Most students on campus can’t imagine going one year without seeing their cousins, grandparents, and other relatives, let alone their whole lives. For many Iranian-Americans, we can count on our fingers the number of times we’ve been able to see our family that lives in Iran; for others, the number is zero.
Many of us are the first Americans in our families; the first to be born, raised, and educated in the United States. Others may be second-generation Americans, but all of us retain a strong bond to the home of our parents and grandparents through language and culture. Nothing evokes a sense of comfort like warm chai with cardamom, and nothing evokes admiration for our artists like seeing filmmakers such as Asghar Farhadi present at the Cannes Film Festival. But most importantly, nothing describes the bravery of the Iranian people like the recent protests which have taken place across the country, and across the world.
By now most of you have heard about Mahsa Amini, a 22 year old Kurdish-Iranian woman who was arrested and beaten at the hands of the ‘morality police’ for failing to wear her hijab correctly. She fell into a coma as a result, and died in police custody three days after her arrest on September 13th. Over 1,200 protestors in Iran have been arrested to date, along with at least 72 reported deaths. We are now entering the second week of protests now, with no signs of slowing down.
Mahsa’s story is not an anomaly, but it is a spark. It has sparked protests across the world, from Australia to Austria, Sweden to Syria, and New York to North Carolina. Men and women, old and young, and rich and poor have taken to the streets in protests for women’s rights and against all forms of oppression by the regime.
As diaspora Iranians, we recognize our privilege. Here, how you wear your hair is a stylistic decision, not a political one. For our families within the Islamic Republic, strands of visible hair have been ground enough for police harassment and brutality. Given privileges like freedom of assembly and easy access to the internet, we feel compelled to leverage our networks and liberties to advocate for the fundamental rights of the people of Iran.
We call upon Duke students to continue sharing the news of protests and amplifying the voices of Iranian protestors on social media. We ask you to be critical of the news you consume, knowing that some will try to parlay this movement into advancing their own personal or political agenda; please be wary of these efforts. We hope you will recognize that economic sanctions hurt women, first and foremost, and serve the interests of nations in the Global North. If you are able, consider installing a snowflake proxy to help the people of Iran access the internet.
We call upon the Duke administration to expand Iranian studies and support the students from and departments centered on studies of the Middle East. Through cracks in the ground, we have sprouted seeds of community and advocacy. We have served as ambassadors of our culture, proactively conducting outreach and education on campus while fighting for our right to exist and be visible. We have much to show for these efforts; over 250 community members joined us last Spring for our celebration of Nowruz, our long-fought efforts for space on campus were rewarded with offices in the Bryan Center this fall, and we have collaborated with Persian student organizations at other campuses to plan events for the community. Most of all of this we did without support, or in spite of the hurdles posed by administration. We are a small population on campus, both in students and faculty, and we ask for administration's help in providing platforms for our advocacy. We invite you to join us at these events, to hear Iranian music, eat Iranian food, and meet with Iranian students.
We call upon the Persian community to fight this injustice, and stand alongside other oppressed groups in fighting all injustices which endanger fundamental rights. We must be allied in the face of injustice and corruption everywhere and ask others to do the same; this includes the state violence against the Kurdish ethnic minority. When we say “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi,” we want azadi (freedom) for all.
Iranian women are not victims, they will emerge victors over a repressive regime. This is a revolution, a chance to be a part of the right side of history. To achieve this victory, we need everyone on board; consider this your personal invitation to join our ship.
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