Iran: Revolution is Inevitable

Bahareh Hedayat

"Revolution is Inevitable": Bahareh Hedayat’s Letter from Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran (December 2022)

Translator’s Introduction:

Bahareh Hedayat is a prominent Iranian political activist and prisoner. She was arrested on 11 October 2022, amid the revolutionary uprising following the killing of Jina Amini by the Islamic Republic “Morality Police.” A well-known activist involved in the campaign to collect one million signatures in support of changing discriminatory laws against women in Iran (One Million Signature Campaign), she was a liaison between the student movement and the women's rights movement. She has already served seven years in prison for her activism before and during the 2009 Green Movement and now faces a four-year sentence for her call to gather to honor the victims of the Ukrainian passenger flight PS759 shot down by the IRGC in 2020.

Below is an English translation of a letter she wrote from Evin Prison in December 2022. This unabashed declaration that “revolution is inevitable” from an activist who sacrificed years of her life fighting and advocating for gradual and nonviolent reform epitomizes a turning point in the politics of dissent in Iran. Hedayat’s words reflect a paradigm shift in the minds of people in Iran—including the generation of activists who led the Green Movement, which was concerned for the most part with enacting political change within the bounds of the Islamic Republic.

The letter was translated by activists in Feminists4Jina, a transnational network formed in September 2022 to build intersectional feminist solidarity with the uprising in Iran and with movements against patriarchal and homophobic authoritarianism globally.

Submitted by heinhtetkyaw on June 30, 2024

This is one of several texts that I’ve started writing but haven’t finished. My sentences are filled with so much rage that I’m concerned it might impede my logic. But reining in one’s rage at a time when a 22-year-old Iranian youth is hanged because he blocked a street in protest is difficult, perhaps impossible, especially in the face of a government that has closed off the critical lifelines of a normal and honorable life for its people, and in particular, its women.

It’s been long established that to argue that the Islamic Republic is the enemy of this land and its nation is redundant. This government’s fate and essence is destruction; therefore, it must go. To tear down this criminal government will undoubtedly be costly and dangerous. Still, there’s no other recourse than to take on these costs and face these dangers, for the power structure does not have the capability to digest and formally recognize new social forces within itself. In other words, there’s no way for the current system to escape these current circumstances, for none of the protestors’ demands can be met within the current structure, nor can the majority of people overlook any of the demands.

These demands cannot be met by the government because all possibilities for flexibility on the part of this current power structure have been previously eradicated or discredited, and the majority of people cannot overlook this because it’s become tied to their everyday, normal lives. From any perspective that we look at these demands, they are legitimate, decisive, and obvious. Therefore, these demands have now clashed with the power structure itself. Both moving in the direction of meeting these demands and resisting them will demolish the structure. Therefore, revolution is inevitable.

And revolutions are, by nature, dangerous and violent. Therefore, while prescribing non-violence is acceptable up to a certain point, insisting on an absolute lack of violence means denying the revolution; it means negating the revolution. It means giving up the necessity of overthrow and the necessity of creating a new collective covenant. For those who still have doubts about the overthrow of the Islamic Republic or dispute it, no other proof can be offered beyond what has been happening in the streets over the past few months. But to those who recognize and believe in this necessity, it must be said that though—unfortunately—a revolution is not without violence, we have a responsibility to keep the hazard lights on in [our collective] minds vis-à-vis uninhibited violence. Regarding violence, besides issues of ethics that may rightfully disturb some, the more important issue is the sustainability of Iran post-overthrow. Therefore, violence that might start and continue a cycle of bloodlust the day after the overthrow is not permissible, for such violence will threaten Iran’s sustainability and the survival of the regime that comes out of this revolution.

No fair observer can accuse this nation of impatience and a propensity for violence, for over the past few decades, the collective wisdom of Iranians tried all the potential openings for peaceful change. Still, they were always and consistently faced with the closed doors of the government’s totalitarian power.

A group of us who were born in the 1360s [1980s], who lived our lives under war and the relentless pressure of ideological instruction, and whose teen years and youth were spent during the so-called period of Reforms (1997-2005), are examples par excellence of trying these last openings, meaning the last openings that we had hoped might be the conduit through which conditions could be changed. We even relented and gambled, mistakenly, the social capital we had gained from the Green Movement, with the pipe dream that meeting some of the people’s demands—the normalization of global relations with the government and the inevitable consequences of these relations for the government’s compliance with up-to-date rules of governance—would improve our compatriots’ conditions without violence.

But at every step of the way, the government insistently banged the drums of its decay. We did everything we could to prevent violence. But this abstinence from violence did not work and also created misunderstandings. It didn’t work because it seemed as though no form of activism that led to the streets was tolerated, and with this skewed interpretation of non-violence, the Reformists essentially shut down any form of protest activism! And it created misunderstandings because it led the Islamic Republic to this naive narrative that we fear for our lives, and even our old friends thought that the policy of non-violence meant a compromise with power! But both were fantasies. The reason why such interpretations were arrived at by both friends and foes is a topic for another time, but for the time being, we should remember that the process of sociopolitical agitations, before being conditioned by prescriptions and recommendations, moves forward on the axis of its own internal liberated force and the necessities of the time.

Before all of these tests, the great experience of our generation with the Green Movement was unsuccessful, despite all of our hopes and sacrifices and in spite of the creation of an invaluable political identity of resistance which was a few steps ahead of the previous generation who were contaminated with political Islam.

Not only were we killed, not only were we imprisoned en masse, not only were we suppressed and driven back into our homes, but we also had to accept within ourselves the final shrapnel of political Islam. At that time, we trusted the Reformist leaders and Mir Hossein Mousavi as accomplices in our Movement. It was clear from our slogans. Though this trust was not unreasonable at the time, the more important factor is that it was inevitable. However, insofar as the movement was in the streets, we of the Green Movement were the victors of that coalition. So long as the streets were our domain, we were the ones who narrated the movement and its demands, and Mir Hossein and the Reformists followed us. But when the Movement was suppressed, and we were driven back to the corners of our homes, little by little and every year more than the last, our emptied trenches were conquered by the Reformist narrative.

Just a few months ago, Mir Hossein Mousavi hit the final nail in the coffin of that political identity that “us” twenty-somethings created a decade ago with our blood and pain. Divorced from reality, stuck in the dichotomy of Khomeini vs. the Shah, with an undeniable clarity, he shielded his chest against the consistent and structural crimes of Khomeini’s regime and called an individual who led a region, better yet a world, to blood and fire and sentenced the women of this land to enslaved hijab, a “vigilant spirit.” Without even half a glance at the young dead bodies of the Green Movement’s followers, he did not acknowledge that his new political life over the past decade was because of these bodies. It was because of the Iranian youth who, in the hopes of a peaceful transition from Khomeini’s regime, or at least a fundamental change in the totalitarian elements that had become consolidated in the current system of order through the guardianship of the Islamic jurists’ [Velayat-e Faqih] repressive principle, had welcomed his participation in their Movement at a sensitive historical moment. If today the opinions of the likes of Ahmad Tavakkoli, Ali Akbar Velayati, and similar ministers of the first decade of the Revolution in the introduction to their book of paintings is important, then the opinion of Mir Hossein Mousavi, with his prior political identity and minus the Green Movement would be just as important [i.e., obscure]. But in contrast to them, Mir Hossein was boosted by the Green Movement’s youth in 1388 [2009] and found a new political life, but he turned his back on the youth for the price of renewing his covenant with his “Imam.” Mir Hossein was the purest, most constant, and most honest person who took the project of Reform to its logical conclusion. Putting aside the fact of the Movement’s political defeat because it didn’t reach its goals, the “vigilant spirit” incident was a pronouncement of its moral failure signed by Mir Hossein.

This experience was ours, a group of 1360s [millennial] youth who were willing to sacrifice our lives. But ultimately, the possibilities and necessities of the situation, the reality of suppression, lack of a transition plan, a somewhat inevitable coalition with Reformists, and a collective wisdom for finding a less dangerous opening for change, tipped the scales, with the failures of that experience weighing heavier than its victories.

The problem of the Reformists was—and is—that they want to create a series of changes with little danger while also preserving and boosting the system. However, reform—as I understood it—was for fundamental changes to take place through peaceful means to the extent that nothing would remain of the system’s main totalitarian elements; and of course, this required a final showdown. Therefore, we had to oversee a mobilization of forces and a system that, in the aftermath of ratifying a completely new covenant, would become possible at the moment of the current structure’s suspension or demise. This was my understanding of reform. As a student activist who was sentenced to ten years in prison during the Green Movement and simultaneously saw that the Movement in the street had died, my friends had immigrated en masse, organizations, and networks and foundations had disintegrated under the blade of suppression and helplessness and frustration with defeat, with [the] insolence [of the state], with the enemy’s advancement, and with the suffocation that permeated the atmosphere, tore the fabric of the lives of even those who were seemingly outside of prison.

But the hope-giving movement of today is free from the shrapnel of political Islam, and this is clear from its slogans. In order to explain what it wants and does not want, this generation of protestors has not resorted to any concept that has a religious or even quasi-religious pedigree, and this is a great accomplishment. This method and path were completely intuitive and arose out of the protestor’s collective wisdom.

One of the reasons for this accomplishment is that the current movement, in a completely self-motivated fashion, did not seek any coalition with the present political structure, because fundamentally, it had no relation to them; in contrast to the Green Movement, which basically came into being through a form of unwritten coalition with (occasionally discounted but generally acknowledged) elements of the Islamic Republic’s political structure. And this difference between these two movements is also aligned with the centers of meaning that each of them had adopted. The Green Movement’s center of meaning was a fundamental reform of conditions, and the abolition of the Islamic Republic in the process was an exciting, but remote dream. But the 1401 [2022] movement’s center of meaning is revolutionary change, and this movement has had the fortune of placing its express demand of overthrowing the government at the center of gravity on its axis of meaning with the least amount of stammering or doubt.

So, when we’ve repeatedly said that Reformists and, in general, the paradigm of reform has no relation in terms of leadership, activism, or facilitation with the recent [2022] movements, and never will, it’s not out of enmity with or a grudge against reformist forces due to their history of cooperation with the government; rather, it’s an explication and description of this new axis of meaning that has formed since 1396 [2017] and which has its own exigencies. These include the fact that since the Reformist identity and all of its negotiators and edifices remain in the prior axis of meaning that is now extinct, they cannot maintain that same identity in the new axis of meaning unless they accept the current axis of meaning’s center of gravity, which is the complete overthrow of the Islamic Republic, in which case they would no longer be Reformists.

The second important accomplishment of the 1401 [2022] movement is that the issue of hijab has gained global recognition. Though this movement [uprising] is aligned with the global paradigm vis-à-vis the issue of women, it simultaneously has risen against a current in this paradigm which has tried to normalize [forced] hijab. This movement has rebelled against hijab in conditions where for years, a current—I don’t even know what to name it—has tried to normalize hijab or present it as a culture, and has gone so far as to convince international foundations to record an “international day of hijab” in calendars of international events and to celebrate the body of women becoming invisible, without thinking for a moment about what exactly the repercussions of this invisibility will be on women’s everyday lives and their intellectual existence and even their fate. When we talk about the issue of translating Western problems and their solutions in non-Western countries, the examples we can provide as evidence are precisely these convoluted contradictions.

This current [in the West], which occasionally sees itself as anti-imperialist, in a precisely imperialist process, covers its ears when confronted with the voices of a Middle Eastern, Muslim-born woman, and from outside of these conditions accuses us, who are living within these conditions, of Islamophobia; meaning I, as a Middle Eastern woman have no right to cry out against a subservient fate that I’ve been subjected to due to [compulsory] hijab, because according to the “progressive” rules that have been issued by and exported from the intellectual circles of the West, this act of lamenting under the pressure of historical oppression that hijab has enforced upon me signifies fear of Islam, and no one has a right to fear Islam. And because the Western intellectuals face the issue of non-assimilation of Muslims in their own societies, and because [these intellectuals] have become stupefied by Islamic fundamentalism, and because they don’t believe that a phenomenon such as hijab has the capacity to structure a cycle of oppression and subordination and self-alienation without having any decisive relation to capitalism! And because they’re used to understanding everything only through the funnel of capitalism and their circle of comprehension does not move beyond that, they do not deem the Middle Eastern Muslim woman as having the right to lament so that the tensions and contradictions of their own intellectual apparatus would not be revealed!

The 1401 [2022] movement [uprising] arose with the burning of headscarves and its second important accomplishment was that it immediately invited all those Western intellectual-type exemplars to see the truth.

But the third accomplishment, though somewhat fragile and relative, is still worth mentioning; which is that in this movement, the weight of unification in the framework of territorial integrity was great and this means that the danger of separation between different ethnic groups living on this land subsided to an extent. Though this doesn’t mean that all the voices that weren’t heard in these decades were suddenly heard, in any case, it’s undeniable that feelings of solidarity and of sharing a fate were amplified during this movement to the extent that one can hope that after transitioning from the Islamic Republic, there will be the possibility of creating a new covenant that both guarantees territorial integrity and pledges to secure the rights of all ethnic groups and minorities.

In conclusion, I’d like to refer to a statement by the great German philosopher Kant—though on no account does a reference to his work correspond to the reservoir of my limited knowledge. Kant believed that experiences (intuitions) are blind without concepts. And accordingly, I can say that our generation’s political experience was somewhat blind. I associate myself with a sector of the student movement in the 1380s [2000s] that, without retaining the entirety of concepts such as overthrow and revolution, determined its political experience at the culmination of that period’s possibilities, and although in those years and days it revolted against all it had inherited with an awakened conscience, it still lived and thought within a paradigm whose guiding principle was [incremental] change—and in some periods, an improvement of conditions. The manner in which paradigms emerge and are constructed is still affected by historical elements,which don’t have the slightest connection to the will of young activists that are born and raised within them.

I can only testify to my generation’s honesty, rebellion, and self-sacrifice; we who were born in a capsule within which all the ideological elements were ready for us to be transformed into the jurists’ [velayat] soldiers ready to sacrifice our own lives, but revolted against all that we’d inherited with all the honor and consciousness we could grasp.

Our experience was insufficient because of the insufficiency of the world in which we lived. But today, with that same passion and conscience, we are looking with hope to the young generations of the 70s and 80s [1990s and 2000s] and we will not hesitate to offer them all our help and support to fulfill our collective wish, which is freedom, justice, dismantling the structure of oppression, and saving Iran.

Our political experience and that of today’s generation are both tied to the streets; the youth of today’s Iran brought their political demands to the streets and defined them around the slogan of “woman, life, freedom” and the concept of the overthrow [of the Islamic Republic].

This honorable generation is carrying the flag of freedom-fighting and has defined its unique political identity and will determine the fate of Iran after this.

What we hope opposition groups and currents will do is to coalesce around critical ideas such as democracy, secularism, social justice, freedom, mother tongue, territorial integrity, and rights such as the right to organize so that the process of abolishing the current decay and arriving at our next home, which is already in formation, will be facilitated.

With hope for freedom,
Bahareh Hedayat – Azar 1401 [December 2022] – Evin Prison