Sep 07, 2018

Op-Ed: The Dystopian reality of Iran

The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood is a novel based in the near future about the creation of a totalitarian regime which controls and oppresses all aspects of their citizen’s lives. The novel is often assumed to be primarily feminist or dystopian. However, Atwood titled her book to instead be speculative fiction. This essentially means that Atwood ensured that everything that happens within the narrative, has occurred at least once in history. This research included Atwood spending much of her time looking into many oppressive regimes such as China, Romania, Nazi Germany, North Korea and Iran. Before analysing The Handmaid’s Tale, it is vital to consider that this novel was published in 1985, yet the concepts within it, are the most relevant in the current political climate.

Being born in 2001 I never experienced life before the Islamic Revolution of 1979 however, from what I have heard from my parents who experienced life before and after the revolution and going through the pages of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, it is extremely easy to draw comparisons between the policies present in the fictional Republic of Gilead and in the very real Islamic Republic of Iran. Both of these republics share a common thread of patriarchy, violence and misogyny.

The freedom of the female is heavily restricted in the Gileadan regime in all aspects. The women of the Giledean regime are forced to partake in systematic rape as their main purpose of the society (dominated by men) is to reproduce and fundamentally becoming walking wombs. This is an aspect which is prevalent in the current theocratic regime of Iran which makes it almost impossible for women to find contraceptives, essentially allowing the women of Iran to also become walking wombs with no sexual freedom - even within marriage. 

During the Iran-Iraq war “ Iran , the country of Martyr creators” was written all over the city walls. People who for years prior to the revolution were taught “less children, better life” now were denied from contraceptives because Khomeini’s war machine needed more soldiers. Even children as young as 12 were volunteered to fight under the influence of war propaganda.

These are not scene of a dystopian novel, but pages of Iranian contemporary history under a religious dictatorship. 

Furthermore, another prominent comparison between the regimes is the restriction of a woman’s appearance. In ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, the main protagonist Offred describes her struggle of having to remain modest through the establishment of a uniform which consists of white habits and long red gowns to hide both the female form and their faces. This heavily parallels the rules of Iran which regulate women’s appearance by forcing the headscarf as well as modest clothing. Those who dare to challenge this policy are ridiculed and publicly shamed much like in the novel. 

In less than a month following the success of 1979 revolution mandatory hijab laws were implemented in Iran. Hassan Rouhani, the current “reformist” president of Iran, then 30 years old was responsible for implementation of the law in military first and government centres later.

Furthermore, other parallels are women’s sole domestic and fertile roles demonstrated by the difficulty of finding jobs as a woman of Iran. Ultimately, women in both ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and Iran are owned by society and their lives’ purpose remains to serve the regime that continuously subjugate them.

When approaching further similarities between the dystopian setting of Gilead and the reality of The Islamic Republic of Iran, political and human rights prove to be extremely similar also. A common feature of both totalitarian regimes is the use of violence as a means of control. This violence is portrayed through their use of public hanging to send a threat to others alongside the intention of completely dehumanising the victims of their regime as the final blow. Furthermore, another cruel and blatant abuse of human rights policy used by both the regimes is enforced disappearances. In the novel, those who challenge the regime or merely practice free speech, disappear from society without a trace. Members hanged in public squares, cutting limbs and stoning are also among the many  punishments the Republic of Gilead and  Islamic Republic of Iran share in common.

Rouhani himself was one of the strongest supporters of public execution. In one of his speeches in the Iranian parliament, he called for execution in mosques during Friday prayer. Stating “ as  Qoran says in regards to those who commit infidelity “let their suffering be seen by believers”, we also have to hang those who conspire in mosques during Friday prayers, so that people see and it would have more effect.”  

This is a sad reality of those in Iran who push for human rights to be respected as well as innocent citizens who are merely accused of such. The fear in the Republic of Gilead may be of fiction, but the terror is real for the people of Iran. The silenced, the minorities and the activists must fear a regime fit for a dystopian novel.

In essence, it is quite ridiculous and terrifying that these parallels are so heavily prevalent between Iran and a story which was written in warning of what the world may become if things fall apart. This comparison should act as a wake-up call for people to acknowledge the true extent of Iran’s abusive and oppressive regime in which the suppression of women and politicising their bodies is at the heart of its ideology. And it is for this fact that that the commander in Iran will forever refuse to eradicate compulsory hijab, a piece of veil that if it is removed the 39 year old theocratic regime in Iran will fall apart. 

Written by Dania Silawi Ahwazi

Photo courtesy of Loizeau