Leaders of Long Island's Iranian American community are urging others to train their sights on protests in Iran and the resulting persecution of Iranian women seeking freedom in the Islamic dictatorship.
Sara Lejuez, who was born in Iran and is an assistant professor of practice at Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism, said nearly 350 people have been killed during the protests and 15,000 arrested by Iranian republic and security police. More face potential jail or execution by Iranian authorities, she said, adding that the demonstrations are notable for who has led them.
“This is the first woman-led uprising of our time. Not only as an Iranian-American woman, but it’s important as a society, to convey what’s happening in Iran," Lejuez said. "Every minute we’re silent everyone’s life is in danger."
For the past two months, protests have continued in Iran following the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who was jailed for not properly wearing her head scarf, known as a hijab.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Leaders of Long Island's Iranian American community have called for worldwide attention to protests in Iran and the resulting persecution of Iranian women seeking freedom in the Islamic dictatorship.
- Protests have continued in Iran for the past two months following the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who was jailed for not properly wearing her head scarf, known as a hijab.
- The uprising has been building after the Iranian government cut off the internet to citizens. Many protesters were only able to communicate through Instagram until that access was halted.
“This is the new generation of Gen Z," said Lejuez of the protesters. "They are not tolerating it anymore. What they’re asking for is freedom of choice and what they want to wear. It’s not just the hijab or religion. They want freedom and democracy.”
Outgoing state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) fled Iran as a child. In her time in the Senate, Kaplan has represented many of the approximately 15,000 Iranian Americans living on Long Island. She was one of 18 Persian American women elected to public office who wrote a letter to President Joe Biden calling for further investigation in Iran by the United Nations.
“I’m hoping the whole world is taking a look at what’s happening in Iran and what the government is doing to women," Kaplan said. "They should see the courage and bravery of women coming out despite the fact they’re being terrorized and killed and I hope the whole world is taking notice for what this regime stands for."
She said that all countries "who pride themselves on democracy, understand they need to expand the voice of these women in Iran and make sure these voices are being heard around the world and not being silenced."
Lejuez moderated a discussion Wednesday at Stony Brook University's Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting on the Iran protests where a panel of experts split on calling the uprising a revolution, but noted that young women were speaking out for their freedoms more now than in past protests.
The panel included Leili Soltani, the director of Voice of America’s Persian Language Broadcast to Iran, Roya Hakakian, a journalist and human rights activist who came to the United States as an Iranian refugee, and Hadi Ghaemi, who founded the Center of Human Rights in Iran.
The headscarf was a symbol of Iranian women’s frustration for 43 years, which has just now reached a boiling point, Hakakian said.
“It was women who demonstrated and were forced under the veil who said we don't want it. They were the vanguards of this moment when no one else would,” Hakakian said. “What's happening in Iran needs to be seen in a global context of feminism in a historic event that’s relevant to all of us.”
The uprising has been building after the Iranian government cut off the internet to citizens. Many protesters were only able to communicate through Instagram until that access was halted.
A 24-year-old Iranian doctoral student who would not provide her full name out of concern for the safety for her family, came to Stony Brook from Iran three months ago.
She said women and girls live in fear in Iran, particularly of the country’s morality police, who may jail women for not properly being dressed or covering their hair. She said women cannot swim, sing or dance. The subways in Iran are segregated for women in the first and last cars to minimize casualties for men in case of a crash, she said.
“Being a woman in Iran is one of the biggest challenges,” she said. “We just want a normal life where we don't have to plan to start leaving our country. We want everyone, no matter ethnicity and gender, or how they dress to have a chance to express themselves.”