Only pictures of my mother Leila’s Iran really exist. When I was a little lad in the 1980s, I first saw them hidden in drawers in our London home’s sitting room.
They excited me because they were glimpses of a glamorous and exciting past. My mum was seated among friends wearing Chanel gowns and Savile Row suits, laughing at a high society affair in a black cocktail dress.
She was standing there with other debutantes, some of whom had quiveringly stylish beehive hairdo, or she may have been having a picnic with a male acquaintance while “unaccompanied” and single. Above all, I could make out her long hair freely falling down her shoulders in practically every picture.
My mother resided in Shemiran, a lush neighborhood of Tehran that was then and still is the residence of Iran’s ruling elite, together with her sister Tamara and their parents.
This was the height of the Shah’s (or King’s) imperial authority in Iran. Iran was a Muslim nation, yet despite this, its aristocracy congregated in Shemiran, a neighborhood close to the Shah’s palace, to dance, drink, and do business. They lived and behaved like Oriental Parisians.
It was a life filled with dozens of chauffeurs, nannies, and other staff members, cocktail parties, ski excursions, and never-ending shopping sprees.
But since Iran served as many people’s version of Eden, it is not surprising that a snake also prowled there.
Naim, my grandpa, was aware of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s purpose as a cleric or “mullah.” He sought to put a stop to the “Western decadence” of the Shah and impose a strict form of Islam on his nation.
Khomeini lectured against these elites while in exile for years, living in Paris and Iraq. His lectures were distributed illegally all across Iran after being smuggled in on cassette cassettes.
In addition to real resentment about the Shah’s growing dictatorial and unequal society, they fueled extremism.
In 1979, revolutionaries marched to the streets to remove the Shah, encouraged by their exiled leader Khomeini. The police and soldiers were demobilized.
They exacted retribution on everyone they believed to have been against them. They often lined up their adversaries against walls and shot them with impunity.
Strict religious regulations were introduced, notably for Iranian women, who were required to wear the hijab to cover their hair. Make no mistake: the “Islamic Republic” that succeeded the Shah was founded on tyranny, bloodshed, and violence.
My grandpa made the decision to relocate our family from Iran to Britain. He made the proper decision. Shemiran was among the first locations Khomeini’s supporters visited.
Like any rebels, they want a taste of luxury. The security forces of the new dictatorship had taken over our house, which had extensive grounds and several rooms.
According to family lore, my grandmother, Marcelle, had the humiliation of having to bargain with these bandits shortly before she departed so she could take as many items from our family’s property to their new life hundreds of miles away in Hampstead.
A few years later, my mother ran upon my father, Takis, who had left his home Greece after it underwent its own military coup and was studying in Britain.
I grew up to write political books and cover wars. Perhaps it was always going to be my fate given the history of my family.
Death is once again a threat on Tehran’s streets today.
In an effort to quell the outpouring of resentment and hatred, the regime’s henchmen have killed at least 76 demonstrators around the nation.
The demonstrations have lasted for more than two weeks and have been spearheaded by young people, many of whom are women.
They started when Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, was detained by members of Iran’s infamous “Morality Police,” state authorities in charge of enforcing the nation’s ludicrous religious laws, on September 16 in Tehran.
In reality, guys spend their time dictating how women behave and present themselves. What was Mahsa’s crime? excessive hair exposure when wearing a hijab.
She was hauled to prison as a result. Iran as my mother knew it during its peak in the 1960s seems terribly far away today.
Three days after being brought into prison, where she was allegedly being “re-educated,” Mahsa was declared dead.
Nobody buys the police account that she had heart failure before collapsing and dying.
As the cops loaded her into their vehicle, witnesses claim that she was beaten. She allegedly had such a severe knock to the head that by the time she arrived at the hospital, she was probably already dead medically.
The day following Mahsa’s burial, protests started, and they haven’t stopped since. Tens of thousands of protesters, many of them women, have flooded the streets of more than 100 Iranian towns and cities in protest at both her passing and the forty years of persecution.
They are aware of their goals. It is chanted in the public spaces. They scream, “Justice, liberty, and no to the hijab mandate!” They shout, “Death to the tyrant!” They destroy pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who replaced Khomeini as Iran’s Supreme Leader in 1989.
This vicious administration has retaliated by using all available means of severe brutality.
The despised brownshirts beat, tortured, and killed people. There have been thousands of arrests, and more courageous young people will perish.
Every mobile phone subscriber in Iran received a text message from the Ministry of Intelligence telling them that anybody who takes to the streets would face the worst Sharia Law punishments. But the protests continue.
This is the beginning of the Islamic Republic’s demise, so take it from me. It may not arrive right away. The security forces are still loyal for the time being because of the regime’s treatment of them. The heads of Iran’s security forces are aware that if the mullahs fall, they will too.
However, the dictatorship no longer has legitimacy and will never regain it. These rallies are only the most recent in a string that has allegedly rocked Iran since 2019 and claimed the lives of over 1,500 protestors.
In reality, Covid-19 compelled people into their houses by granting the government a stay of execution. But the rage and disobedience are still there.
It is challenging to communicate with regular Iranians. They are being pursued by the government. In many areas of Iran, the internet has been turned off. Anyone found talking to the media, particularly Western media, will probably face imprisonment and possibly death.
But I have links in Iran, and I am acquainted with several of the rebels. They may organize and mobilize using “VPNs,” a device that masks an internet user’s location, to get around restricted social media sites.
They could soon get assistance from halfway across the globe. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and now the wealthiest man in the world, has declared his intention to make his Starlink satellites available to Iranians for internet access.
This has proven to be a game changer for the Ukrainians opposing Vladimir Putin, as I have personally seen.
Iranian women are at the center of these demonstrations. They are the ones that valiantly undid their repressive hijabs, the ultimate symbol of the despised government.
They are the ones who are openly chopping off strands of their own hair as a form of protest against the government.
Shirin, 25, who has recently been putting her life in danger to protest, and I chatted on Thursday. She told me, “I’ve had to think about how I dress, how I move, and how much makeup I wear for as long as I can remember for fear of upsetting an elderly guy in [clerical] robes.”
“I am tired of not being able to dress as I want or go where I want.” The never-ending economic problem is getting to me. I’m looking for work and a future.
Her family is in fear. In order to prevent her from turning into another Mahsa, her father begs her not to walk the streets. She won’t, however. I’ve had it, she declares. I no longer have anything to lose.
The age of Arash, a student at Tehran University, is 21. He describes his own contempt with a passion that burns. He claims, “This system belongs in the Middle Ages.”
It does not uphold women’s rights, the principles of free expression, or even the most fundamental human rights.
It is the language of death that they speak. They disobey every international law. Every day, Arash witnesses his friends being beat up and detained.
I am aware of persons who have had severe back injuries, broken arms, and sight loss. I’ve seen brutal killings of individuals.
I’ve seen hand-to-hand combat and baton strikes to the heads of protestors. We are paying the price on the streets in the form of blood.
But he also highlights the regime’s astounding corruption and ineptitude, in addition to its cruelty. Despite the income from its abundant oil and gas resources, about one in three Iranians—more than 25 million—lived in poverty in 2017.
Undoubtedly, the Iranian nuclear program and Iran’s human rights record have contributed to Western sanctions on Iran. However, billions of dollars worth of oil have vanished into the hands of dishonest authorities.
The country’s per capita income climbed by less than 1% from the 1979 revolution and 2022. Inflation reached 52.2% in August.
You can only repress a populace for so long. These demonstrations are unique in that they are against the system itself, not election fraud or corruption.
Young protestors in Iran, which follows a different calendar than the West, are referred to be members of the “1380s” generation.
The demonstrations are being led by young people in their teens and early 20s who loathe the revolutionary elite that gained power decades before they were born.
It is essential to note that this generation has grown up with social media. Iranians have always had a Westernized outlook, as my mother could attest to, but the internet has been crucial in influencing how the 1380s see the world.
They hold it in the palm of their hands, so they may see what is being concealed from them.
Arash declares, “We demand a new revolution.” We want democracy. We can only accomplish freedom and justice in this manner.
The world is echoing with his cries. Thousands have congregated in London to voice their outrage and disgust at the regime’s actions. Last month, thousands gathered in front of the Iranian embassy in Kensington, London, forcing police to intervene.
When the mullahs need them the most, the cyber collective Anonymous is taking down governmental websites, especially those spreading misinformation for the regime, to support the demonstrators.
I pulled out those old pictures of my mother from her early years in Tehran this past week. I once again saw the past of her nation.
However, this time, for the first time, hope and sorrow coexisted. Iran is and will rise once again.
It will eventually have real democracy in place of the Shah and the clerics.
For Shirin and Arash, the moment is rapidly approaching. The most lovely irony of them all? that heroic women will one day, and soon, bring down one of the most sexist governments in history.
The author of War In 140 Characters: How Social Media Is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-first Century, David Patrikarakos, is a Contributing Editor at Unherd.