The death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman arrested in Tehran for improperly wearing a hijab, who subsequently died in police custody on September 16, 2022, triggered an unprecedented wave of protests against the Islamic Republic and its Islamist ideology, Saeid Golkar wites for hudson.org.
Chanting "women, life, and freedom," women across Iran are, as I write this, taking off their hijabs and burning their scarves, even in small and traditionally conservative towns. While the outcome of these protests is not clear, one thing is apparent: Forty-three years after the rise of Islamism in Iran, the Iranian people are defeating the ideology of the Khomeinist regime.
Islamism as a political discourse dominated the Muslim world in the 1970s. The creation of Israel and the subsequent defeats of the Arab armies throughout the 1950s and 1960s humiliated Muslims, who blamed their elites and the ideologies that dominated the Islamic world in the 20th century—such as socialism, nationalism, and especially secularism—for the loss of Muslims’ dignity. As a result, they embraced Islamism as the solution to all their problems. Rejecting the idea of Islam as merely a personal religion, they transformed Islam into an ideology, claiming that the faith offers a plan for all aspects of human life, both public and private. Islamism as a political discourse has re-centered Islam as the primary point in Muslim-majority societies and as an alternative to modernity, which is tarred as a Western imperialist phenomenon.
Throughout the 20th century, different Islamist groups were formed throughout the Islamic world. Despite differences between various Islamist groups, they have several common characteristics, including belief in creating an Islamic state, emphasis on the enforcement of shari’ah law, antisemitism, the aspiration for religious purity, and hostility to fun.
While Islamists have a long history in Sunni countries, with the Muslim Brotherhood existing since 1928, Iranian Shi’a Islamists (Khomeinists) were the first group anywhere in the world to form an Islamic government after overthrowing the Pahlavi monarchy in alliance with other political groups in 1979. As this essay will show, while the Khomeinists initially enjoyed broad popular support, their regime soon proved ideologically bankrupt and has struggled to gain legitimacy in recent years. The 2022-23 protest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini represents the ultimate ideological death of Khomeinism.
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