Navid Gorgin asked Slavoj Žižek, the political philosopher, what he thinks about the ongoing protests and demonstrations that have taken to the streets of at least 90 cities in Iran for 13 consecutive days. The demonstrations are a condemnation of the government’s murder of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who was killed while in the custody of Iran’s hijab police. Hundreds of academics and artists across the globe have expressed solidarity with what they have called a “feminist revolution in Iran”.
Mahsa Amini was a Kurdish woman from the city of Saqqez who was visiting the capital city of Tehran when the Islamic morality police arrested her for her loose headscarf. Protests that started in her hometown in Kurdistan have spread to other cities of Iran and are shaped by the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom”.
In an introduction that Gorgin has sent to Zamaneh Media, he says that “the purpose of asking opinions of intellectuals or philosophers about the protests in Iran is not to find a seal of approval on the truth of a historical phenomenon. History itself is a prerequisite for all conditions, so ideas and thoughts can only try to keep up with reality.” Gorgin goes on and explains that he wants to learn how Žižek “articulates the events in Iran that have gained much international significance.”
Slavoj Žižek has also sent a video statement of solidarity to the protesters in Iran that can watch here with Persian subtitles:
Gorgin, in a letter to Žižek writes:
As you may know in Iran there is a super progressive movement supported by millions of people after the Kurdish girl, #MahsaAmini, was beaten to death by the morality Police. The main slogan of the movement is Zan, Zendegi, Azadi [in kurdish ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadi’] (woman, life, freedom). All the leftists in Kurdistan lead the trends and others fully support them. It will be the first politico-feminist movement in the history that focuses on Eros and living against the ideology of Thanatos in political Islam. Many Friends are waiting for your reaction. Bests, Navid
Slavoj Žižek responds:
What goes on now in Iran has a world-historical significance: it combines different struggles (against women’s oppression, against religious fundamentalism, for political freedom against state terror) into an organic unity. Iran is not part of the developed West, so Zan, Zendegi, Azadi is very different from MeToo in Western countries: it mobilizes millions of ordinary women, and it is directly linked to the struggle of all, men included – there is no anti-masculine tendency in it, as is often the case with the Western feminism. Women and men are together in it, the enemy is religious fundamentalism supported by state terror.
Men who participate in Zan,Zendegi,Azadi know well that the struggle for women’s rights is also the struggle for their own freedom: the oppression of women is not a special case, it is the moment in which the oppression that permeates the entire society is most visible. The protesters who are not Kurds also see it clearly that the oppression of Kurds puts limits on their own freedom: solidarity with Kurds is the only way towards freedom in Iran.
Plus the protesters see it clearly that religious fundamentalism can only remain in power if it is supported by the raw state power of what in Iran is called the Morality Police – what they see is that a regime which needs a brutal Morality Police to maintain itself betrays the authentic religious experience it uses to legitimize itself. What goes on now in Iran is thus not a thing of the past, it is something that awaits us in the developed Western world where political violence, religious fundamentalism and oppression of women are growing daily. We in the West have no right to treat Iran as a country which just has to catch-up with the West. We in the West have to learn from Iran, we will soon need a similar movement in the US, in Poland, in Russia, and in many other countries.
Whatever the immediate result of the protests, the crucial thing is to keep the movement alive, to organize social networks which, even if state oppression will temporarily win, will continue its underground work and lay the foundation for a new explosion. It is not enough just to express sympathy or solidarity with Iranian protesters: they are not out there, far from us, part of a different exotic culture. All the babble about cultural specificities (often used by reactionary forces to justify religious and ethnic oppression) is now meaningless: we can immediately see that the Iranian struggle is the struggle of us all.
Navid Gorgin also had written his thoughts on Žižek’s response. He writes:
In addition to his general position, Žižek’s letter contains one or two interesting points. Compared to Western feminism, he considers this ongoing movement in Iran to be more progressive because it is not by any means antagonistic to men and has a tendency to go beyond the male/female dichotomy.
There is also a contradiction in the inherent nature and the behavior of the “Morality Police” that because Iranians have an ongoing direct experience of it, they might simply pass it. Here in the case of the “Morality Police”, we see that an institution that claims morality messes up moral equations and destroys its own claim to morality.
It is also necessary to pay attention to the global component. As a movement that quickly moved beyond the borders of Kurdistan and spread everywhere in Iran, so far it has shown that it is a movement that has the capacity to define an ideal for the future at a global level. This cliché image that all social and political movements in the surrounding countries [of Iran] are a repetition of the history of Western European movements no longer works when we look at the current ongoing movement. This movement in Iran, not only has a global message to deliver but also has a message that calls upon the residents of other countries. The fact that we see records being broken one after the other in the media shows that are covering the news of the protests in Iran, is indicative the civil society in Western countries, this time, is not just displaying sympathy for the “poor”, “weak” and “captive people” living under totalitarianism.
Today, residents of rich countries of the global North also see that the slogan “women, life and freedom” can be the “secret” to their liberation. Is it not true that with the emergence of anti-woman populist forces in Western Europe and North America, many of the most obvious civil rights of women are being denied? Is it not true that the unbridled destruction of the environment is pushing the whole world towards “destruction and death” and the desire to “live and survive” is no longer limited to one geography? Is it not true that the ideal of the new era, which was supposed to guide history towards “liberation”, is still unfinished? So, is it strange that the world is thirsty for unity over the slogan of Women, Life, Freedom?