Dr. Naraghi on the Iranian Protests: What Students Should Know

Photo courtesy of Unsplash/Tianlei Wu

Photo courtesy of Unsplash/Tianlei Wu

A series of protests have been occurring across Iran since September 16, sparking international demonstrations of protestors cutting their hair in support of Iranian women. These protests have recently sparked a global outcry for change in Iran, yet many Moravian students are unaware of the ongoing human rights crisis there. 

Dr. Arash Naraghi is an associate professor of philosophy at Moravian University who teaches various courses about ethics, logic, Islamic culture, and religion. However, many students do not know that Naraghi graduated from the University of Tehran in Iran with a Ph.D. in pharmacology before studying philosophy at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He has published numerous translations and works analyzing the Islamic religion and culture. 

On September 13, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, was arrested by the Iranian Morality Police, a force created in the 1990s to regulate female dress and behavior, for wearing her hijab improperly. Three days later, Amini died in a Tehran hospital, with her family stating she was beaten and repeatedly hit over the head while hidden in a government van. The unprovoked death of this young woman sparked a series of mass protests throughout the country, demanding that the government be held accountable for its crimes against minorities.

Naraghi remarked that when the Morality Police were first introduced, they were just as abusive and oppressive as they are now. He stated that in the 1990s, the Morality Police pulled over his sister after they looked into her car from inside a large SUV while he was in the passenger seat and her baby was in the back. Despite wearing her hijab, his sister was questioned and criticized for two hours for not wearing socks while she was driving. Unfortunately, patrolling such as this was among the reasons that Naraghi’s family left Iran, with him later following suit. 

Following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Naraghi stated that all Iranian universities had been shut down to rewrite the curriculum to further Islamic values and strengthen control of the population. He commented that the younger generation of Iran had grown to resist the “Islamification of knowledge,” which had forced higher education, especially in the humanities, to support Islamic values and ideology.

“Some sort of resistance rose among the young university generation; they changed the environment now,” said Naraghi. “It is much more open to students; they resist this kind of segregation between genders,” 

Despite these changes, he believes the strengthening regime negatively affected the humanities and impeded scientific research. 

“So, the new generation made significant improvements, but ultimately I think it did affect the spirit of scientific research in that community,” he said. 

On September 30 of this year, a large group of protesters gathered to oppose the rape of a young girl by a police chief in Zahedan. Iranian security forces began firing in response, killing at least 180 people during their Friday Prayer. 

This incident was dubbed “Bloody Friday,” with the troops using weapons meant to kill, shooting primarily in the head and torso. Multiple instances of severe violence such as this have occurred in the past months, with at least 500 protestors expected to have died as a result. 

The Iranian government has shown it is unafraid of the world seeing its crackdown on protests, as the Morality Police, more formally known as the Guidance Patrol, is strengthening its tyrannical arrest to now capture famous actors and athletes. Two famous actresses were recently arrested for removing their headscarves in solidarity with Mahsa Amini. Outkick reported that Voria Ghafouri, a former national soccer player, was arrested and charged with “destroying the reputation of the country’s national team” for speaking out against the government. Many believe that the state-run media announces these prominent arrests in order to control and deter the population from further protests. 

“So when people say women, life, and liberty, that’s the political slogan; they want life, not death,” said Naraghi. “They are seeking freedom of speech, freedom of ideas, and, more importantly, freedom to choose the lifestyle of their own choice, so I’m hoping that the U.S. and other countries all over the world feel this responsibility that this is their job to offer support to these people.”

“Women started this wave of protest, but everyone else joined. Women and men are shoulder-to-shoulder. All of Iran is united,” says Ramyar Hassani, spokesman for the Hengaw Organisation for Human Rights.

Similar to other religions with fundamentalist beliefs, such as fundamentalist Christians or Jusiasts, Islam fundamentalists often resort to violence to further control the population.  

“Fundamentalism is a reaction to modernity, and when it goes beyond theology and becomes politicized, fundamentalists intend to shape the society according to their own ideology,” said Naraghi, “And when the society resists, they resort to violence to impose their ideology and their choice of lifestyle.”

The oppressive behavior of the government has encouraged countless Iranian women and protestors worldwide to cut their hair. Some women say it is a way to mourn family and friends who died in the demonstrations, while others say it protests against the restrictions that forbidding Iranian women from showing their hair. 

CNN reported on countless Iranian women who shaved their heads, including 36-year-old Faezeh Afshan, who was filmed shaving off her hair while living in Italy. 

“We want to show them that we don’t care about their standards, their definition of beauty, or what they think that we should look like. It is to show that we are angry,” she said. 

Naraghi remarked how the U.S. had not done much to help Iranians in the current or previous movements for political change. 

“I think there’s much the Biden administration can do, and they haven’t done much yet. And I hope they move in that direction,” said Naraghi. 

International human rights groups are currently criticizing the Guidance Patrol and the Iranian government for their violations against minority rights, but there has been little reaction in making global policy. 

“President Obama, unfortunately, didn’t do much to help the cause [the Green Movement]. And recently, Obama said, this is one of the regrets of my presidency. . . . And I hope President Biden does not feel the same regret in years to come,” said Naraghi.

Naraghi noted that people could contact their representatives to bring awareness to the situation and ask for Iranian assistance or to provide moral support. The U.N. has recently announced it will investigate the regime’s crimes against women and minorities, with many human rights groups publicly supporting Iranian women. 

Those interested in donating can look into United for Iran or The Iranian American Women Foundation, which offers support and financial aid to Iranian women.