The United States has a lot of problems right now. So, what’s happening in Iran may not be on many Americans’ radar—but the Iranians’ struggle for freedom is worth our attention.
Two months ago, a protest movement took off in the country after a young woman was murdered by the “morality police”—yes, that’s actually a thing in Iran—for not wearing her hijab (head covering) correctly. Mahsa Amini’s family says she was brutalized and her head was beaten in. The government tried to use propaganda to get itself out of the situation with the Iranian Forensic Organisation claiming the girl died of an underlying disease, but the people were having none of it.
While women led the initial protest movement, they were quickly joined by men and people of all ages, but especially the country’s youth. The average protestor is reportedly just 15 years old. But the response to this movement, as could be expected, has been brutal and inhumane.
According to the United Nations, 14,000 people have been arrested. And, over the weekend, state media announced a death sentence against someone who set fire to a government building. Human rights groups active in the conflict say at least 50 minors have been killed. Others are being beaten once in custody, schools have been raided, and kids have been shot in the streets by authorities.
Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Middle East and North Africa, said, “What makes these protests different is children are much more visibly present, displaying a bold determination to defy the establishment and ask for a better future for themselves.” She continued, “they are using all the tools of repression at their disposal to crack down on them.”
According to The New York Times, “Lawyers and rights activists estimate that 500 to 1,000 minors are in detention with no clarity on how many are held in adult prisons.”
Many may forget, but the youth have often been the catalyst for political change throughout history. Our own Founding Fathers included many men under the age of 30. In the Civil Rights Movement, it was the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that coordinated lunch counter sit-ins and galvanized support for change. The list could go on.
It is as inspiring to watch the youth of Iran fight for liberty as it is sobering. The lives lost and sacrificed in their vitally important cause are being laid down to secure the freedoms they were denied. It is a tragic reality that this is often the requirement to overthrow oppression: young lives laid down in a just cause.
While we are obviously rooting for their ultimate success, it is important we never forget the same sacrifices that those before us made. And it is imperative that we all continue to work to uphold individual liberty and fight back against authoritarianism at every turn. Freedom is easily lost, and as the Iran protests show, once it goes, it often requires tragic sacrifices to restore.