Content Warning: Mentions of misogyny, police brutality, and violence
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the streets of downtown Montreal on Sept. 27 and Oct. 1, rallying in solidarity with the protests in Iran against the country’s current Islamic regime. The ongoing protests were sparked by the murder of Jina (Mahsa) Amini who died in custody of the country’s morality police for violating mandatory hijab laws. As civil unrest and violent clashes between protestors and Iran’s police forces erupted, a wave of demonstrations followed across Canada and the world to honour the lives lost for speaking out against the government.
The demonstration on Sept. 27 saw hundreds of protestors holding hands and chanting “Woman, Life, Freedom,” in several languages as they formed a human chain that stretched along both sides of McGill’s Roddick Gates on Sherbrooke Street. Shayan Asgharian, President of the Iranian Student Association of Concordia University (ISACU) and an organizer, felt that the event added the voices of members of the Iranian diaspora to the protests in Iran amidst the government’s internet blackout.
“The point is to amplify the voices that have been shut down as the internet is cut,” Asgharian said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “Iranians have no access to the outside world. We are supposed to be their voices here, to […] raise awareness for non-Iranians to know what our plight is. Last time the Internet was shut in Iran, around 1,500 people were killed in less than four days. So it is more crucial than ever for us to speak up.”
Waving her cut hair as if it were a flag, an Iranian McGill graduate and research assistant Homa Fathi, MSc ‘22, stood by the Roddick Gates. On the back of her jacket, the words “For Mahsa Amini” were printed below an arrow that pointed towards Fathi’s shaved head. Cutting or shaving one’s hair represents an ancient Iranian tradition of grieving that has become a symbol of the recent protests. Fathi emphasized, however, that while women are at the forefront of the uprisings in Iran, the movement is fighting for all human rights that the Iranian regime has violated.
“This round of protests is full of feminine manifestations,” Fathi said in an interview with the Tribune. “We cut our hair, we shave it, we might throw our hijab […] in the air or just burn it. We sing, we dance […] to highlight the core of the movement, but it includes much more than that. What we want is regime change. We want to restore our dignity. We want freedom, basically.”
Fathi also condemned the presence of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on the world stage—Raisi addressed the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on Sept. 2—and criticized the lack of support from social media companies for the Iranian population amidst the protests.
“We are not asking [Westerners] to save us. We are perfectly capable of restoring our dignity and freedom. We just want them to stop protecting [the regime],” Fathi said. “Western companies and politicians […]who run to save our regime should stop that.”
Sonia Nouri, U1 Arts, echoed Fathi’s sentiments and urged McGill to take action and support Iranians.
“I think it needs to be a matter of supporting Iranian students, bringing in Iranian academics and activists to come speak at McGill to explain the situation in more eloquent and legitimate language, so that people are actually aware of what’s going on in formal terms,” Nouri told the Tribune.
Downtown Montreal saw a sea of demonstrators again on Oct. 1 for the Global Day of Action for Iran, along with 150 other cities around the world. The march began at the Roddick Gates and travelled toward Jeanne Mance Park where protestors blasted Shervin Hajipour’s song “Baraye,” which means “For” in English. Hajipour was recently arrested by the Iranian government for the song’s lyrics. United echoes of “Down with dictators”, and “Your silence—the regime’s violence” reverberated through the streets, following the marchers’ footsteps.
“Oppression doesn’t know borders. Tyranny and actions of a theocracy will spread,” Fathi said as she encouraged non-Iranians to take action. “Like just a few months ago, people in America lost their legal right for abortion, so this is not your perfect world. We constantly should fight and, for that, we need solidarity. So please stand with us in solidarity.”