Faith and Protest in Iran: The Uprising as a Political Exodus

Faith and Protest in Iran: The Uprising as a Political Exodus

The uprisings in Iran are not as surprising as many believe. A system that needs the moral police has long been unacceptable.

Iranian militia members at a gathering.

In action against the opposition: Basij militiamen in an official photo of the mullahs’ state Photo: Iranian Supreme Leaders Office/imago

From a local perspective, the events in Iran are taking place far away: geographically, politically and culturally. This makes the mass protests, which have flared up again and again for two months despite cruel countermeasures, as unexpected as they are incredible.

How is it that a society rebels in such a way, on and on, even when the state authorities brutally oppose it? Where do people get the courage to rebel against the state restrictions on their lives? Where do women in particular get the courage to break out of the headscarf prison – even if they risk their lives in the process?

Many individuals. Which then condense into a mass – into which random shots are fired. And who still keeps going. meet again Gathered again. A mass that catches the individuals – even if it cannot protect them.

The messages that reach us, the videos, the messages from activists, the conversations with those affected show both: an understandable fear as well as an incomprehensible courage. The unbelievable conditions on site can only be guessed at.

abstract knowledge

It was known that the Islamic Republic has existed since the Iranian revolution in 1979. The so-called mullah regime. But for the European audience, that was abstract knowledge. What that meant for the local people, especially for the women, remained an indefinite distance. The women who are now shedding their veils suddenly become visible: physically and metaphorically.

With their new visibility, they are also lifting the fog around this regime and making some of the reality of this rule apparent. One concept in particular, one institution, is clearly recognizable on the shaky videos: the so-called moral police.

What kind of institution is this that already bears its contradiction in its name? Custom is the behavior that becomes self-evident through tradition. Customs are what bind the individual to society. In a theocracy where political and religious rule coincide, mores are determined by religion.

Why does faith, why do morals need a police force? How weak does faith have to be, how little does morals have to take hold when a police force is needed to enforce them? But what this then enforces are no longer accepted customs, but external regulations. People no longer feel obligated, they are forced.

Sanction every deviation

The basis of the mullahs’ regime must have crumbled long ago when it had to install such an Islamic religious police in 2005 in order to enforce compliance with Islamic laws in lifestyle. Any loosening of morals must therefore be averted, as it poses a direct threat to the regime. So that a separate police force, which meticulously measures every deviation, takes care of the correct fit of the headscarves. In all brutality.

But when moral rigor and faith decrease in a theocracy, then this means that society and power are drifting apart. How much distance, how much dissatisfaction, unhappiness, anger must have built up for the violent death of the young Kurd Jina Amini to trigger such an uprising.

This uprising is a political exodus of the people from this state – which is thus increasingly reduced to a tyrannical ruling clique. Their cruel reactions to this departure, to this refusal to follow, show one thing: a religious regime based on faith undermines its own foundation if it survives only through brute force.

Because if such a regime needs brutal moral police to survive, then, according to Slavoj Žižek, it betrays “the authentic religious experience” with which it legitimizes itself. This is exactly what the courageous women – and men – make visible.

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