In Iran, Islamic religious police detained Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman, for wearing her hijab too loosely. Reports say that some of her hair was visible. That is forbidden.
Amini died while in custody. Her family says she was beaten. The government says she just happened to die. What a coincidence.
Who are you going to believe? A grieving family of a woman lost too soon or a government that arrests women who show their hair?
There are protests going on in Iran right now with women tearing off their hijabs and burning them. The government is responding with violence. People have died.
And for far too many people in the United States, what’s happening in Iran feels distant, something that happens “over there.” But not here.
For those of us paying attention, however, we know there already exists a morality police in the U.S. The biggest difference is that there is a separation of church and state in the U.S. Make no mistake: the religious right seeks to destroy that barrier and make Christianity the only allowable religion, with everyone having to live by Biblical laws whether they are Christians or not.
It should be noted that while the religious right, which is predominantly white, wants to enact a Christian government, they don’t exactly see the Iranian government as a model. Because the religious right is also steeped deeply in racism and xenophobia. They see Islam as evil and if, say, a group of Iranian women arrived on our shores seeking asylum they would declare them invaders and enemies. They might even load them up on a plane under false pretenses and ship them off to Martha’s Vineyard.
The only thing Iran is doing wrong, see, is using the wrong religion. If they were oppressing people using Christianity the religious right here would be totally on board.
How do I know this? I’ve been watching the radical right for decades. I’ve seen them amass more and more power all while preaching hatred for LGBTQ+ people and laser focused on controlling women’s bodies.
They aren’t going to stop with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. They want to criminalize abortion, sure, but they also want to control all aspects of gender and sexuality. We are seeing radical ideas that would have rightly been dismissed as absurd years ago becoming mainstream: outlawing birth control, forcing 10-year-old victims of incest to give birth, executing LGBTQ+ people, doing away with public school “indoctrination centers,” smearing anyone who loves and supports LGBTQ+ kids as “groomers,” banning books with LGBTQ+ storylines or characters from school and local libraries, denying election results based on conspiracy theories instead of evidence, lashing out against measures like mask wearing and vaccines to stop a deadly pandemic, forbidding the teaching of slavery and denying the existence of racism in order to spare the apparently fragile feelings of white children.
And when I say that these areas have been mainstreamed, I do not mean that they are in any way popular. A small minority of people subscribe to these ideas. Unfortunately, that small minority has outsized power, in large part because one of our two major political parties has adopted the beliefs of the fringe wholesale. This is especially evident as we head into the midterms. There is no real distance between your average Republican candidate and the Q Anon cultists who believe that the country is run by a secret horde of pedophile lizard people from whom only Donald Trump can save us.
Ridiculous? Oh, yes. But also deadly serious. Remember that a man entered Comet Ping Pong, a Washington D.C. pizza parlor, with an assault rifle because he believed he was going to save a group of children who were being trafficked out of the restaurant. Remember that a group of Trump cultists invaded the U.S. Capitol of their own fucking country because they believed there was a giant conspiracy theory against their would-be king.
We have a Supreme Court that declared anyone with a uterus incapable of making their own decisions regarding pregnancy. The same court has already made clear they want to overturn marriage equality. Coming before them is a case that would essentially let state legislatures declare the presidential winner in their states, regardless of the voters’ choice. That would set the stage for entrenched right-wing power like we have never seen, not at all concerned with what the majority of people want. Not all that different from Iran.
You think it can’t happen here? I wish you were right. But it absolutely can. Years on, we can protest in the streets and get shot at by the police for expressing what used to be our First Amendment rights. Or we can fucking vote for the party that believes in democracy and isn’t crushing on Christofascism. (That would be Democrats for anyone who is confused.) It’s literally up to us.
D’Anne Witkowski is a writer living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBTQ+ politics for nearly two decades. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.