Why You Can’t Understand Iran in 2022 Without Understanding 1978

After months of ever-growing protests and strikes targeting his despotic rule, the Shah of Iran desperately tried to appease the masses in a Nov. 6, 1978, televised broadcast. “I heard the voice of your revolution,” the shah said as he acknowledged past mistakes and promised to amend his ways. But rather than save his rule, that was the moment, according to the narrative of the revolutionaries, that the shah sealed his own demise.

What the shah did in 1978 is what the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran refuse to do today as Iranians continue to express outrage at 22-year-old Mahsa Amini’s mid-September death in a hospital days after Iran’s “morality police” detained her for allegedly violating the country’s strictly enforced Islamic dress code. Because they think the shah’s attempt to meet protesters halfway was his most decisive mistake, the hard-line rulers of Tehran have for more than 40 years ruled by the maxim of never giving an inch — lest the entire revolutionary regime fall.

Iran, according to Amnesty International, has instead chosen to beat, arrest and even kill the young Iranian women and men who have dared to demand justice. But rather than be silenced, the demonstrators have shifted their slogans away from just ending the mandatory hijab to ending the Islamic Republic as a whole — precisely because the regime never gives an inch when the people demand their rights and dignity. The slogan “Zan, zendegi, azadi” (“Woman, life, freedom”) is itself a brilliant, positive vision for Iran without clerical rule, as compared to the negative “Down with the dictator,” a slogan used against the shah in 1979 and later against the clerical rulers.

Therein lies the irony of the lessons Iran’s current leaders drew from the shah’s perceived softness: By stymying reform, narrowing Iran’s political spectrum and imprisoning dissenters, the Islamic Republic has ensured Iranians increasingly have no faith in reform and caused them to conclude that they have no choice but to ask for much more: the end of clerical rule.

Read the full piece in MSNBC.