Iranian Schoolgirls Tear Off Hijabs, Raise Middle Finger to Ayatollah


Protests in Iran grew larger and louder this week, despite regime efforts to dismiss the movement as a Western propaganda effort, or crush it with police and militia violence.

Acts of defiance that were unthinkable a month ago have been reported across the country, while international support for the demonstrators grows stronger.

The BBC on Tuesday verified reports of schoolyard demonstrations in which young girls tore off their mandatory headscarves, extended their middle fingers to photos of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his predecessor Ruhollah Khomenei, and even chased a male education official out of a school in Karaj by pelting him with water bottles.

According to the BBC, teenage girls began joining the protests en masse within hours of Khamenei claiming the entire movement was orchestrated by the United States and Israel. Teenagers were also enraged by memorials for Nika Shahkarami, a 16-year-old Tehran resident who was kidnapped and killed by security forces in September.

Shahkarami’s body was found in a detention center morgue ten days after her disappearance, but her corpse was then stolen by security forces and buried in secret, without the consent of her family. The regime has arrested several members of her family for complaining about the way she was treated, but her mother defiantly posted an online remembrance on Monday, which would have been Nika’s 17th birthday:

Until now, most of the protesters have been students and young working people in their 20s, like the young Kurdish woman whose death at the hands of the “morality police” launched the movement, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

Student demonstrators at Mashhad University on Tuesday chanted, “This is not a protest anymore – it’s the beginning of a revolution!” Other chants included “Evin has become a university,” a sarcastic reference to the notorious Evin prison and the huge number of students incarcerated there, and the semi-official battle cry of the protest movement, “Women, Life, Liberty!” 

High school and university students boycotted their classes to demand freedom for university activists arrested during the regime crackdown, producing an embarrassing viral video of a regime-loyalist professor in Tehran “teaching” to a completely empty classroom:

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Tuesday dared to see some hope in the Mashhad University declaration of a “revolution,” as the protests have swelled to include embittered members of Iran’s shrinking middle class, young workers who see little hope in a dying economy mismanaged by Islamist theocrats, and persecuted minorities.

“The triangle of women, technology and poverty is the fuel behind the demonstrations. Young people feel their lives are being literally wasted by the heavy restraints they are facing,” Tehran businessman Mostafa Pakzad told the WSJ.

Some student demonstrators have been overheard literally repeating Pakzad’s analysis as a protest chant: “Poverty, corruption, tyranny. Death to this dictatorship.”

Crucially, the WSJ cited recent polls from international organizations that found the majority of Iranians blame the mismanagement and corruption of their own government for their collapsing economy, not U.S. sanctions. This could be partially a consequence of the arrogant regime’s tendency to loudly declare the sanctions are weak and irrelevant, in between bouts of blaming the sanctions for all of their problems.

Mahsa Amini’s killing enraged the Kurdish community she hailed from, and the regime is viciously suppressing an uprising from another oppressed minority, the Baloch of southeastern Iran. Human rights activists accused the regime of perpetrating an outright massacre in Sistan-Baluchistan on Tuesday, with at least 40 protesters gunned down by security forces.

Iranian women have been cutting off locks of their hair to show solidarity with Mahsa Amini and others abused by the “morality police.” Amini was assaulted because the morality police said a few locks of her hair were unacceptably exposed by her lightly-tied headscarf.

The gesture went international on Wednesday as some of France’s most popular actresses cut their own hair to show support.

“For freedom,” actress Juliette Binoche said as she cut her hair in a video that also included stars Marion Cotillard and Isabelle Adjani. The video was scored with a protest song in the Farsi language.

Abir al-Sahlani, an Iraqi-born Swedish member of the European Parliament, cut off a lock of her hair during a speech to the EU assembly on Tuesday evening.

“Until Iran is free, our fury will be bigger than the oppressors. Until the women of Iran are free we are going to stand with you,” she said.

“Hacktivists” pitched in by launching cyberattacks against Tehran, in retaliation for the regime cutting off Internet access and blocking social media platforms to quell the protests. 

“Thousands of amateur hackers have organized online to orchestrate cyberattacks on Iranian officials and institutions, as well as share tips on how to get around curbs on internet access by using privacy-enhancing tools,” CNBC reported Wednesday.

One of the biggest international hacking groups, Anonymous, claimed it was able to penetrate the Iranian Parliament’s system and extract personal information on legislators, which it threatened to begin releasing. Other groups claim they have exposed personal information on Iranian government officials, celebrities, and even members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the theocracy-controlled extremist wing of the Iranian military.

Cybersecurity experts told CNBC they have seen evidence of Iranian government websites going down under Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Some of those sites were still down as of Wednesday morning.

The regime responded by flooding the streets with more controlled counter-protests, security troops, and paramilitary thugs. Norway-based Iran Human Rights said on Tuesday that at least 154 protesters have been killed, nine of them children. The exact count is difficult to obtain because the families of victims are routinely threatened into silence.

“There are lots of security forces around Tehran University. I am even scared to leave the campus. Lots of police vans are waiting outside to arrest students,” a student in Tehran told Reuters on Wednesday.

The regime continued its pretense that the protests have been orchestrated by Western governments, summoning the British ambassador for the second time on Tuesday to complain about “interventionist comments” made by the U.K. foreign ministry.

The UK Guardian on Wednesday suggested the Biden administration’s response to the protests has been muted so far because it expects Tehran to crush the movement eventually, as was done to sizable uprisings in 1999, 2005, 2006, 2019, and especially the Green Movement of 2009, which was largely ignored by Biden’s Democrat predecessor Barack Obama.

As with Mahsa Amini, the Green Movement rallied around a young woman heartlessly murdered by the regime, a 26-year-old musician named Neda Agha-Soltan who was gunned down on the street in front of smartphone cameras. The Green Movement lasted about six months but was eventually put down and, despite Obama’s diffidence, protesters were forced to out themselves as American agents during their show trials.

The same tactics might work against the Mahsa Amini movement, but there are a few reasons for hope, including the involvement of so many strata of Iranian society, the courageous defiance of women who are essentially daring the regime to murder them all, and the relative weakness of the Iranian government after years of sanctions.

“Few would have expected these demonstrations to have lasted as long as three weeks, even if their scale, hard to judge from the west, waxes and wanes. And it appears as if the Iranian leadership is caught off balance and nervous about the way its legitimacy is being challenged by this new phenomenon of a leaderless unarmed revolution, which is even drawing in schoolchildren,” the Guardian noted.


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