On February 11, 1979, Shah Reza Pahlavi fled Iran and was replaced by Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini who returned from a three-year exile to become Supreme Leader. Despite myriad
flaws, during his 37-year reign, the Shah greatly modernized the country, including the
expansion of women’s rights. In October 1979 Oriana Fallaci, the noted Italian journalist,
interviewed the new Supreme Leader. While questioning him on women’s rights. Khamenei
answered, “Our customs are none of your business. If you do not like Islamic dress you are not
obliged to wear it.’ Ms. Fallaci replied, “That’s very kind of you, Imman, and since you said so I
am going to take off this stupid, medieval rag right now, and she yanked off her chador. ¹
On September 22, 2022, some forty years later, the “morality police” of Ali Khamenei, Supreme
Leader of Iran, murdered Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian girl, for not properly covering her
hair. Some progress! This event inspired massive demonstrations, mostly by women, chanting
“Death to the Dictator”, a call for the replacement of the Iranian government. The modest
objective of the protesting Iranian women is to live a normal life.
Previous popular demonstrations against the Islamic theocracy, notably in 2009 and 2016, have
been brutally depressed, and it is unlikely the present demonstrations will cause the downfall
of the current regime. As with the other members of the “Axis of Evil” – China, Russia,
Venezuela, and North Korea, the Iranian government survives through terrorism and financial
rewards to supporters.
The history of Iranian relations with the West is extremely complex and often is used to justify
their pursuit of nuclear weapons and military ventures across the Middle East. The sad aspect
of this situation is that with a secular government, Iran could become a prosperous modern
country instead of an international pariah.
Although it is extremely difficult to depose tyrannical leaders, the free world Western countries
should continue to counter military operations such as Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine,
and Iranian ventures in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. At the very least, Iranian women should
have the right to wear the chador or alternatively, cast aside that “medieval rag” if they choose.
Byron K. Varme
¹ Quote from “The Agitator” by Margaret Talnot, The New Yorker, June 3, 2006.