Iranian Protest: A Cry Against Religion or Regime?


Protests have broken out across Iran since 22-year-old girl Mahsa Amini died in custody after being arrested for violating Iran’s conservative dress code on September 16th.

Authorities claim the death was caused by a heart attack, yet the lack of transparency in Iran’s political climate has sparked international controversy. 

The debate between religious practice and the violation of human rights quickly escalated into a nationwide protest, being the biggest political uprising since the Green Revolution. 

The Western World’s philosophy is often governed by the belief in natural rights: freedom of speech, religion, and assembly. States and the public represent a beacon of liberty and democracy. However, looking through the lens of Western expectations, many fail to take into account Iran’s theocratic (government based on religious governance) socio-political structure and its conservative approach to individual rights.

“As someone who grew up in the States, I have enjoyed many rights and freedoms that I know many around the world do not have,” said Sophia Zhu, junior. “I’m not very well informed [about Iran’s government]; however, I don’t believe that this suppression of rights is justified in any way. All humans are entitled to certain inalienable rights.”

This prompts the question: Can religion and rights co-exist, and if so, is the former abusing the latter, or is the government regime abusing both? 

“Yes definitely, I think they can co-exist. But one shouldn’t suppress another, yet the autocratic government has used religion to suppress both,” said Haaniyaah Zia, Senior. “[Protestors] aren’t mad about wearing a headscarf; it’s about bodily autonomy.”

More than 222 protestors have died in one month, including 16-year-old schoolgirl Nika Shikarami, yet the demonstrators show no sign of backing down. The measures these young women take bear an important signal to the rest of the world: women’s rights are no longer the only cry.

“Iran turned [Nika] into a martyr; she never asked to give her life to this movement,” said Hanniyah. “But more importantly, all this [deaths and hijab burning] is symbolic. It shows ridding oneself of government control instead of religious control. Ridding the oppression they have faced since 1979.”

As the movement continues to radicalize and the Iranian government pursues its nationwide ban on all international media platforms, Western media coverage serves as the last liaison between the cries of female protestors and the rest of the world. 

“I’ve read of many girls being arrested, detained, tortured, or killed for protesting. This shouldn’t be happening, but unfortunately, this is the world they live in.” said Sophia. “Seeing this through the media informs and breaks me in an unspeakable way.”