The Iranian Revolution, Political Islam, and Global Capitalism

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Popular anger is overcoming the coercive power of the regime. And considering the courage of the new generation, completely detached from Islamic ideology, it can be expected that the Islamic Republic will not survive for long.


We are living a social revolution in Iran but saying that this revolution and movement is feminist strikes fear into hearts. Despite all fears and doubts one thing is obvious – this is an uprising of women from all over Iran. Protests after the murder of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini that quickly spread over the country show that the struggles of women against the mandatory hijab in recent years are continuing the Girls of Enghelab Street and other similar forms of civil disobedience such as the national uprisings of 2017 and 2019. Although the economic, social, and political crises have accelerated this movement, the uprising is strongly linked to the voice of women.

Who can ignore the stormy wave of anger over Mahsa’s murder (and of many other women) and resist the urge to whisper the main key of this movement: ‘Woman! Life! Freedom!’? This slogan was originally coined by the Kurd feminists in Turkey in 1987. Later the ‘Saturday Mothers’ , who gathered every Saturday in Istanbul to demand information about the forced disappearance of their loved ones, chanted this slogan that can now be heard not only in the streets of Iran but all over the world. Her death was not an ordinary death for Iranians. It was a state murder which, outside the spotlight of media coverage, occurs every day in Iran. Her death was the death of all of us. When middle aged and young women gathered outside the hospital where she died, they shouted: ‘Mahsa could be my daughter, could be any one of us’, ‘We are all Mahsa! This is why Mahsa is more than simply a woman but the symbol of resistance to systematic oppression by the Islamic Republic, the symbol of all the repressed: students, workers, teachers, marginalised poor, ethnic minorities, etc. Each of these groups are violently subjugated under the Islamic Republic and so this is not simply a struggle about the mandatory hijab, but a struggle against all the oppressions that Iranian women live every day, at home, at work, in the schools, on the streets, and in our personal and private spaces. Political Islamism is everywhere.

Political Islam appeared in Iran after the defeat of the popular revolution of 1979. It was a bourgeois and reactionary political movement that long ago spilled beyond the borders of Iran to spread throughout the globe and especially in the Middle East and North Africa as a right-wing manoeuvre to subdue the impoverished popular classes and peoples, mainly Kurds, and topple anti-capitalist leftist movements throughout the region. The worldview supported by Islamist regimes is one more manifestation of the cultural hegemony of heteropatriarchal capitalism that spread continuously during the twentieth century against women’s organisations that in different countries of the Middle East, including Afghanistan, combated patriarchy since the beginning of the century before being massacred by the Taliban. 

Capitalism and patriarchy 

It is important to historicise phenomena because capitalism and especially patriarchy tend to naturalise what is and seemingly cannot be. That is why the women’s marches of 8 March 1979, protesting against the regime’s misogynist measures, are continually forgotten, as well as Persian, Kurdish, Afghan, Arab, Turkish, Amazigh women, along with women of many other societies of the Middle East and North Africa who are incessantly fighting for emancipation against the naturalisation of what it means to be a ‘woman’ and especially a ‘woman from a Muslim country’ as they are referred to, in comparison to French, Basque, Catalan, or English women who are not habitually referred to as ‘women from Christian countries’ or ‘Christians’. 

Political Islam is a regime and ideology that encompasses different right-wing movements that violate human rights and deny women their status as human beings. That is why it is important that European, socialist, anti-racist, decolonial, and post-colonial feminisms understand the specificity of this context so as not to reproduce essentialisms of any kind: this should be the germ of radical feminist praxis, the principle that ‘one is not born a woman, one becomes one’. For us, there is no such thing as the ‘woman’ just as there is no such thing as ‘the black’ or ‘the Muslim woman’, and to believe it is an exercise in fetishism. There are women only in the plural, and they do not exist as biological data, but as a social class, just as black people and Muslims do not exist as biological data, but as social classes or groups. Women and men are not born, but made, and are made within material systems of patriarchal, capitalist, and colonial domination, and not assuming this implies biologising us to naturalise us with the aim of continuing to perceive ourselves as eternally and essentially Muslims, essentially Muslim women who are content to live in countries where the state it is Islamic because it is supposed to represent our religious ideas. Fighting against the fetishisation of religion, culture, and any social phenomenon or identity attribute that blurs, makes invisible, and naturalises the political structures of violence against women in any country is an ethical-political duty. There is no escaping that responsibility if we define ourselves as socialist feminists. Political identities always belong to political structures; what is needed is not multicultural identity politics but new political, economic, and social structures, which have to be imagined, organised, and built by all. To think, speak, and fight for emancipation and freedom, it is not necessary to have a specific identity, but rather a situated knowledge. Thus, our insistence that the global feminist movement pay more attention to Kurdish women who are fighting for the freedom of their people, that they read and listen to Iranian, Afghan, Turkish, Amazigh, Egyptian, and Tunisian women, who are not few, to understand and make visible the global nature of Political Islam and its ways of creating hegemony in various sectors of societies around the world through monetary currencies, weapons, and faith, just as the imperialist regimes do. 

Our radical feminist praxis is linked to the anti-capitalist struggle and Marxist analysis, which constantly insists that Political Islam is a device of governments and of the control by the elites and right-wing sectors of these regions, a device that was savagely deployed after the Cold War to promote integrate into the structures of global capitalism. 

On the grave of Mahsa in Saqqez the mourning women took off their hijab and waved their scarves in the sky, as if the scarves have found their true function as part of Kurdish dance, rather than a shackle on their body, colonising their whole identity and personality. This extraordinary message reached all over Iran, with men and women marching in the streets with angry fists and the wind in their hair: ‘we won’t live under oppression’” Universities and schools, silent for a long time, are now full of women who have taken off their hijab and are striking in their faculties. And even in the smallest and poorest cities in Iran we hear people yelling, but it is the first time in Iran we hear people shouting ‘sister’ instead of ‘brother’. 

We are all Mahsa 

Although one can see both hope and fear among people, the magnificent uprising is expressing unity and national solidarity amongst Kurds, Turks, Farses, Gilakis, Lors, Baluchs, etc. People are saying to each other: ‘Don’t fear! Don’t Fear! We are all together!’ while the Islamic Republic is turning these demonstrations into war zones. Many people have been killed and arrested, including feminist activists, journalists, and students. From the early days of the uprising, the Islamic Republic limited access to the internet, so it is difficult to get news from Iran. We all know that blocking communications and the media is one of the favourite tactics of capitalist democracies, whether Evangelical, Anglican, or Catholic; it is not the monopoly of Islamic Republics, as we are witnessing in the Ukranian necroliberal war. Thus, many of you may not know that many cities in Kurdistan are on complete strike and that the regime’s forces created a bloodbath in Zahedan (in southeast Iran), killing dozens of Baluch people who were protesting in the streets, while the Islamic revolutionary Guard Corps bombs Iraqi Kurdistan.

While many places around the world are witnessing demonstrations in support and solidarity with Iran’s uprising, the alt-right misogynist and pro-fascist movements are spreading throughout the world, with monarchists shouting ‘Man, Homeland, Prosperity’ as a response to the Iranian movement ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ in the same vein as the #BlackLivesMatter movement is countered by #AllLivesMatter and the feminist movement’s discourses and struggles by #NotAllMen discourses. Meanwhile, abortion and gay marriage are banned, groups attack trans people on the internet and white supremacists beat up poor people on the streets. It is part of the reactionary wave that patriarchal and supremacist societies reinforce when poverty, dispossession, and exclusion become everyday life. We could, in a not-entirely-metaphorical way, say that these political movements and parties are, all over the world. to reestablish the dominance of a male-centred nationalism à la Pahlavi. If the Islamic Republic forced women to wear the hijab, the Pahlavi regime forced women to take off their hijab in order to show a modern and acceptable face to western countries. It is evident that both perceive women as sexual objects with no right to choose and no right to control their bodies.

Iran is at a moment of no return. People’s anger is becoming greater than the coercive power of the regime. And considering the bravery of the new generation, completely free as they are from the Islamic ideology, it is likely that Islamic Republic will not last long.

Mahsa (Zhina) Amini is not just an individual; her name has been interwoven with the names of all the other women who have been arrested, tortured, and killed by the Islamic Republic. As we read on her tombstone, her name will be immortal. Her name is our symbol. Her name is our signal to overthrow the foundations of patriarchal and capitalist regimes all over the world. 

Originally published on the website of Jacobin América Latina.