Paul Messersmith-Glavin: Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, and what are your relations with family and friends in Iran.
Comrade: I was born in Tehran. And I still have a lot of family in Iran, mostly in Tehran, but also in other towns.
Paul: What’s your perspective on the current regime? What’s your take on the Mullahs who took power following the 1979 revolution?
Comrade: My perspective is that they’ve been robbing the people and the land blind and holding life hostage for about forty-three years. And that it’s way overdue for them to go. And I think what they’re doing is also anti-Islamic, and it’s actually turning people away from Islam. Even the most devout families are now coming out against the regime; the mullahs hold zero legitimacy.
Paul: You’ve described the regime as being like a “death cult.” Can you elaborate on that? Can you talk a little bit more about their beliefs and the kind of society they’ve created?
Comrade: All Abrahamic religions are death cults, if you think about it. The anti-culture of death and war is all around us. In Iran, Ashura is observed as a day of mourning with self-flagellation rituals where men beat themselves with chains into bloody pulps. The whole town, the whole country, shuts down for these elaborate blood rituals where men just beat themselves up. It was through death and war that they gained power, when they first came to power in the late seventies and early eighties. It was a time of popular resistance, with different movements working to overthrow the Shah, and the clerics came to power by playing up people’s fears about foreign meddling in the country’s affairs. They attempted to claim disputed territory in so-called Iraq, which started eight years of war, with millions of lives lost. It was the tears of the people and the blood of the youth that kept them in power. It’s in the cult of martyrdom with streets named after war martyrs. The regime used war as an excuse to tell people to shut up and not ask questions, and to create fear and repression and solidify their grip. They’ve continued and amplified this pattern to where all that the people now have is death. Nothing but the promise of death as release.
I think it’s really telling that one of the cries of the resistance is “Women, Life, and Freedom,” because they don’t exist. There’s no space in public discourse for women; women are not seen as full human beings, as full citizens, and there’s no place for life. If you want to thrive, to grow and excel in your life, you have to leave the country, because all that the country holds for you is death. They’re just done. And so, in order to live, in order to stand up, they have to counter it through active resistance. And at this point it’s just outright war.
Paul: So really, to enjoy life or find joy in daily life, is forbidden?
Comrade: Yeah, it is. You can’t laugh in public. You can’t show yourself in any kind of light or beauty, so women have to cover up everything and remain veiled in the shadows. For a long time, even men were made to cover up their arms. Any part of you that shows any kind of Shen, you know, in Chinese, the spark of life, other than in your eyes, has to stay covered. Why is that? Does Islam stand against beauty and life? They say that the veil is needed to protect women. And if the sheen of a woman’s hair arouses sexual yearning in a man, and the man then attacks her and rapes her, she’s blamed for it. They’ve created a culture of death and repression, neurosis and violence. It’s really sad. And we’re seeing little glimpses through the use of handheld cameras, and people uploading footage to show what the regime has been doing to them for decades, which is to hold the country hostage and force the people to behave in ways that no human being can do.
Our culture is about life and celebration. Iranian culture is full of beauty, intricacy, vibrant colors, music, dance, people gathering outdoors, partying and being loud, staying up all night, discussing all the things of life; causing a ruckus and enjoying life, but you can’t do any of that. When I was there, people would use even religious holidays as an excuse to get into the streets and cause a ruckus. Literally, any chance they had, people would drive around town honking their horns and being rowdy, because there was nothing else to do. There are no avenues for celebration or for passionate engagement in life, except through state mandated religious holidays and rituals. These performative shows of support for the regime, which many people actually get paid to participate in. The people who are supportive of the mullahs benefit directly from the regime. But for the masses of people, life is forbidden. Everything is forbidden. You can’t live life, especially if you are critically minded, or if you’re queer, or if you’re a woman, there’s no place for you in the society.
Paul: Can you talk a little bit about the role of women in the leadership that is going on now in the uprising. That’s been going on for over a month now, and this seems clear from some of the footage that we’ve seen. It’s mostly women in the streets, or women playing leadership roles in the streets, and being very defiant and confrontational.
Comrade: Iranian women are some of the bravest people in the world. Speaking up means putting yourself and your family at risk of imprisonment, rape, torture, and death. I just saw how this Iranian rock climber competed at the Asian Championship in Seoul without wearing a hijab. Her name is Elnaz Rekabi, and she went missing after the competition. They released her after she apologized publicly and said that her actions were a mistake. The regime has a history of executing dissidents and of forcing them to denounce their acts of resistance. That’s just one example of how women and girls are risking everything to stand up for freedom.
Paul: You talked a little bit about young people in Iran being fed up and having nothing left to lose, Generation Z. Could you talk a little bit about their motivations and passions? And what you think is driving them to the streets to confront this regime.
Comrade: I think that whatever is driving them is true of Generation Z everywhere. They have inherited a very bleak reality. The world around them is falling apart, and Iran, of course, is a very extreme example of this. The accounts I have heard show people who are really desperate. A generation who has been handed down nothing but death, and these are often people who have been suicidal or have attempted suicide, and are like, “you want to kill me. I’m already dead.” You can see that in their relentlessness, even while they are being butchered and raped, tortured and killed. They’re still coming out in droves because they have nothing to lose.
Paul: These protests have been sustained for over a month now, and I saw recently that they’re spreading to the oil sector, that oil workers are striking and resisting in solidarity, inspired by the young people. So maybe it’s a little bit like May ’68 in France in terms of becoming a generalized revolt against the government?
Comrade: And the Government is stopping at nothing, you know. I mean, there was a fire at Evin Prison, and there were reports of rockets and explosions, and the woman’s ward going up in flames. That’s where most of the intellectuals, poets, and political prisoners are being held. The regime’s strategy is to frighten, confuse, and instill terror in the people. I’ve also heard accounts of the guards actually starting some of the fires, and infighting among them, with an attempt made to blow up the prison’s ammunition warehouse. Attempts have been made to recruit some of the guards to stand up against their supervisors, and to get on the side of the people. I pray that this does happen. Not all of them are sociopaths, although some are, you know. But those are mostly the people who are in charge. Those are the higher ups. Many of the guards are poor/working class people with little to no opportunity outside of what they are doing. We need sympathetic prison guards and members of the military to rise up with the people against their supervisors and commanders, to take out the ruling elite, and stand on the side of the people.
It’s clear that there’s no going back. The movement seems to be spreading and growing. Even people who come from religious backgrounds, who have been in support of the regime, are now standing up against it because it’s so clear that they are the enemies of the people. They don’t care about the people, they don’t care about the land, and they don’t even care about their own religion, given their hypocrisy and corruption. They are murderers, and they need to be ousted.
Paul: The woman, Mahsa Amini, who was killed by the morality police that set off this latest round of rebellions, was Kurdish. Can you talk a little bit about the Kurdish identity in the Iranian context, and the degree to which this adds an international dimension to this uprising in terms of how this is being perceived by Kurds outside of Iran, and relationship between Kurds inside and outside of Iran?
Comrade: I’m not Kurdish, but Kurdish people are one of the Indigenous peoples of Iran. They are as Iranian as you can be. The regime is repressive and violent, but especially to minority groups, including the Kurdish people who continue to suffer severe persecution and injustice. The Kurdish people from Iran who I know are very adamant about being Iranian, and not wanting to be a part of separatist movements. Not that this doesn’t exist. But there continue to be calls made for solidarity and unity between all of the ethnic groups in Iran. It’s significant for this movement to have started with the state murder of a Kurdish woman. The people have been chanting, “You have killed our sister!” and “Don’t be scared—we are all in this together!”
My hope is for bioregionalism. For Kurdish people across international borders, it’s up to them to decide on their own how to organize their relationships with each other to the land, that’s not for me to say. In terms of what’s happening in Iran, there’s a lot of solidarity and unity between all of the ethnic groups. We all belong to these lands and we belong to each other. We all have continuous ancestral ties to the region, and Kurdish people are no less Iranian than any other group.
Paul: Can you talk a little bit about your fears and hopes, particularly for how this might play out; what’s the best case scenario? And what’s the worst case scenario? What do you hope will happen, and what do you fear will happen?
Comrade: The way that I see it is for the rank-and-file to turn against their leadership and to take out the dictators. I’m against war, but I do think that there’s something to be said about having a people’s army. The function of a people’s army would be to protect the land and the people, to protect the space necessary for us all to start organizing ourselves, coming together and being able to act democratically. I don’t want to use the word democracy. It’s about creating organization and infrastructure that asserts the people’s will in harmony with the land. And I realize that anarchism has been seeded in the region. We see it in Rojava, in so-called Syria: the people’s armies standing up against Daesh. The slogan of “Women, Life, Freedom” was used by Kurdish women fighters in that war, and it’s being echoed on the streets of Iran.
My vision is for us all to engage in modes of organization that are decentralized, autonomous, and rooted in the will of the people, and that we don’t relinquish our power to hierarchical leadership ever again. We must create different forms of social organization that are aligned with the needs of the people and the land. These mullahs have exploited the environment as well. They’ve been destroying, pillaging, and raping the land and its people with complete disregard for the balance of life.
I can’t really tell you, though, what’s happening on the ground. I haven’t been there for so long. I think you probably know as much as I do about the consciousness-raising that has happened in the region within the last couple of decades. But my hope is in the people coming together in solidarity and organizing themselves within councils and bioregions. I know that there are solidarity efforts between Iran and Afghanistan, or people in these so-called countries. I don’t only mean Iran itself. We’re really talking about the Iranian Plateau and the community of life that has lived there since ancient times. Everybody who’s lived there has a right to be there, and for us all to engage in solidarity with the land and with each other, to start the healing process.
I know the fear. What I fear is for everything to go back to how it was, for the mullahs to remain, and for this anti-culture of death to persist. But I don’t think that will be the case. I think it’s over, and what needs to happen is for the international community to hold the members of the regime accountable. I think what people can do is to target Iranian embassies all over the world. Shut them down. Place pressure on their own governments to freeze any foreign bank accounts or assets belonging to agents of the regime. They’ve been siphoning off the riches of the land for decades, with their family members living abroad off of blood money. So freezing their bank accounts, freezing their assets, refusing to provide asylum to members of the regime and their families, discontinuing diplomatic ties, all these steps would be meaningful.
I also really appreciate the efforts of Anonymous going after the state’s media infrastructure, and the doxing of people who are agents of the regime. We need to go after not just the agents, but also their families, because they’re literally living off of blood money, and they’re so full of hypocrisy and contradiction. It’s all coming out. Ultimately, it’s a global time of reckoning. And so I’m glad that it’s happening, even though it’s devastating and heartbreaking in terms of the violence against the people and the land, the bloodshed, the misery, all the suffering. Sadly, it’s nothing new. I pray that this will be the beginning of the end.
Internationally, too, it’s important to recognize the movement as a sign of Indigenous resistance to the dominant culture of death and greed. We must support Indigenous resistance globally. For people outside of Iran, it’s important to get behind Indigenous people’s movements wherever you are, and to stand up in defense of Mother Earth, in defense of life, beauty, women, and freedom against a cult of death. Globally. It’s not unique to Iran. Iran may hold a more amplified version of it, but the pattern is global.
Paul: Are there ways that people not in Iran can stay better informed about what’s going on there and work in solidarity with the people on the ground. You’ve talked about direct actions at embassies and financial pressure and Indigenous solidarity where one lives. What are some good sources of information for people to keep up to date with what’s going on in Iran? Is there anything that you rely on that’s not generally known?
Comrade: There’s Iran Wire on Instagram. It’s a media account. There’s the group that you turned me onto, The Federation of Anarchism Era. They’re online as well. They’re shining light on comrades who have gone missing. I also appreciate the work of Masih Alinejad, who is a journalist. Most of her work is in Farsi, but she does some English language stuff as well. I don’t necessarily agree a hundred percent with what any of these outlets are saying. But, there’s a lot of good content available. I think it’s important to stay involved and informed as much as possible. Don’t give in to the hype of the regime, saying that these are violent protesters going after ambulances. Trust that the reason the people are going after ambulances is because the regime is using ambulances as police vehicles. The people are targeting the paramilitary agents, the police, and other symbols of state repression and violence.
I like some of what’s happened in London. For instance, people have targeted agents and institutions of the Islamic Republic, taking direct action at the sites where the regime has been able to maintain its international influence.
Paul: That’s the Iranian ruling class, right? Some of them are leaving the country and living abroad, living it up, living in style, at the expense of everybody else.
Is there anything else you’d like to add? Is there anything that those of us, not from Iran or not living in Iran would need to know to better understand what’s happening there, or anything that you didn’t get a chance to talk about that you’d like to talk about.
Comrade: It’s critical to stand up with the Earth and to stand with Indigenous people’s movements worldwide. I agree with the call to support normalizing Indigenous violence against ongoing colonialism. Violence is sometimes necessary to dismantle the apparatus of imperialism. To survive, we must stand up with Indigenous people as they rise up for Mother Earth, as we rise up for Mother Earth. I’m not indigenous to Turtle Island. I was brought here as a child. It’s my responsibility now to figure out how I can get behind Indigenous movements here, and to support voices of the Earth standing up against this anti-culture of death globally. I think that’s really what we all need to be doing wherever we are.
For much of the region where I’m from, there has been Indigenous erasure. Literally, most of the people of West Asia and Southwest Asia have lost their Indigenous languages and cultures due to a process of Arabization. Islam was used as a tool of colonization and imperialism, which is rarely talked about because of ongoing antimuslim scapegoating. It’s important to recognize that there’s nuance within the legacies of colonization and imperialism. Something I’ve learned from anti-colonial movements on Turtle Island is that decolonization is not simply to go back. You can’t go back, necessarily, but it’s essential to recognize that there are different stories that need to be heard. Indigenous perspectives are here and continue to be here, and they need to be heard and amplified. In order for us to have a chance to continue living on our beautiful planet, we need to protect and restore Indigenous cultural ways, and it starts with unpacking and dismantling legacies of colonization. We have to learn and remember what it means to be human. We learn this from the Earth, you know, from that direct relationship with the Earth. This is why there’s power in Indigenous traditions, because that power comes from the Earth, and we need to realign in relationship with the Earth. Maybe we can talk about that some other time; but to me, that’s the most important thing globally.
Paul: That’s really excellent. It’s good to get this out there and broaden the circles for these kinds of discussions. We can create space for that. Thank you so much.
Additional Resources (these are Iranian Instagram accounts recommended by our comrade):
This interview was conducted on October 16th, 2022. It has been slightly edited for clarity. It originally appeared in Perspectives on Anarchist Theory.