Letter From Tehran: From Hair to Hugs, Times Are Changing

28 November, 2022
A man on a bicycle rides past a Paris mural depicting women cutting their hair to show support for Iranian protesters over the death of Mahsa Amini (photo Francois Mori/AP).


This letter from a prominent Tehran writer to a friend in the west is published anonymously.


Dearest __________,


Things are going from bad to worse. Mostly it is the level of violence that seems to have increased exponentially. And one cannot be but utterly depressed about the deaths of these kids and all young men and women. In the last weeks the movement itself has changed its tone. It’s no longer about just “Woman, Life, Freedom,” but rather economic factors have also become a source of anger and rioting, especially in some of the lesser provinces which were fairly quiet in the first month and a half of the uprising.

I should say that in Tehran itself things are mostly quiet in comparison to the first days. Only on specific nights and neighborhoods something might happen and usually it’s quickly quelled. But all of this is really smoldering fire under the ashes; the flames could return with the slightest spark. On the other hand, they’ve begun arresting a lot of activists and journalists — much more so than before. They’ll hang some kind of connection to the U.S or some other Western country on you and send you to jail. All this to basically create a sense of permanent fear.

A lot of people imagine the Islamic Republic is destroyed. But I don’t see things that way at all. The reality is something else. We have a long way to go, two or three years at the very minimum. And so much will also depend on the eventual death of Ayatollah Khamenei. That said, it’s important to note that the Iran of today is no longer the Iran of two months ago and it’s doubtful things will ever return to what they were. The intensity of it all may rise and fall, but I don’t see a way that it will ever be entirely quelled; there’s just been too much bad blood, too much anger and rage and violence on the part of the regime.

Yet violence and crushing of demonstrations aside, I also feel that the people have for the first time truly come to believe this regime can be overthrown. This makes folks hopeful and they are not going to return to their homes and be quiet so easily this time around [as opposed to the 2009 Green Movement, Ed]. Nevertheless, I can’t deny that so much that happens in Iran also gets channeled through the balance of powers between the U.S. and Russia and Europe and China and the Arab countries and whatnot. It’s naïve to see Iran’s turmoil only through the prism of Iran alone.

My dear friend, the way I see things today, even if there were to be a change eventually, it would not necessarily be good change. Whoever takes on the reigns of power after the Islamic Republic will lack leadership and management. As things stand, I predict that in the decade ahead we’ll see revolution after revolution here. People outside should understand that this population has zero ability to go head to head against the regime’s uniforms and its supporters. It’s a pipe dream to think otherwise. And yet things could change with Ayatollah Khamenei’s death or even a limited attack of some kind by a foreign military. What that change would entail, I don’t know. And also I am of the opinion that from Israel to the U.S. and whoever else, it’s not to their disadvantage to see the Islamic Republic weakened and the country off-kilter as it is now. This might actually be a more expedient state of affairs for them than seeing total regime change in Iran.

Culturally, however, so much has suddenly changed. It’s hard to believe. In the northern parts of the city in Tehran, easily thirty to fifty percent of the women no longer wear hijab of any kind. Women walk around freely and show off every hairstyle you can think of. It’s different though on the southside and in the outer boroughs. Maybe no more than five to ten percent of females go out without hijab. But, there’s this too: since folks are hopeful again after so many years, they are a lot kinder to each other now. You especially feel this change in people’s attitudes in the middle class and upper class areas of the city. Oftentimes you’ll see young men and women holding each other tight right in the middle of the street. They are calling these embraces “the kindness hug.” Girls and boys carry around cards that they’ll give to women who are not wearing hijab. On the cards they write things like: “Thank you for making our city so lovely with your beautiful hair.”

To make a long story short, everyday here there are thousands of sad and thousands of sweet happenings at the same time. And truly this social movement is taking on a new color every other day now. But if you were to ask me if the Islamic Republic is going to crash tomorrow, I’d give you a definite no. I simply don’t see any signs of that. A lot more still needs to happen, and also a lot is dependent on outside confluences. But hope … hope for this actually coming to pass one day is stronger now than ever before in the last four decades. This is something amazing to witness.

My dear friend, sorry I replied so late. Let me know how you are doing.

Yours always, B.


1 comment

  1. Incredible piece. With an authentic voice this letter encapsulates the complexities of the moment while acknowledging the teetering of optimism and pragmatism that many of us feel these days. I hope such a letter will not need anonymity in the future, but for now one thing is certain: the Iran of today is not the Iran of yesterday.

    With hopes of a better Iran of tomorrow,

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