December 26th marks 100 days since the beginning of protests in Iran, sparked by the murder of Mahsa Jina Amini, because of a loosely fitted hijab. December 26th also marks 100 days since I took a flight back home from Tehran to Stansted Airport.
Let me take you along on a taxi ride with me. The destination is Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport. The taxi driver is a man, maybe approaching his 40s. Mahsa Amini was murdered a few days ago and protests are ramping up in the capital. The driver is trying to avoid routes which will lead to a run-in with protestors. I’m not scared, but I am relieved to be going home before things get worse.
The relief quickly turns into guilt. The driver begins talking about his faith in Iranian women to put an end to this regime. He says that if anyone can do it, Iranian women can. He says he is optimistic about the future. My heart sinks when I realise that, inevitably, I am going to leave this taxi and retreat to the safety of the UK. Meanwhile he will have to turn right back around and continue living under a heinous, repressive regime.
I sat there quietly and listened. I said nothing, mainly because my mum tells me not to speak in taxis, otherwise they’ll realise that I’m foreign and charge about tenfold. But also, I wanted to hear everything he had to say, because he was filling me with hope.
Out of nowhere, he seemed in shock by something he’d seen. As it turned out, he hadn’t avoided the protests as successfully as he thought. In the distance, we could see a crowd of people, huddled over something. It was a dead body. He told us that someone had died; that they had killed someone else. My heart sinks, again.
And that was that. The end of our conversation. There was nothing left to say, really.
I came home, spent a few days packing too much stuff, then came to Oxford in time for freshers’ week. I thought the feeling of guilt would subside to be honest with you. I thought if I needed a distraction, well then, Oxford’s the place to go. I was wrong. I left a country where women were being handed the death sentence for a loosely fitted hijab and returned to a country that afforded me so many opportunities that I felt undeserving of. The guilt didn’t go away, it got even worse.
I’ve always been proud of my culture, of my bilingualism, of my dual nationality. But for a moment, I wished it all away. All I wanted, was to be rid of the burden that came along with all of that.
I tell you this story because I want to show you how events on the other side of the world can have a very real and personal impact on the people around you. If you are a non-Iranian, it can be difficult knowing when and how to bring up what is going on in Iran to your Iranian friends. Maybe they would rather not talk about it. Maybe you do not know where to start, what to say, or how you could possibly help.
It is easy to be pulled to extremes. One extreme is to say nothing, to not bring it up at all. The other extreme is to call up your Iranian friends every time you hear about something that has happened in Iran. Of course, the extreme that most people settle into is the former. The point I’m trying to make is that both extremes, to me at least, are as bad as each other. The former makes me feel isolated. It makes me think you are apathetic about what is happening. The latter is simply overwhelming.
So, I ask that you fall between those extremes. How often you discuss these issues with your Iranian friends will be shaped entirely by the way they react and how open they are to talking about it. You can adjust your approach accordingly. But please don’t be too afraid to say something. I promise it means more than you think it does.
A great deal of thought went into whether to write this anonymously or not. I’m not sure if these words hold more weight when you can see a name behind the article. I recently contributed to a piece by Sonya Ribner in Cherwell, and I asked to stay anonymous. That was because I feared having my name be associated with a piece critical of a regime that has proven, time and time again, to be vengeful. A regime willing to execute.
I came very close to publishing this with my name on the by-line. I was going to ask that you repost it, and with that, I was asking you to help seal my death sentence when I return to Iran one day. That was the choice I was going to give you.
But I realised that I couldn’t put that choice in your hands. The reason for that is simple. I couldn’t rob my future children of the opportunity to visit Iran, that’s not a decision I’m willing to make for them.
Maybe that’s just a cover up. Maybe I am not brave enough to die for this. To die for a Cherwell article. But the fact I came so close, must surely tell you something.
Show me that I was right not to take that risk.
Show me that my words can have the same impact on you, even if you do not know who I am.
The choice I am giving you is much easier than condemning a stranger to execution. All I am asking you to do is show me that you care, so that I do not have to write another article, so that I do not have to put my name on it.
Image credit: W. S. Luk