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Opinion: Your rights could be taken away quickly. I know because it happened to me

My grandmothers had escaped the 1917 Russian Revolution and fled to Iran in quest of freedom. And to a sure extent, that they had discovered it. My father had develop into a profitable ballroom dancing teacher in Tehran and taught Muslim {couples} the cha-cha and the tango. My mom was a hairdresser who styled modern Muslim ladies’s hair. And I had grown up carrying bikinis on the shores of the Caspian Sea, whereas partying with my Muslim associates.

The revolutionary leaders promised to develop social freedoms, grant political ones and construct a democracy. They used our grievances in opposition to Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, to win our belief and acquire energy. But as quickly as they assumed workplace, the few private liberties we had loved vanished and a strict Islamic regulation was put in place.

In lower than a 12 months, ladies’s rights to self-expression have been stripped away: dancing, singing, holding our boyfriends’ arms in public and carrying bikinis all grew to become largely forbidden actions. A couple of clergymen from my Roman Catholic Church, all of whom have been overseas nationals who had lived in Iran for years, have been deported, and a number of other of the properties that belonged to the church have been confiscated.

The irony was that just a few of my Christian family members had trusted Ayatollah Khomeini, the Islamic revolutionary chief, and celebrated when the Shah was pressured into exile. Now, they, like me, have been paying the worth.

Though Iran’s transition from a nation of restricted social rights to considered one of just about none might look like a distant actuality to these residing beneath democracy, the reality is that it just isn’t.

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If Western democracies will not be on guard, their residents can fall prey to the identical sorts of leaders who now management Iran’s political infrastructure. The revolutionary leaders have been populists who promised to return energy to the folks after many years of monarchical rule, and for a lot of disenfranchised voters in democracies who really feel their elected officers have ignored their struggles, the populist messaging can have fairly a robust attraction — even when it is only a ploy.

But the danger just isn’t solely in dropping civil or democratic rights, however in being punished for difficult the authority figures who’ve stripped residents of these rights.

After 1979, our completed lecturers have been changed by fanatical younger teachers, a lot of whom have been members of the newly shaped Iranian Revolutionary Guard. They spent class time spreading the federal government’s propaganda and attempting to persuade us that the regime’s fanatical guidelines — like forcing all ladies and ladies over age 9 to put on the hijab — have been for our personal good. They argued that we had to costume modestly in order that we might not entice undesirable consideration from males.

At the time, I informed our principal that I was a Christian, so the brand new Islamic guidelines of modesty shouldn’t apply to me. She responded, “You believe in the wrong religion.” I was politically naïve, however I was additionally aggrieved, having skilled firsthand why freedom of faith mattered. I attended protest rallies to categorical my frustration with the brand new non secular legal guidelines that restricted or attacked the rights of Iranian ladies.

Speaking out in opposition to the regime, in any form or type, was now thought-about an act of conflict in opposition to God — the penalty for which could be dying. And, in January 1982, the Revolutionary Guard arrested me for doing simply that. At solely 16, I had been accused of being an anti-revolutionary and despatched to the infamous Evin jail. I was tortured, bodily and emotionally, after which I was pressured to marry considered one of my interrogators, who was assassinated 15 months after the wedding.

Six months after his dying — and two years, two months and 12 days after my preliminary arrest — I was launched. My captors had determined that there was no motive to preserve me any longer, maybe because that they had succeeded in destroying my spirit and suppressing my want to protest. Many of my associates and cellmates had been executed whereas I was in jail, and I was affected by post-traumatic stress dysfunction — not that I knew it on the time. I was simply shy of 19 years of age when I was launched.

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Though it took me a number of years — and a transfer to Canada — earlier than I shared the main points of my tragic story, I decided to accomplish that because a democracy is simply nearly as good as its residents. Now, residing within the West, I have develop into acutely conscious that even the strongest democracies will not be immune to demagogues parading as populists. Those of us who’ve skilled what the lack of fundamental rights appears to be like and appears like have an obligation to communicate up. Because as soon as the demagogues — or aspiring ones — have assumed management, it will be too late.

Indeed, democracy is like water caught within the palm of our arms. If we don’t concentrate on holding onto it, the water will drip away by means of our fingers, and we’ll be left with nothing however a burning thirst.

Though Iran was not a democracy earlier than the revolution, any hope of a peaceable transition to one post-revolution has all however light right now. The Islamic Republic of Iran masquerades as a democracy, holding elections for its parliament and president. Yet, its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who changed Ayatollah Khomeini after his dying, and his Guardian Council determine who’s or just isn’t match to run in elections.
And it actually doesn’t have a thriving free press or civil society. Anyone who criticizes the regime and its officers can be arrested and even condemned to dying.

The line that separates democracy from tyranny just isn’t as thick as Westerners would possibly select to imagine. In Iran, we believed that our good will, selfless efforts and want for higher governance could not presumably be manipulated and destroyed. Many of us even died through the revolution to convey the Islamic Republic into existence. But we have been incorrect, and we’ve been paying the worth for shut to half a century.

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