By Ishtiaq Ahmed

“Islamic countries like Iran may try to defy the time and the tide of upsurge in women wanting level pegging in all spheres of their lives but it is not in their prerogative to stop gender empowerment and equality from moving forward.

For the past two weeks, Iran is seeing some of the biggest protests since 1979 following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year young woman of Irani Kurdish heritage. She died whilst in the custody of Iran’s morality police.

Ms Amini was arrested by Iran’s morality police in Tehran on 13th September. She collapsed after being taken to a detention centre, and later died in hospital.

She had been arrested for, allegedly, breaching rules requiring women to cover their hair with a ‘hijab’.

Police said her death was caused by ‘sudden’ heart failure, but Ms Amini’s family have dismissed this and alleged that she was beaten by officers.

According to the official security sources, the protests thus far have accounted for 41 lives of the protestors and the security personnel. Other sources indicate a higher death rate along with hundreds of arrests.

Ms Amini’s death has sparked off nationwide anti-government protests, which have now engulfed more than 80 cities and towns. The current protests are being described as the largest set of protests since the country’s Islamic revolution in 1979.

Protests involve women burning their ‘hijabs’ and cutting their hair during the demonstrations, regraded as an ancient Persian symbol of protest. Similar protests are also being held in other parts of the world in unity with the protesters in Iran including Europe and America.

In UK, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian national, in a video handed over to the BBC Persian, is seen cutting her hair off in unity with Ms Amini and the protesters. In the video, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is heard saying: “For my mother, for my daughter, for the fear of solitary confinement, for the women of my country, for freedom.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe herself was arrested in Iran in 2016 on spying charges which she denied. After a sustained campaign, and negotiation between the British and Iranian governments, she was released in March and returned to the UK.

Meanwhile, the US has eased internet curbs aimed at countering the Iranian clampdown on reporting of the protests. The US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is quoted as saying: “We are going to help make sure the Iranian people are not kept isolated and in the dark.” The US treasury said the move would help counter the Iranian government’s attempt to “surveil and censor” its people.

President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran is reported to have said: “We will not allow people’s security to be put at risk under any circumstances”.

Iran’s “enemies” wanted to exploit the unrest. The government would listen to criticism regarding the death of Ms Amini but would not be influenced by “rioting “

There is no doubt that what is happening in Iran is most unfortunate.

The death of 22-year-old Ms Amini has triggered a tide of civil unrest in a country that seems to be struggling to strike a happy medium between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’.

Current protests are partly about the death of Ms Amini but are also rooted in growing desire of nation’s women to break out of shackles of archaic tradition and patriarchal system that they believe prevent them from achieving a rightful place in society on their terms.

There are, however, other underlying deep rooted socio-economic disparities which the national leadership has not been able to resolve, of course, not helped by the international sanctions against the country engineered by the US.

Part of the resolution lays with the country’s leadership realising that It is almost impossible for any society to shutout the social and cultural influences from elsewhere.

The world, facilitated by enormous strides in communication technology, has truly become a global village.

The emancipation of women is moving forward at a very quick pace in many corners of the globe. The reverberations of this are difficult to shutout. This is motivating women in less open societies to aspire and emulate similar advances. The sea of change in gender equality is rightly becoming infectious.

Bogged wires are no longer sufficient to stop the cross-germination of ideas, values and ideologies.

Islamic countries like Iran may try to defy the time and the tide of upsurge in women wanting level pegging in all spheres of their lives but it is not in their prerogative to stop gender empowerment and equality from moving forward. Hence, the balance between the ‘tradition’ and’ modernity’ has to be proactively and progressively mitigated.

The western response to the unfolding situation in Iran is one of total condemnation of the authorities there. There is a background to this. Ever since the Islamic revolution in 1979, the West has not been at ease with Iran. It’s subsequent efforts to develop its nuclear capacity has not endeared it to the US allies, hence, the pretext for economic sanctions. Israel’s uncompromising attempts to project Iran as a rogue state seems to have resonated with the western allies because it suits their cause. Therefore, in many regards Iran is presented as a ‘villain’ that needs to be contained and constrained.

Ms Amini is of Irani and Kurdish heritage. The Kurdish community inside Iran and over the border is rightly incensed by her death.

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard has employed a wave of drone attacks and artillery strikes targeting Kurdish community over the border into Iraq in an attempt to stop protestors coming over into Iran to further fuel the unrest. The international community has ceased on this opportunity to further condemn Iran.

Personally, I think that the Iranian authorities were wrong to attack the Kurdish positions on the Iraqi side of the border. These drone attacks tantamount to violation of international law. Killing of civilians is never acceptable in any situation.

However, I find the response of US , European and UN response disproportionate and hypocritical given the excesses of Israel in Palestine, and India in Kashmir, which are regarded as cherished allies.