It certainly looks to be that way—though many liberals and self-proclaimed feminists remain oblivious.
In an era increasingly awash with political instability, the latest protests in Iran are yet another manifestation of the plague of Western imperialism. The sudden death of Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini and the unclear circumstances surrounding her death have precipitated a remarkable global response condemning the Iranian government as well as purporting to champion the rights of Iranian women in defiance of Islamic fundamentalism.
Contrary to the narrative dominating Western headlines that a democratic and grassroots revolution is under way in Iran following Amini’s death, the author maintains that Amini’s death is being exploited by Western-backed forces to hasten a color revolution and create the conditions for greater destabilization and regime change in the region.
The Iran protests did not achieve worldwide attention because of some spontaneous and organic mobilization of women across the country, nor are they representative of some monolithic goal seeking to liberate all Iranian women from the alleged (and supposedly equally felt) brutal dictates of their Islamic Republic government.
One need not dig too far back into United States history to see a repeated pattern of allegations of human rights abuses being levied against adversarial governments as the raison d’être for Western intervention.
One of the most infamous in recent memory post-9/11 was George W. Bush’s disingenuous embrace of the cause of women’s rights to further justify his administration’s decision to invade Afghanistan in the disastrous War on Terror. In the first Gulf War, the false testimony of “Nurse Nayirah” al-Sabah to the Congressional Human Rights caucus—during which she accused Iraqi troops of invading a Kuwait City hospital and removing 312 babies from incubators to perish on the cold floor—was instrumental in tipping the scale for the U.S. Senate and the American public to overwhelmingly support military force in Iraq in its quest to “save Kuwait.”
And who can forget the disturbing accusation by Western leaders of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad supposedly “gassing his own people” via a chemical attack on civilians in Douma in 2017. That the U.S. government had covertly backed rebel groups (including al-Nusra and ISIS) in the region against the Syrian government is as troubling as it is inconvenient.
Nevertheless, the chemical attack narrative struck an emotional chord with concerned Westerners who across the board (save for a few anti-imperialist voices) insisted that “Assad must go” to save the Syrian people!
A sobering analysis of U.S Empire and its legacy of defectors, color revolutions, and flat-out lies to justify militarism and war efforts begs the question: Are the Iran protests a legitimate call to action for women’s rights, or are they largely smoke and mirrors—a familiar yet questionable narrative of human rights violations once again being deployed to advance U.S. regime-change efforts in Iran?
Let’s first consider what prompted the latest (fleeting?) global moral outrage against Iran and supposed pursuit for the rights of women in the country. The unexpected death of a civilian woman, Mahsa Amini, on September 16, 2022, sparked sharp disdain for the Iranian government and their state apparatuses, most notably of their “morality police.”
The circumstances of her death have not yet been conclusively determined; all the while rage continues to fester within parts of Iran and in the international community. When alleged eyewitnesses and other “trusted voices” (like Iranian expatriate Masih Alinejad—a CIA asset who has worked alongside Mike Pompeo, Madeleine Albright, and other warmongers) claimed that Amini was beaten by Iranian police for incorrectly wearing her hijab, the Iranian government was quick to release CCTV footage that—contrary to what was being echoed at the time—showed Amini unexpectedly collapsing on her own inside Tehran’s police station.
Refuting the claim of the Iranian government that she had a previous medical condition propelling a heart attack and subsequent coma, Amini’s family maintains that their daughter was beaten to death.
Of course, the death of this young woman is undeniably upsetting, and if evidence comes forward suggesting the morality police are to blame, then the reasonable demand is to put those officers on trial for policy brutality and demand accountability of the country’s state officials.
But one ought to cast a critical lens on how this singular event amidst a sea of human rights catastrophes so shamefully rampant in our current global milieu has caused a global uprising while the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, Yemenis at the hands of Saudi Arabia, and Armenians under Azerbaijan forces have gone largely ignored in the eyes of supposed justice-oriented Westerners.
It is also peculiar how U.S.-imposed sanctions against Iran for decades (principally and deleteriously felt by Iranian civilians including women and children) have managed to slip under the radar of demands by the masses for justice and democracy for Iranian women, conveniently eschewing any moral outrage for the myriad ways the imperial core has directly caused the suffering and deaths of Iranian civilians.
It also seems odd how quickly narrative management and new demands have been achieved as this story swept across the mainstream Western press and Meta’s social media. While Amini’s death initially sparked liberal demands to remove the mandatory hijab laws, it appears to have seamlessly shifted into manufacturing consent for regime change of the Iranian government.
It is all too convenient how the demands advanced by concerned Westerners and a specific faction of Iranian protesters for “justice and democracy” seem to fall perfectly in line with the imperialist ambitions of Iran’s principal adversaries, namely the United States and Israel. It makes you wonder if people’s moral outrage over Mahsa Amini’s death and disdain for Iran’s Islamic Republic comes from a genuine and lasting concern for Iranians, or because the latest war propaganda told them to.
Casting suspicion on the demands of these protests and expressing concern for its possible future outcomes are reasonable given the myriad angles on why these protests do not really make a lot of sense upon closer inspection.
First, protests of this size and sustained duration do not commonly erupt suddenly and organically. The success of these ongoing protests to capture the undivided attention of international audiences with such gusto involves very skilled organization with a history of strategic planning, resources, and sustained leadership—without which the protest(s) would inevitably lose steam.
While boots-on-the-ground military operations and coup d’états were once the primary strategy by which imperialist nations destabilized their enemies, embracing more covert strategies including astroturfing organic social movements or outright creating the conditions for political unrest within a country has become more normative and arguably more successful.
Under the deceptive exterior of functioning as a neutral non-profit organization, the primary function of CIA cut-outs like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is to foist regime-change operations in countries adversarial to U.S. interests by arming and training rebel groups, defectors, agent provocateurs, and/or separatists to infiltrate protests and social movements in order to swiftly advance the imperialist ambitions of the United States.
While Westerners were seemingly out-of-nowhere captured by the call to support democracy for citizens in Hong Kong 2019/20 under the alleged brutal dictates of the Chinese government, critical investigative journalism has since revealed these uprisings were but the latest covert escalation in the United States’s cold war with China.
Anyone who does not think Iran’s political adversaries are somehow involved tacitly or directly with these mass protests is certainly naïve to the sly tactics of these color revolutions. It is also no accident that certain so-called movements for “social justice,” “democracy,” or “women’s rights” are embraced and promoted by the U.S. Empire, while truly revolutionary movements such as the Sandinistas, the Bolivarian Revolution, and the Palestinian Resistance Movement do not get anywhere near the same global attention and are actively repressed in the Western press.
The fact that these protests in Iran have received wall-to-wall coverage should raise a few eyebrows.
The moral condemnation people express over the practices embedded in certain Islamic republics but not others is also quite curious. Why, for instance, do Westerners (in the last two weeks especially) deem the Iranian Islamic Republic so morally aghast for women’s rights, but the same disdain (as demonstrated in global uprisings for example) is not reserved for the Saudi government and its strict adherence to extremist Wahhabism?
While it can certainly be argued that Iran ought to modernize some of its laws pertaining to the rights of women, Saudi Arabian authorities have enacted far harsher repressive tactics upon the women in their own country, all the while directly engaging in the ethnic cleansing of the citizens of Yemen. I have yet to see a call to action from Western liberals to demand justice for Saudi (and Yemeni) women living under the dictates of this repressive regime.
Finally, make no mistake, we are living in a time of grossly hostile geopolitics led predominantly by the United States and its junior partners, and causing numerous political quagmires worldwide—so many that we can’t keep up. Masses of people are swallowing war propaganda like it is kool-aid, and sadly it is only become more sophisticated and covert through the advancement of private and corporate-run social media companies.
It is no coincidence that, within this milieu of disastrous geopolitical conflicts, the imperial core continuously sows disdain for Iran (of varying degrees depending on the current political climate) in its quest to manufacture consent for eventual war with them. Just two years ago, we were caught in the throes of a possible war with Iran after the Trump administration ordered the assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani on January 3, 2020.
The U.S. Empire does not care about Mahsa Amini, but they do care about exploiting her death to achieve their own political ends. These ends of course are to successfully reinstall a Western puppet to lead Iran (like the West did in 1953, overthrowing Mohammad Mosaddegh and installing the Shah in its place until the 1979 Islamic Revolution) and have it become a subservient neo-colony of the United States.
As one of the members of the Axis of Resistance against Western-led imperialism, however, Iran continues to be a thorn in the side of the United States and makes their intended goals very difficult to achieve.
The Iran Nuclear Deal is at a standstill since Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA in 2018. More recently, Iran supported Russia’s military operation in Ukraine with the assistance of combat drones and also joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) supplying oil to China in exchange for China’s investments in Iran’s infrastructure.
Iran also has a history of supporting other U.S. adversaries and fellow members of the Axis of Resistance, including Hezbollah; the Houthi movement; Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation and Zionism; and the Assad government in Syria. A nuanced understanding of this context certainly illuminates why global outrage against Iran was never only about the death of a single civilian but, instead, was a global reaction to a cleverly orchestrated destabilization effort by the imperial West.
The question then lingers: What is an appropriate response by concerned citizens globally (but especially those residing in the imperial core) as a show of true solidarity with the women of Iran during these contentious times?
As a concerned observer in Canada, I have been sorely disappointed by several factions of the so-called socialist Left which have failed to support one obvious measure that would alleviate women’s suffering and death in Iran: the lifting of crippling economic sanctions by Western nations.
Decades of sanctions in Iran have prevented the regular flow of food, medicine and other essential supplies into the country, the negative effects of which are predominantly felt by the most vulnerable people in society.
Somehow though, at the height of the trending concern for Mahsa Amini, the United States deemed it necessary to temporarily adjust just one type of sanction—the country’s access to the internet—allegedly in order for civilians to evade surveillance and censorship by the Iranian government in the wake of the Amini protests.
The United States swiftly activated Elon Musk’s Starlink internet services to assist in this effort.
Any claim by the United States to suddenly embrace the noble pursuit of Iranians’ fight against censorship is laughably hypocritical as the U.S. Empire engages in the slow assassination of Julian Assange and the complete annihilation of press freedoms.
Further, if the U.S. can lift internet sanctions with the snap of the finger (to “help Iranian women”), what is stopping them from lifting sanctions on food, medicine, and life-saving medical devices? This is precisely because sanctions are a covert act of war designed to destabilize the living conditions of citizens in hopes that they will eventually seek to overturn their own government.
While the Western left has been quite eager to organize symbolic rallies of supposed solidarity for #MahsaAmini, and to publicly condemn the “repressive and reactionary” Iranian government, most of these groups subtly maintain that their calls for justice do not advocate for Western intervention in Iran or regime change. From an outsider looking in though, it is difficult to distinguish how the messaging relayed in these left-leaning protests differ meaningfully from those echoing State Department talking points.
Vulnerable groups of people, oftentimes women in Middle-Eastern countries, are routinely used as pawns to advance the imperial ambitions of the West. The blowback of foreign governments inserting themselves into the internal politics of other sovereign countries, mostly for nefarious reasons, cannot be ignored.
If Western observers of these protests truly want to help, the most meaningful thing they can do is to challenge the dictates of their own imperialist governments and demand an end to the brutalizing sanctions that have directly caused immeasurable suffering and death of Iranians. It is, indeed, the most meaningful show of solidarity one can do in pursuit of Iranian prosperity.
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About the Author
Elizabeth Sigrún is a writer, editor, and community organizer/activist.
Elizabeth holds a Master’s degree in Critical Sociology from Brock University.
She has participated in a variety of campaigns for social change over the last 15 years, and is committed to the pursuit of justice through an anti-imperialist and socialist lens.