By Colton Grellier
It’s nothing new for totalitarian regimes to recruit their people to spy on each other. In the modern era, the French Revolutionary government eagerly accepted gossip on their citizens, everyday spies were frequently in the peoples’ midst behind the Iron Curtain, and China has begun making counterespionage something of a pastime for young people—even throwing in cash prizes as a reward.
But Iran is different. Unlike the previous regimes mentioned, Iran’s hardliners aren’t trying to forcibly create a new social paradigm based on the ruins of the old order. Instead, Iran is doubling down on reinforcing centuries-old cultural norms at any cost. Its latest enemy is a women’s social media campaign called White Wednesday.
White Wednesday was the brain child of Masih Alinejad, an Iranian woman currently living in the US. In the two years since the campaign began, women across Iran have used Wednesdays as a time to protest the mandatory veil laws in their country by wearing either white clothing or no hijab at all. Pictures and videos on the websites My Stealthy Freedom and YouTube show women bareheaded on Wednesdays doing everything from simply going about their routine to being actively challenged by officials and neighbors.
The Iranian government’s patience is wearing thin with these women, viewing them as dissidents who threaten the religious homogeneity undergirding the entire Iranian regime
International Christian Concern and The Telegraph have reported that 2000 female “morality police” are being dispatched to enforce the compulsory hijab laws in Gilan Province. Tensions are already on edge with the local Christian minority there as non-Islamic women are often compelled to wear the hijab, despite there being no legitimate religious reason for making them do so. The presence of so many addition female officers clearly communicates Tehran’s feelings towards religious divergence among women in the community.
But in addition to standard brute force tactics, Iran is slowly becoming a modern Big Brother state in the mold of China and North Korea. For example, cameras have recently been installed on highways to photograph women drivers who choose to remove their hijab after leaving town centers. But perhaps the most concerning recent development is that the Iranian government is calling on its own citizens to report perceived violations of the public code of conduct directly to the court system. This development has been confirmed by the Center for Human Rights in Iran. Anything from removing one’s hijab and posting “inappropriate” social media content to co-ed audiences can be reported immediately to officials through the country’s text messaging system.
At this point, the Iranian government’s dedication to religious conformity has begun to violate even its own laws. Article 25 of Iran’s own constitution bans “eaves-dropping, and all forms of covert investigation, except as provided by law.” In addition, Iran has signed multiple treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that all call for and, in some cases, obligate their signatories to respect the equal rights of men and women (UDHR Preamble, Art. 2, 7; ICCPR Art. 3; ICESC Art. 3), the rights of individual conscience and expression (UDHR Art. 18, 19; ICCPR, Art. 18, 19), and the right to privacy. (ICCPR Art. 17) For Iran to arbitrarily call on citizens to report each other for violations of codified religious norms is a violation of both domestic and international law.
The government based in Tehran is known as the Islamic Republic of Iran. But how can a government lay claim to a republican form of government if it turns its own citizens against each other to sterilize and regulate individual convictions in favor a government-sanctioned narrative?
Nuclear warmongering and geopolitical puppetry have enveloped Iran for decades and successfully distracted us from the real victims here; they’re the women of White Wednesday and those they represent, an Iranian populace hungry for individual liberty. We need no reminding that American economics and military prowess give us the edge in any one-on-one conversation with Iran. Then why have we let Iran set the agenda for these conversations to the expense of human rights? Or, as some pessimists might suggest, does American interest in this region only extend to reaping personal benefit for the United States? No, I still have too much faith in the United States to believe we have completely abandoned our own foundational reliance in the endowment of “inalienable rights” for all people.
So, what of it then?
Well, why are human rights not on the short list agenda for our current discussions with Iran? Where is the official and public praise for the women of White Wednesday by our government or the official rebuke of Iran for the invasion of privacy against its citizens? What is the United States’ tangible, not just rhetorical, leadership role in the fight for universal human rights in this corner of the world? America does not and should not be the world’s policeman, our “brother’s keeper” as it were; but, to borrow from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, what purpose does it serve to recognize the inherent dignity and equality of all members of the human family if we do not zealously advocate for the dignity and equality of that family?
 As an aside, the rule against co-ed gatherings is often weaponized against Christians as men and women often worship together as equals in house churches.
Colton Grellier is a Juris Doctorate candidate at Liberty University School of Law, pursing a specialization in international law and legal writing. His work with law and human rights includes co-authoring a letter for the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission concerning the Nigerian Middle Belt conflicts and writing a white paper for the Finnish and Norwegian Embassies on the conflict’s effects on women. He assisted with drafting legislation for former congressman Frank Wolf to appoint a special envoy to the Lake Chad region in 2018. Colton’s areas of interest include the impact of philosophy and multiculturalism on human rights, natural law theory, and historic religious conflicts in Western Europe. Colton currently serves on the board of the International Law Society at his law school as editor of the International Law Bulletin. He graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Liberty University with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration in 2017.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Christian Concern or any of its affiliates