• Janice Selbie

Why the Death of Mahsa Amini Matters in the West

Updated: Nov 21


The recent killing of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini for failure to properly cover her hair has created uproar in Iran, with supportive protests being held around the world. Iran is a nation that knew relative freedom up until the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979.


Until the revolution, Iran was ruled by King Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, also known as the Shah. While his dictatorship was repressive and did restrict political freedom, he encouraged the country to adopt secular modernization of a more Western style. This allowed some cultural freedom, and prior to the 1979 revolution, we see photos of women in miniskirts with their hair entirely free.


The Shah’s attempt to modernize Iran included banning veils in public and encouraging women to receive secular education. Unfortunately, banning religious veils angered traditionalists and religious conservatives, ultimately contributing to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. At that time, the government was replaced with an Islamic republic, which continues today as, essentially, an Islamic theocracy. While Iran has a president and parliament, it is now supervised by a “Supreme Leader;” currently, this Supreme Leader is 83-year-old Ali Khamenei.


Why is any of this important to us in the West? Because religious zealotry knows know bounds or borders. Just as there are Islamic zealots, there are Christian zealots, Buddhist zealots, and Jewish Zealots. Literally every religion and religious sect or denomination is at risk of being hijacked by extremists because all religions were developed and continue being run by humans – and all require a degree of magical thinking.


While Christians staunchly condemn Islamic theocracy, those who believe the Bible – i.e., fundamentalists - would have no issue with a Christian theocracy. Indeed, this is the direction in which we see the United States moving, particularly with the current Supreme Court being stacked with religious (Catholic, especially) extremists. One of the first unabashed attempts by SCOTUS to enforce Christian ideals on the entire country was to deny American women the right to their own reproductive sovereignty. Not that the Bible condemns abortion (it doesn’t), but it is largely religious zealots who don’t want women to have the right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term.


I am heartened to see so much opposition in Iran to the so-called Morality Police, the feared and hated group that makes life miserable for Iranian women by demanding that they cover their hair and dress “appropriately” for extreme Muslim standards. The oppression is palpable, knowing that they can beat and arrest women on sight.


Religions are used to control humans; especially, women, children, and marginalized people. Religious leaders (men) make the rules for everyone else (especially, women) to follow. In particular, Abrahamic religions make girls and women the sexual gatekeepers, responsible for the thoughts and actions of boys and men. Males might have dangerous or bad thoughts; but it is females, themselves, who actually ARE dangerous and bad.


This line of thinking is archaic, dangerous, and utterly unacceptable in 2022. Humans around the world ought be marching in solidarity with the women of Iran, demanding an end to (religious) sexual policing. If the only way to perpetuate religious beliefs is through abject fear, those beliefs aren’t worth preserving.


Women everywhere deserve to wear what they want, do what they want (especially with their own bodies), and go wherever they want to go – unfettered and unmolested. Each woman and girl owns her own uterus, and she should be free to do what she wants with it including removing it, renting it out for surrogacy, or aborting its contents without the permission of anyone else. Likewise, she is free to wear her hair long or short, uncovered or completely hidden; it is HER choice.


Women in the West need to pay close attention to what is happening in Iran, because it could just as easily happen in North America. When it comes to religious zealots and their bullying behavior, we must not give one iota of room. Their toxic, misogynist beliefs do not deserve protecting; instead, they must be called out publicly at every turn.


If you are feeling triggered by current events and want help navigating your way through religious trauma syndrome, please reach out to me for 1:1 religious recovery consulting. In October, I am again offering the online Divorcing Religion Workshop in a supportive small group format. Go to www.divorcing-religion.com for more information.





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