For 44 years, Iranians have been living in captivity. Since the death of Mahsa Jina Amini, Iranians are no longer willing to tolerate life under the Islamic Republic and have spearheaded the largest women’s rights movement of our century.
With the focus on the people in Iran, few have discussed the challenges faced by the Iranian diaspora in this fight for the liberty of the Iranian people. For months, major news outlets were not covering the protests in Iran (with few exceptions), all while we, the Iranian diaspora, fought the spread of significant misinformation. In the U.S., “fake news” may not harbor life-threatening consequences. Still, for those of us who understand life under the Islamic Republic, every error means risking innocent lives and potentially the fate of an entire revolution.
The last time Iranians led mass demonstrations was in 2019. The regime implemented a near-complete internet blackout in what is known as Bloody November, accompanied by the massacre of 1,500 protestors within a week. We, the Iranian diaspora, only learned of the killings once the protests died out and internet services became more accessible. We drew the following conclusion from this experience – that amplifying the Iranian voices can limit the mass murder of protestors and fuel the possibility of a revolution. Knowing this, it became the responsibility of the Iranian diaspora to become activists, journalists, content creators, and news broadcasters overnight with the protests of 2022. We initiated what the Islamic Republic has referred to as a “social media war.” The people in Iran have been at the frontlines of this revolution, but so have we.
Supporting the Iranian people has proven to be extremely challenging. Cultural differences and global propaganda campaigns spearheaded by the regime affiliates within the U.S. are partially responsible for this. In October 2022, for example, the New York Times described an economic crisis as the cause for the uprisings in Iran in an article titled “Iran Protests Fueled by Sickly Economy.” This drastically undermined our countless efforts to educate the public about the major human rights violations occurring at the hands of the regime – the actual cause of the uprisings. On December 5th, the New York Times released its very first “breaking news” on the situation in Iran: “Iran Has Abolished Morality Police After Months of Protests,” all while the morality police was in full effect. They later discovered their error and edited the title to include “officials suggest.” Nevertheless, in the minds of many, this article promoted the idea of reform when the Iranians had made their message abundantly clear: they will continue protesting until this brutal, theocratic regime is replaced with a secular, democratic government.
After months of endless efforts, Iran finally gained the attention of major influencers such as Viola Davis. However, within 48 hours of their posts, NBC called the ordered execution of thousands of protestors a “hoax.” Meta quickly removed many Instagram posts about the executions and restricted accounts that had shared this information, and other news outlets followed suit. As a result, we lost a monumental opportunity to amplify the voices of the protestors. Only after four young men were executed did the person responsible for the false report make a widely unnoticed apology on social media. At the same time, other journalists merely moved on without a second thought. Journalists must realize that they cannot use the Western judiciary system to guide their interpretations of the Islamic Republic’s actions. When the regime’s lawmakers refer to protestors as “mohareb” (“enemies of God”), they are stating that the thousands of imprisoned protestors are at risk of death without due process. These differences cannot be overlooked.
More than 1,000 schoolgirls have recently been hospitalized due to chemical attacks on schools and university dormitories throughout the country. Footage reveals students fainting and running to courtyards, gasping for air. The regime is using chemical warfare as a scare tactic to quell protests, similar to how it uses sexual battery as a tool to silence the youth.
According to messages we have received from those directly involved in the attacks, regime officials are trapping students in classrooms during the attacks; students are refused the right to call their parents and to access their laboratory work and medical records; parents are being physically assaulted for voicing their opposition; and medical personnel are threatened against leaking information about the student’s medical evaluations.
Despite substantial evidence supporting this chemical warfare, Psychology Today and BBC referred to the attacks as “mass psychogenic illness.” BBC quoted psychiatrist and epidemiologist Professor Simon Wessely, who explained that “these were not a chain of poisonings but [are] instead a case of mass sociogenic illness … with fewer boys and adults falling ill [being] central to his conclusion.” Professor Wessely and Psychology Today fail to consider the Islamic Republic’s specific targeting of women throughout its history. In addition, schoolgirls and female university students have been the driving force behind the current protests and are, therefore, the largest threat to the Islamic Republic. As such, one would not anticipate similar attacks on schoolboys or adults, undermining the crux of Professor Wessely’s theory. Schoolboys and adults are not the ones who are being forced to watch pornography and videos of bestiality in school in attempt to silence the protests. (Yes, this is happening.) Furthermore, the Islamic Republic’s Deputy Minister made a public statement about the serial poisonings being intentional, and 11-year-old Fatemeh Rezaei has been reportedly killed in these chemical attacks. Thus, to call these crimes against humanity “hysteria” is an insult to every Iranian and, again, undermines our endless efforts to educate the public on the brutality of this regime.
Further, gaining the public’s allyship has proven to be extremely difficult. As Jessica Chastain puts it, “I think [it’s] because it’s a women-led revolution, and I think because Ukraine is mostly white people.”
To add to these challenges, our politicians have mostly displayed their interests in continuing negotiations with this brutal regime; and as of March 6th, 229 U.S. politicians co-sponsored a resolution, “H.Res.100,” in support of a theocratic cult as an alternative to the Islamic Republic. In contrast, only 61 politicians have co-sponsored the MAHSA Act (H.R.589) – legislation that would hold Iran’s leaders accountable for the ongoing human rights violations – despite the Iranian diaspora’s endless efforts to gain support for this bill.
We, Iranians and the Iranian diaspora have felt mostly isolated in our fight to liberate the people of Iran from the brutal, theocratic, terrorist dictatorship that is the Islamic Republic.
Montreh Tavakkoli is a hematology-oncology fellow.