Writer & photographer Pooyan Kimiyaee
Resistance had a new sound across Birmingham, as the song ‘For Iran’ was heard in a demonstration on Saturday 8 October – as residents marched through town protesting Mahsa (Zhina) Amini’s devastating death. It follows a string of protests in Birmingham, and globally, against the treatment of women (and men) within the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Birmingham Review spoke to Damoon Marzban, one of the organisers of the 8 October demonstration here in Birmingham.
He said: “Since 2002 we officially created a group named the Iranian Political Association. It was made for Iranians to be able to share their political views of any kind, and so anyone who wants to act politically for Iran has the space to do so.”
When asked what forms of actions the organisation had taken, Marzban spoke of an anti-war demonstration organised as a walk from Birmingham to London.
He recalled: “There’s plenty of political associations in London and we’ve been there with them. When there were whispers that the United States wanted to attack Iran, we walked from the trade union meeting here in Birmingham all the way to London.
“Our demands were for them not to attack Iran but to help the fight for democracy in our country.”
Iran’s population of immigrants or refugees outside their homeland have been described by Princeton researchers as transient, to the point it “…may contribute to the shaping of a migratory diplomacy that would, directly or indirectly, influence bilateral relations between Iran and countries where Iranians have settled.”
Meaning, the community inside Iran has not been alone in their efforts to make their voices heard. As seen in Birmingham’s Bullring market, and over 150 other cities around the world, thousands of Iranians have progressed the conversation, as their brothers and sisters persist throughout Internet blackouts in Iran.
Whilst Iranians can share a multitude of political views with the Iranian Political Association, the 8 October demonstration focused specifically on the 22 year old Mahsa Amini’s death. Part of the Kurdish minority, she was arrested due to the fact her hijab was put on loosely and as such, according to Iran’s morality police, was ‘improperly’ worn.
After Amini was arrested, she was transported to a ‘Re-education Centre’. Then, according to the Iranian authorities, Masha Amini was taken to hospital after sudden heart failure and subsequently died. However, witnesses report seeing her beaten in the van as she was taken away – an accusation the Iranian police deny.
A source from Kasra Hospital told Iran international that Mahsa Amini arrived at the clinic unresponsive and brain dead. In addition, the same source said Amini’s brain tissue was crushed following “multiple blows” to the head. As a result, the Iranian people accused the regime of having murdered her.
Subsequent protests broke out in Iran and across the world demanding the world to shine a light on Iran and question its treatment of Iranian people, specifically women. Iranians are calling this current protest – the Woman, Life, Freedom movement – a revolution. Even Iranian schoolgirls are reportedly removing their hijabs, cutting their hair, and hanging signs in their school demanding changes to the way women are treated in the Republic.
Historically in Iran, protests can come with a heavy loss of life. As seen in Zahedan, a city in the Sistan and Baluchestan province, authorities allegedly shot live ammunition into protestors on 30 September 2022.
The reports on the dead differ, but according to Human Rights Watch the global humanitarian watchdog ‘compiled the names of 47 individuals whom human rights groups or media outlets documented as having been killed, mostly by bullets.
‘These included at least nine children – two of them girls – and six women. Meanwhile the Iranian state television reported 60 civilians, as well as 10 security force dead. Reports have appeared on social media that portray that number even higher, upwards of 90 people dead and hundreds injured.’
Furthermore, since protests following Masha Amini’s death began the Norway-based Iran Human Rights organisation reports the civilian death toll had increased to at least 201, including 23 minors.
Internally, the Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly been accused of having a history of police violence typical to an authoritarian state. But where Iran and other countries in the Middle East, such as Syria or Egypt, differ from other protest movements in the likes of Hong-Kong or the United States, is that within these regimes the abuse of Islam allows the authoritarian state to limit, if not forbid, music as haram using Salafi and Deobandi denomination interpretations.
Which, amongst other factors, impacts the people’s ability to organise and protest.
Iran’s ‘morality police’ play a major role in making sure mediums of expression, such as film and music, are up to ‘moral’ standards according to Sharia, as well as laws outlined by the Islamic Republic itself.
Intimate acts, such as kissing, are forbidden strictly in Iranian cinema and are edited out of foreign films. Within music as well, lyrics related to intimate concepts are construed as erotic and as such banned. Even drawing a portrait of a woman without a headscarf is technically heresy.
The Islamic Republic goes a step further and bans lyrics or films that contain political ideas contrary to the regime’s preferred narrative. People who disobey this specific part of the limitations – in any poem, film, book, or article – can be charged with ‘advertisement against the regime’ and typically imprisoned.
The current Woman, Life, Freedom uprising, specifically, has taken the cumulative strife of several generations of Iranians, their loss of life and liberty over the past four decades, and united the entirety of a nation’s spite in one song/poem – which, even though it contradicts Iranian moral standards, can be heard at every protest.
And in this rebellion, penned by Shervin Hajipour, the people of Iran are discussing a distillation of the horror carried onwards.
It is simply titled ‘For Iran’ and is the encapsulation of thousands of tweets with the same hashtag, as well as the origin for the name of the Woman, Life, Freedom revolution.
The presence of music, or rather more specifically protest music, has a history in Iran preceding the 1979 revolution itself. And the fact this music has now been found in Birmingham and across the world is by virtue of that same transient mass of Iranians wandering the desert for the past 40 odd years.
Today, people within the country have fought against the regime’s forces night after night, with advents of new techniques in protesting. In the meantime, protestors outside of Iran have made themselves clear in support of their homeland, with one collective demand in and outside the country – the end of the Islamic Republic.
A movement that first began with professor Homa Darabi’s self-immolation in Tajrish Square on 21 February 1994, was spurred on by Shervin’s song – even though he was imprisoned, released on bail, and later added to the list of the disappeared.
‘For Iran’ is now written on high school chalkboards, heard in New York, Washington D.C, Los Angeles, Berlin, Stockholm, London, and now Birmingham – sung in hundreds and thousands of voices across the globe, all collectively saying:
For dancing in the streets
For the fear of kissing
For my sister, your sister, our sisters
For trying to change rotten brains
For shame of not having money
For yearning of just a normal life
For the garbage boy and his dreams
For this enforced economy
For this polluted air
For Valiasr and it’s worn-out trees
For Piruz and his possible extinction
For dogs, innocent but banned
For tears with no end
For this moment will never happen again
For smiling faces
For students, for future
For this enforced paradise
For the national elite imprisoned
For Afghan children
For all these “for”s with no repeat
For all these empty chants
For houses, collapsing like they’re made of cards
For the feeling of peace
For the sun after long nights
For pills, nerves, and insomnia
For men, homeland, development
For girls who wish to be boys
For women, life, freedom
For more information about the Women, Life, Free movement go to: www.women.ncr-iran.org