UI faculty host panel on recent protests in Iran

Professor+Faranak+Miraftab+speaks+at+the+Woman%2C+Life%2C+and+Freedom+panel+on+Wednesday.+The+panel+discussion+was+in+regards+to+the+recent+protests+following+the+death+of+Mahsa+Amini.+

Sidney Malone

Professor Faranak Miraftab speaks at the Woman, Life, and Freedom” panel on Wednesday. The panel discussion was in regards to the recent protests following the death of Mahsa Amini.

By Megan Krok, Contributing Writer

On Sept. 16, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in the hospital three days after her arrest by Iran’s morality police for what they considered an improper hijab. Journalist Niloofar Hamedi leaked photos of Amini in a hospital bed, which showed the effects of the alleged police brutality she faced. 

Amini’s death sparked protests from women all across Iran. Over 70 people have died during the ongoing protests. 

A panel discussion on these recent protests was held Wednesday night by University of Illinois faculty. The panel, titled “Woman, Life, and Freedom,” turned into an open discussion between panelists and attendees about their experiences as Iranians. 

Faranak Miraftab, professor in FAA and organizer of the panel, said they felt the need to do something.

“People were asking me questions all the time, so clearly they were concerned with how they can help,” Miraftab said. “The other part of it was just therapy for myself, I needed to do something.” 

The panel began with an introduction by Miraftab. She asked the question of whether or not this protest was a moment or a movement for the liberation of Iranian women. 

After this introduction, Mahbubeh Moqadam, a graduate student studying sociology and a member of the panel, gave a presentation about the history of women’s struggle for freedom in Iran and its transformation into what we have seen in the past weeks. Her presentation touched on women’s right to vote, their right to receive an education and having a choice in what garments they wear. 

Moqadam ended her speech with a call to action.

“This is not the end, this is the beginning,” Moqadam said. “Say their names. Be their voice.” 

Her presentation was followed by an eruption of applause from the audience, many of whom were Iranian themselves. 

The next panelist to speak was Asef Bayat, professor in LAS. 

Bayat spoke about the current regime in Iran and its support of the forced hijab. Additionally, he discussed the ways Iranian women have pushed back against the regime to gain freedom. His statements were met with nods of agreement from audience members. 

“So, is this a movement or a moment?” Bayat asked. “I think it is a movement. It is a part of the cycles of protests that has now seen a new dimension.”

After the individual speeches of Moqadam and Bayat, there was a Q&A discussion with the audience. Multiple hands shot up from the audience to ask questions or provide feedback. 

The discussion, only scheduled to be half an hour, ended up lasting an hour. 

One of the organizers had a Zoom call opened on their laptop with participants from Iran on the call ready with questions. When the organizer announced this, it was a surprise for both the panelists and audience members. 

The panelists received so many questions from audience members that they began writing each question down to give a combined answer at the end of the discussion. 

At one point, Bayat emphasized the mundane rights that women in many countries have that women cannot enjoy in Iran, such as having a party in your home or having the hairstyle of your choice. 

Then, a woman from the audience spoke up, reading a list off of her phone of the activities women cannot participate in in Iran. This included riding a bike, swimming in open water, filing for divorce, or leaving the country without a guardian. 

Artist Nasrin Mavab, a part of the 1979 feminist uprising in Iran, was in attendance for the panel.

“I think this movement is a continuation of the same thing,” Mavab said. “That’s why I am here. I would still like to see the results (of the movement) for my kids.” 

Attendee Rene Mohammadi, sophomore in Engineering, described the panel as “genuinely therapeutic.”

“The ability to grieve with other people that understand and don’t have to sympathize … it feels freeing,” Mohammadi said.

 

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