green Movement to achieve a peaceful transfer away from Khomeini’s regime, or at least for a fundamental change in the totalitarian elements that had been established firmly within the existing system based on the reactionary principle of the Guardianship of the Islamist Jurist.
Without the Green Movement and with only his previous political identity, Mousavi’s views would have been as important as the views expressed by Ahmad Tavakoli and Ali Akbar Velayati in the introduction to their painting book or the views expressed by government ministers in the first decade after the revolution. Unlike them, Mousavi was elevated by the young people’s movement in 2009, but he turned his back on them to renew his fealty to his “Imam”. Mousavi was the purest, the most resolute and the sincerest person who carried the reformist project to its logical conclusion. The political failure of this movement in achieving its goals aside, Mousavi has now signed a declaration of the moral defeat of the movement with his “ever-awake soul” remark.
Our understanding of reforms was different
The generation of the 1980s did not shrink from sacrificing our lives to change things, but in the end the movement’s defeats outweighed its victories because of the existing realities, the repression, the absence of planning to manage change, the inescapable coalition with the reformists and the general preference for finding the least dangerous way to bring about change.
The problem with the reformists was and is that they want to save and strengthen the regime at the same time that they want to bring about a series of low-risk changes, while, in my view, reforms meant fundamental changes by peaceful means to the point where none of the totalitarian foundations of the regime remain. This, of course, was going to bring about a final confrontation. Therefore we should have anticipated the need to mobilize forces and to organize so that when the existing structure fell apart or became inactive we could arrive at a totally new social covenant.
This was my understanding of reforms as a student activist who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison. At the same time I witnessed the dying of the movement in the streets. My friends and my comrades-in-arms emigrated one after another, and institutions, networks and organizations were shattered by the repressions and frustration and helplessness as a result of defeat, the enemy’s success and the suffocating environment that infiltrated every aspect of the lives even of those who were nominally not in prison.
No Islamic arrows in the quiver of today’s movement
Today’s hope-inspiring movement has no Islamic arrows in its quiver, and this is clear from its slogans. This generation of protesters has not resorted to any religious or pseudo-religious concepts to tell us what it does or does not want, and this is a great achievement. This was a completely spontaneous style and demeanor that emerged from the common wisdom of the protesters.
One reason for this achievement is that the current movement was completely spontaneous and did not seek coalition partners from within the existing political structure because they have absolutely nothing to do with each other — unlike the Green Movement that was a form of unwritten coalition with elements within the political structure of the Islamic Republic even though some of these elements might have been rejected by the regime.
The difference between these two movements is also clearly visible from their goals. The defining goal of the Green Movement was to make fundamental reforms when overthrowing the Islamic Republic seemed an exciting but remote prospect. The defining goal of the 2022 movement, however, is the overthrow of the regime, and its advantage has been its ability to express this goal without stammering and without any hesitation.
Reformists have no connection with this movement
When we say again and again that the reformists and fundamentally the paradigm of reformism are not in charge of the current movements, are not helping them and are not active in them, this is not because of the resentment and rage over their record of collaboration with the regime. This is only an explanation of the new paradigm that has emerged since 2017 and has its own specific exigencies. One is that the identity of reformism, its agents and its constructs cannot survive in the new paradigm because they belong to the previous defunct one, unless they accept the core goal of the new one, i.e. the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, in which case they are no longer reformists.
The 2022 movement showed that hijab is not a cultural category
The second important achievement of the 2022 movement, a global achievement, relates to the question of hijab. This movement is moving in the same direction as the global paradigm concerning women, but at the same time it has also emerged to challenge those within the movement who have been trying to normalize hijab. This movement against hijab has risen after years of a movement — I do not know what to call it — that has tried to normalize hijab or to present it as a cultural element.
This group has even succeeded in convincing a number of international organizations to recognize “World Hijab Day” as an international day to celebrate the invisibility of women’s bodies without giving a thought to the consequences of this invisibility for a woman’s everyday life, her intellectual life and even her fate. This is a perfect example of what we are talking about when we speak of the extreme difficulty of translating problems in non-Western countries for Westerners.
This movement, part of which believes that it is anti-colonialist, covers its ears — in a manner that happens to be colonialist — when a Middle Eastern woman of Muslim descent speaks against hijab, and, from outside, accuses those of us who are living in this situation of Islamophobia. In other words, I, a Middle Eastern woman, have no right to even cry over the inferior position that hijab has condemned me to because, according to the “progressive” rules issued in the West by its intellectual circles, this cry of pain under a historical injustice that hijab has imposed on me is the same as fear of Islam and nobody has the right to fear Islam.
And since Western intellectuals are facing the problem of the failure to integrate Muslims into their own society, since they cannot believe that a phenomenon like hijab can create a chain of oppression, of degrading women and of self-alienation without having anything to do with capitalism, and since they is used to seeing everything through the prism of capitalism and cannot understand anything beyond it, they believe that a Middle Eastern Muslim woman has no right to say “ouch” because they are afraid that their own mental contradictions and inconsistencies would be revealed!
The 2022 movement rose with the burning of headscarves and its second important achievement was to call on all those Western intellectuals to see the reality.
Its third achievement deserves notice even though it is still somehow fragile and relative. In this movement, convergence within the framework of the territorial integrity of Iran carries a lot of weight, meaning that the danger of separatism among various ethnic groups who live in this land has subsided to some degree. This, of course, does not mean that we are now suddenly hearing all the voices that we have not heard for many decades, but it cannot be denied that the feeling of solidarity and of sharing the same destiny has been strengthened under this movement, and we can hope that once we leave the Islamic Republic behind it is possible to arrive at a new covenant that guarantees both the integrity of this land and the rights of ethnic groups and minorities.
My generation was rebellious and self-sacrificing but blind in terms of political intuition
To conclude, I want to turn to a sentence by the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant — even though referring to him is beyond my limited scientific wherewithal.
Kant believes that intuitions (perceptions) without concepts are blind. As such, I can say that the political intuition of our generation was somehow blind. I count myself as belonging to a part of the student movement in the 2000s whose political experience was limited to the farthest possibilities offered by that period and that had no adequate grasp of concepts such as overthrowing the government or revolution.
Despite the fact that this generation passionately and conscientiously rose up against everything it had inherited, it still lived and thought within a paradigm whose main focus was change, and, occasionally, improving the situation. The emergence and the development of paradigms are so influenced by historical factors that perhaps we can say they have little connection with the will of activists who are born and grow up within them.
I can only testify that my generation was honest, defiant and self-sacrificing. My generation was born in a container where every ideological ingredient was prepared to turn us into soldiers ready to die for the Supreme Leader, but it rebelled against everything it had inherited, armed with the honor and awareness it had gained.
Today’s younger generation will decide Iran’s destiny
Our experience was deficient because the world in which we lived was deficient, but today, with the same enthusiasm and the same conscientiousness, we have pinned our hopes to the younger generation of the 1990s and 2000s, and we will not spare any help or support we can give them to fulfill our common wish for freedom, justice, the downfall of the tyranny and to save Iran.
Both our experience and that of today’s younger generation are tied to the streets. Today’s young Iranians have brought their political demands into the streets and have embodied these demands in the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” and the calls for the overthrow of the regime.
This committed generation has raised the flag of freedom, has defined its very own political identity, and it will decide Iran’s destiny.
What we hope is that opposition groups can come together around vital ideas like democracy, secularism, social justice, the mother tongue, territorial integrity and rights such as freedom of assembly to facilitate the passage from the existing corrupt situation to the next milestone.
Hoping for freedom!