September 14, 2023 | Remarks

Remarks by Behnam Ben Taleblu at FDD Event Promoting Maximum Support for the People of Iran One Year After Mahsa Amini’s Murder

September 14, 2023 Remarks

Remarks by Behnam Ben Taleblu at FDD Event Promoting Maximum Support for the People of Iran One Year After Mahsa Amini’s Murder

Note: The below remarks, as prepared, were delivered at an FDD Event featuring Representatives Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and FDD Chief Executive Mark Dubowitz. Event video, audio, and transcript are available here.

We all have a song. A song whose lyrics resonate not just with us. But beyond us. That’s what “Baraye” or “For” in Persian, by Shervin Hajipour, became just over one year ago to Iranian protestors. Trigged by the brutal beating and killing of Mahsa Zhina Amina, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s harsh and discriminatory female dress codes, protests led by a new and younger generation of Iran’s best and brightest bravely took to the streets.

“For all the countless [lit. non-redundant] for’s,” sung Hajipour, or more aptly, in Persian:

Baraye einhameh ‘baraye’ gheire tekrari [برای این همه برای غیر تکراری].” 

That outpouring of Iranians, mere hours after Mahsa’s hospitalization and death, led to a sustained wave of nationwide protests in 2022 and into 2023 that at its height touched over 150 different cities, towns, and villages. It also threaded together the widest-ever ranging demographic, geographic, and socio-economic protest movement to date in the 44-year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

What united so many different Iranians were, to borrow from Hajipour, countless “for’s,” or countless predicates for dissatisfaction, discontent, and dissent, but all rooted in one fundamental and axiomatic recognition: that the government of the Islamic Republic is blame.

As the many scholars and watchers of Iran seated here know, protests against the Islamic Republic have been around as long as the regime itself. So how then could protests be novel, and why do they matter more at one point in time than another?

The answer can be found the dynamic nature of the contest between the street and the state in Iran. While many in the West are by now familiar with the Tehran-centric uprisings trigged by political crises a decade apart in 1999 and 2009 tied to the reform movement, trendlines from the more recent and fast-evolving pattern of Iranian protests since 2017, indicates a move away from reform and towards revolution. Yes, a revolution against the Islamic Revolution.

Of note, major anti-regime protests are happening more often in Iran, with sometimes just weeks or months separating them, not decades. What’s more, they are often happening from the socio-economic and geographic periphery of the country, and often by classes or generations of people whom the regime thought they could forever co-opt or control. For example, the protests following the killing of Mahsa in September of last year were not at all the first nationwide antiregime protests of 2022 in Iran. The regime repressed a nationwide uprising in May of that year triggered by a confluence of economic factors to include austerity budgets, pandemic and Ukraine war-induced food and supply chain shocks, and government mismanagement that would all merge together with the countless “for’s” simmering constantly beneath the surface in Iran.

When piecing together these various rounds of protests, like a mosaic, they represent a larger nationwide struggle against the Islamic Republic.

And don’t just take it from me. Take it from slogans heard across Iran in recent years and what they prove about the Iranian people:

Gone is anti-Americanism. “Doshman-e Haminjast, dorough migan Amrikast [دشمن ما همینجاست دروغ میگن آمریکاست]” or “Our enemy is here, they are lying when they say its America.”

Gone are previously deemed taboos. “Reza Shah, Rouhet Shad [رضا شاه, روحت شد],” or Reza Shah, bless your soul.”

Gone are the sacred cows of not insulting the Supreme Leader. “Khamenei Ghateleh, Velayatesh Bateleh [خامنه‌ای قاتله،  ولایتش باطله],” or “Khamenei is a murder, his guardianship is invalid.”

Gone is the dissonance between the center and the periphery. “Az Zahedan ta Tehran, Janam Fadaye Iran [از زاهدان تا تهران جانم فدای ایران],” or From Zahedan to Tehran, I sacrifice my life for Iran.”

Gone is the pretense of reform. “Eslah-Talab, Usoolgara, digeh tamoome Maajera or “Principalists, Reformists, the jig is up” is another.

Gone even, seemingly, is the fear of Iran’s security apparatus. “Basiji, Sepahi, Daesh-e ma Shoma-ie [بسیجی، سپاهی، داعش ما شمایی],” or “Basijis, IRGC, you are our ISIS.”

As is apparent in these slogans and recent protest history, political protests are not waiting for political events in Iran to touch them off. They are happening constantly, and are triggered by social, economic, and even environmental issues, resulting in a more frequent boom-and-bust cycle that Washington cannot afford to get caught flat-footed on.

Here at FDD, we are making sure that does not happen and that the Iranian people’s struggle remains part of the strategic discussion and un-divorced from the need for things like counterterrorism or counterproliferation policy. We will therefore continue to devise new and innovative ways for Washington and the international community to hold Iran’s repressive apparatus to account, to oppose policies that enrich the oppressors of the Iranian people, and to shine a light on the nexus between Tehran’s foreign aggression and domestic suppression. This means making sure every time the Iranian people protest, Washington is aware.

To that effect, during the Mahsa protests, FDD launched an interactive protest tracker on our website, tallying and documenting every reported protest in Iran of various sizes from across social media with great detail as well as a data collection effort to tally the deaths, including of minors, and arrests, of protesting Iranians at the hands of the Islamic Republic.

On a personal note, I’m proud to say as an Iranian American that in my decade at FDD, I have never seen a day where we work with less vim and vigor to develop complementary policy prongs of support to the Iranian people as we do to devise strategies to pressure the Islamic Republic.

Why? Because of our own “For’s,” and for the “For’s” that we all share.

For Mahsa Zhina Amini
for Hadis Najafi
for Aida Rostami
for Ghazaleh Chalabi
for Hananeh Kia
for Sarina Esmaelzadeh
for Mona Naqeeb
for Minoo Majidi
for Fereshteh Ahmadi
for Parisa Bahmani

For “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi [زن, زندگی, آزادی],” or “Women, Life, Freedom.”

For Mohammad Mehdi Karimi
for Mohammad Hosseini
for Mohammad Rakhshani
for Reza Shahparnia
for Behnam Layeghpour
for Javad Heydari
for Fereydoun Mahmoudi
for Mohsen Shekari
for Majid Reza Rahnavard
for Kian Pirfalak

For “Mard, Mihan, Abadi [مرد, میهن, آبادی],” or “Man, Homeland, Prosperity.”

And obviously, for all that came before:
for Navid Afkari
for Sattar Beheshti
for Pouya Bakhtiari
And for Neda Agha-Soltan Thank you for your time and attention