From words to transformative action

Lucy Avraamidou is a new columnist for UKrant. Every two weeks, she writes about things at the university that amaze her. This is her first contribution.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Tehran following the death of a young woman who died in custody after her detainment by the religious morality police for not properly wearing her hijab. I am watching the protests from my comfortable sling couch as I drink my green tea. The contrast is surreal.

My heart beats to the chant of the protestors in love, in anger, and solidarity: woman, life, freedom. I am reminded that freedom is not granted and never free and that in some parts of the world it costs lives. 

Mahsa Amini is the name of the young woman who died on September 16. Three days later she would have turned 23. Mahsa was not very different from most women of her age in Europe. She had just been admitted to the university to study law. When I saw a video of her in a beautiful red dress dancing to music very familiar to my ears, it reminded me of my childhood in Cyprus, home for many Iranians with whom we would sing songs about freedom as we tasted the same food and claimed it as our own.

As I am watching this, I can’t help but think: what can I do to support this movement? I have been waiting to hear about the university’s position for a couple of weeks now. I finally came across the university’s statement: ‘We are deeply concerned about the situation in Iran’, it says, and help is offered through the student center, managers, etcetera. 

I feel frustrated, because the university’s statement is more words than a plan for action for the people in Iran fighting for their freedom 

I find this solidarity statement important, because it makes the university’s position and values known. Maybe I should be happy that my university does make a statement. But I actually feel more frustrated, because the statement is more words than a plan for action for the people in Iran fighting for their freedom. 

Is education ever neutral, objective, asocial, and apolitical? And if it is, then what and why do we teach? What do we teach when we teach about human rights, history, religion, cultures, and feminism? Why do we teach if not to change the world? 

There is no ‘situation’ in Iran. There is a revolution in the making and choosing to remain idle is not an option for me, as someone interested in the role of science and education for social change and justice.

Have I scrapped my lessons to engage in conversations with my students about this revolution? Not as much as I would have liked to. How many talks, events and protests have I attended in the past few weeks? Not as many as I would have liked to. Have I actively shown solidarity to my Iranian colleagues and students? I tried. How can I help students in Iran access higher education and researchers continue their work? A set of concrete steps by the university would be useful. 

Protesters in Iran have made it loud and clear that they are not in need of Western saviors, but they need to know that we are standing with them. Can we do better than simply issuing solidarity statements? Can we move from words to transformative action?

LUCY AVRAAMIDOU

Nederlands

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am also frustrated. I can understand the university needs to be cautious about wars, where there are two sides, and political statements. But the revolution that is ongoing in Iran since the end of september leaves no room for interpretation: people in Iran are fighting for basic human rights. They are shouting loud and clear that, after 40 years of dictatorship, they have not got used to their lack of freedom and they are more than ready for a change. Those who protest in the streets are being killed or taken to prison and being tortured or sentenced to death (yesterday they started to sentence those in jail). This is particularly dramatic because these are mainly very young people, students. These are the ones that have no family responsibilities and choose to sacrifice themselves to end a dictatorship. Many of the protests have taken place in the University campuses. The sentiments are extending to the neighbouring Afghanistan, where girls and women cannot go to school since more than a year. Following the Iran example, they also start to protest at the gates of the universities. But the western universities are not openly and loudly supporting these actions or condemning their oppression. This is the moment to show solidarity with those who claim their basic rights but we are not doing it. The reasons behind this silence escape me.

    • Dear Beatriz, thank you for engaging with my piece and for sharing your thoughts. I am glad to see that others share these concerns.

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