Issue #145 Editorial


Ghoncheh Ghavami and Bahar Noorizadeh

Issue #145
May 2024

Just over a year and a half ago, Jina Mahsa Amini, a twenty-two-year old Kurdish woman from a rural province, died in a hospital in Tehran after being arrested by Iran’s morality police and severely beaten. Her death sparked some of the most encompassing protests of Iran’s recent history, with shows of support from around the world under the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom.” This issue began a little over a year ago in early 2023 with a question about Iran’s ferociously outspoken community in the silences and intervals between uprisings, about intellectual life within and despite a clerical police state. Art and theory might seem insufficient for such conditions, yet they also carry a capacity to register and even traverse otherwise incommunicable distances—all the more important in times when contemporary art’s breezy globalism reveals its own geopolitical interests. We are extremely thankful to Ghoncheh Ghavami and Bahar Noorizadeh, the guest editors of this issue, for responding that the only way to address this question is through the perspectives of activists working within Iran. The guest editors have gone to enormous lengths to bring together a courageous issue that takes on a specific case study about their home country to insist on transnational solidarities in the hardest of circumstances.

e-flux journal editors


This issue of e-flux journal is a collective reflection on the afterlife of the 2022 Jina uprising and the historical and material forces that compelled it. The issue’s authors are all based in Iran and are women activists and writers working across feminist, social, and civil fields. Due to security concerns and the criminalization of dissident voices within Iran, all use pen names to mask their identities. The essays include voices from ethnic and national struggle movements (in Kurdistan and Balochistan), campaigns against the death penalty and for Afghan migrant rights, and movements against the involuntary wearing of the hijab. Against the abstractions of our hyper-mediated time, their writing posits the body as a mode of inscription, as history incorporated, tracing its enforced subjections and emancipatory convulsions through the singular mutations of each body that contributed to the feminist revolution we witnessed. About twenty months since Jina’s point zero, these writings map the movement’s specificity in the genealogy of postrevolutionary insurrections in Iran.

The work of commissioning, compiling, and translating began about a year ago. At various stages, several individuals offered diligent and caring assistance, among whom are eight translators, both amateur and professional, most of whom grew up in Iran and, like the authors, were part of the young generation that participated in the 2008 Green movement. We, the editors of this issue, have accepted only symbolic payment along with a number of these translators.

Beyond the usual platitudes of “Iran in translation,” this issue is the first freshly commissioned body of work by feminists active in Iran’s political arena translated into English, which we deem crucial for working through questions of intellectual and international solidarity. Taken together, we hope these reflections reassert the links between the Jina uprising and interconnected liberation struggles beyond national configurations. But first, we must account for certain deadlocks and affordances of translation as they reflect certain deadlocks and affordances of transnationalism for political action in Iran today.

Why a translated issue on the women’s uprising in Iran now? Who is the addressee at the end of the regulated pipelines of the English language? After all, English in our ears has been reduced to the sound of liberal hegemony in genocidal times, the soporific stream of condemnations, silences, and clichés that only further dissuade any of us from holding the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza, literally, in the palm of one’s hand. It is truly harrowing to realize how all the English that leaves our mouths today amounts to further complicity, further abstraction, a point that has been best elucidated recently by Palestinian activists and writers Islam al Khatib and Mohammed El-Kurd.1 Al Khatib in particular credits the current vagueness of discourse on Palestine to not only the criminalization and suppression of the Palestinian cause (further systematized by Zionist lobbies today), but also to a matter of translation. Recalling Anis Sayegh, who insisted on producing Arabic content while heading the Palestine Research Center in Beirut in the late 1960s and ’70s, al Khatib writes: “Unlike today, the focus on translation was much less about convincing and more about bridging and co-building.” In Sayegh’s time, (English) translation was strategically irrelevant because “the foreigners who mattered most were already there, fighting with Palestinians.”

In today’s Iran we cannot easily identify such foreign friends in struggle as Palestinians once did. It is not because they do not exist—recall the Afghan women in Kabul who rallied alongside Iranian women during the first months of the Jina uprising. Rather, it is due to a more severe condition of untranslatability resulting from the decades-long economic and sociocultural isolation Iranians have been subjected to. Any translation that does occur is through banalities and clichés, framing “Iran” as a case of failed or triumphant antagonism against American imperialism, but never as a player in the gamespace of global capitalism. Contemporary Iran is not allowed to be what it is: a complex arrangement of forces and counterforces resulting from the country’s modernization, its anti-colonial struggles, and the rise of political Islam. Yet how else can we possibly place the plight of women and their struggle around the mandatory hijab in a biopolitical frame that avoids both the reductivism of liberal feminism and its critics in the West?

The events that followed the Jina uprising reveal the decades-long wealth of critical activity by organized councils, coalitions, unions, and syndicates, along with the feminist, worker, teacher, student, pensioner, and ethnic-national democratic movements that have been active in the country since the 1979 revolution and before. But even more, as the essays in this issue show, the uprising laid bare everyday acts of disobedience and resistance by individuals, whether women, queer, or trans people. This is where the formula of translational solidarity shifts from the common enemy—often misunderstood—to a common struggle.

Since the start of the Jina uprising, multiple symposia and gatherings outside Iran have thematized the significance of transnational solidarity in the context of the uprising, and numerous essays in non-Persian languages have circulated in mainstream or independent media. Few to none of these reflections have come from those within Iran who were active and present during the street protests, from those who were detained or whose lives were interminably disrupted.

Taking this point seriously should not mean ignoring the diaspora’s role in building networks of communication that could aid in forming transnational solidarity. As an alternative to the traditional form of international solidarity following the Global North’s hierarchies of values and objectives, and depending on the function of the nation-state, transnational solidarity recognizes and includes indigenous struggles and initiatives as reciprocal with transnational movements.

Undoubtedly, the diaspora plays an essential role in this. But it should not be overlooked that in Iran, any relation between activists inside and outside the country, regardless of different groups’ ideological positions, is criminalized in advance. Any cooperation with foreign media, groups, organizations, and institutions is illegal and subject to imprisonment according to the Penal Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran for “propaganda against the regime,” “collusion against national security,” “collaboration with hostile foreign entities,” or “espionage.” For this reason, the diaspora’s connections with activists inside Iran has remained at the micro level of personal or individual ties, while organic forms of organizing and communicating has been practically unfeasible over the last decade at least.

Under such circumstances, where the link between outside and inside faces serious challenges and obstacles, we cannot claim that liberatory forces and movements within Iran have been directly or indirectly involved in the efforts of the diaspora to build transnational solidarity and initiate epistemic exchange, or that they have benefited from those efforts. In English-speaking conferences, for instance, the absence of activists and writers from inside Iran is overwhelmingly felt. The majority of Iranian participants who do attend these conferences meanwhile have been banned from entering Iran, leaving little possibility for connecting in an organized manner with forces inside. Such security pressures have caused the diaspora to be hesitant in accommodating any conditions for direct participation with activists inside. Some may even consider such efforts irresponsible and endangering, which nevertheless gives way to a type of protectionism that captures the relationship between the diaspora and the inside within yet another set of hierarchies. Considering this particular impasse, we opted in this issue to invite writers all based inside Iran, both in order to view the Jina uprising from the perspective of those present on the scene, and as an attempt to bridge the gap between those inside and outside of Iran. Similarly, we decided to work primarily with amateur translators in diaspora who have been active in local collectives since the beginning of the movement, and whose voices are present in the rigorous and attentive footnotes to each text.

When we began searching for Farsi-to-English translators, we found it substantially more challenging to locate professional translators from Farsi to English than in reverse. How do we account for this discrepancy, especially considering that the Jina uprising could be considered the most viral—the most “translated”—political event of postrevolutionary Iran? What could be causing Farsi to be so acutely scarce in the West’s literary milieus? To give diagnosis to the complications of knowledge production and distribution we should not take the problematics of inclusion for granted. If the task of the translator was once the articulation of an internationalist horizon, of the translatability of liberatory tactics and strategies, al Khatib and El-Kurd’s points indicate that such an imaginary of internationalism mediated via English with its present political economy is blocked. The politics of representation, contrary to what some believe, does not always create conditions for self-representation. At its most extreme, representational inclusion is enabled by silencing the militant expressions so necessary today.

In Iran, this exceptional disconnect between the diaspora and the inside freezes this historical process in its most primitive stage. In a broader sense, the grave epistemic crisis in and around Iran can be traced to the detrimental effects of the cultural revolution (1980–83), the political mass executions of the late eighties, the “chain murders” of intellectuals in the nineties, the continuous purges and arrests of journalists, writers, poets, and thinkers, and the bans and crackdowns on left-leaning and reformist newspapers and independent associations to date, among many other brutal episodes that we could continue to list. Before even making Iran untranslatable to the world at large, this epistemic crisis has first and foremost created an unbridgeable discursive gap between struggles in Iran and those in neighboring states—whether Arab countries like Syria and Iraq or majority Farsi-speaking cultures like Afghanistan and Tajikistan—which have been subjected to militarization, suppression, and geopolitical pressure, if not by the Iranian military or Revolutionary Guard itself, then by the usual international forces.

For this reason, this work of translation is conceived as an invitation to Iran’s neighboring revolutionaries, in spite of how compromised and deficient the English language might be in delivering this message. In this respect, we revisit the moment of Jina as also a revolution on the level of language and the political economy of translation—originating from within Iran’s multilingual and multinational geography and momentarily catapulting the narrative of Iran out of its long entrapment within a handful of buzzwords concerning its relation to the US and its allies. To break the seeming teleology of Iran’s geopolitical future, it is crucial to ask about the social forces and historical formations that made the current revolutionary situation possible.

The work of translation goes beyond the limited shelf life of the attention economy. It is a pause and respite away from mediatic enclosures and pressures to inform and perform, pushing towards a new vista for critical thought and self-reflection. Almost all the drafts delivered by the authors sometime between September and October 2023 opened with a sentence like “A year has passed since the start of the Jina uprising.” In this return to the movement’s origins, we read its immediate explosive affordances as unlocking a previously sealed semiotic space, one that contained the interdependency of struggles in Iran.

The first pixelated images released from the burial site of Jina Amini were of the informal Kurdish engraving on her tombstone: “Beloved Jina, you will not die, your name becomes a symbol.” As these lines spread virally across social media, the word “رمز”, originally from Arabic but translating to “symbol” in Kurdish, transmitted a double meaning (or mistranslation), since in Farsi it means “code,” “cipher,” “mystery,” “allusion,” or “puzzle.” In those early moments, “symbol” and “code” melded together in a poetic register, a testament to the political affordances of mistranslation. Shared en masse and via mobile devices, Jina’s name became a code. Those who could decode its hidden importance became comrades, “symbolically” safeguarded from intelligence infiltrations. Farsi, the hegemon’s tongue, adopted Kurdish in the fleeting opening enabled by collective identification and grief for a young woman who lived and was unjustly killed in Iran’s police state.

There is no public for a secret. In its most affective form, the “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” (Woman, Life, Freedom) encryption found its militant sister in Balochistan’s “Janin, Zand, Ajoyi.” Translation here was not in the service of transient transfer/exchange, but intrinsically about taking ownership over the voice and the body. Under conditions in which Baloch people aren’t only misnamed but preemptively un-named, denied entry into the nation’s symbolic order, and in large numbers caught in limbo as undocumented and stateless natives of Iran, “Janin, Zand, Ajoyi” was a loud and clear pronouncement that Baloch women, like Kurdish women, have always been in charge of their representation and destiny. In its mistranslation and inhabitation of an imaginary semiotic realm, Jina’s code linked subjects formerly unknown to one another by inventing a make-believe language. This new language, incomplete as any language is, momentarily appeared to have accomplished its own historical revaluation, redeemed its own past freedom fighters, and linked the corpus of Iranian history in a singular moment, in the fabric of innumerable past insurrectionary moments. As large as street protests but also as small as each private or domestic rebellion, and as impermanent as makeshift organizing under duress, these moments together constitute the feminist uprising that this issue analyzes.

Translators: Golchehr Hamidi-Manesh, Golnar Narimani, Niloufar Nematollahi, Saina Salarian, Roozbeh Seyedi, ZQ. Supervising translator: Soori Parsa.


Nahal Nikan—To Summon Life in a Cemetery
“In Iran, ‘death’ and ‘the cemetery’ have certain connotations; when we combine them with the birthplace of a movement, everything becomes more meaningful.” In this text, the author writes about the interplay between life and death that was the backdrop to the Woman, Life, Freedom movement. She focuses on the inception of the uprising in Aychi cemetery, where Jina Amini was buried and where a force arising from her death went on to create an “earthly” and “life-affirming” movement in Iran—an inspiring act of finding life in death. The movement vindicated “earthly” living and delegitimized the promise of life after death.

Arnavaz—When Silence is Broken and Voices Ring Out
In the years leading up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, a political discourse emerged in Iran that regarded women’s makeup, fashion, and refusal to wear hijabs as a symptom of their “Westoxification,” promiscuity, and ignorance. These women were viewed as idolatrous puppets of the Western. Their demonstrations against the mandatory hijab were ignored by the secular opposition. Arnavaz takes a historical look at women’s battle against the compulsory hijab in Iran and argues that female attire got caught up in the ideological alliance forged between anti-imperialism and patriarchy.

Negar Hatami—Heads Without Headscarves
This text draws our attention to the embodied dimension of the Jina movement. Hatami begins by speaking from personal experience, exploring the transformations brought about by the loosening of traditional dress codes during the movement. She goes on to examine the Jina movement as it unfolded on the streets, describing how a new bodily constitution emerged, which caught the author by surprise: “As a result of this movement’s train of events, a new body has opened up to us that we haven’t experienced before.”

Elaheh—Cleansing Personal Archives and the Birth of the Black Hole of Collective Memory
Elaheh takes us on a journey from the 2009 Green movement in Iran to the Jina uprising. She describes how security concerns lead many Iranians to destroy digital and physical archives, leading to an absence of collective memory. To conceptualize this void, she uses the metaphor of a black hole.

Shouka Alizadeh and Goli Baharan—A Struggle for Everyone
The authors examine the margins of the Jina uprising, asking about the place of historically disenfranchised groups, like Iran’s Afghan immigrant community, in the movement. Interviewing ten immigrants from Afghanistan living in Tehran, they show how the uprising affected the lives of these immigrants, and how the latter view their participation in the movement in light of a recent anti-immigrant media backlash.

Nuzhan Didartalab—A Power from Within
In the months of crackdown following the street protests, the world was shaken by sham trials and brutal executions of young protestors, the majority of whom were from underprivileged backgrounds and historically oppressed regions like Kurdistan and Balochistan. Inside Iran, the executions of Mohsen Shekari, Majidreza Rahnavard, Mohammad Mehdi Karami, and Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini mobilized mass solidarity against these verdicts and provoked public opposition to the death penalty. This text revisits the history of the campaign to abolish the death penalty in Iran. Leaping over human-rights discourse and its exclusive hold on the category of “life,” the author rethinks the notion of “the right to life” in the context of the uprising and its collective emancipatory biopolitics.

Aram—Jina, the Moment of No Return
Aram looks at the lineage of the recent uprising and examines its particular place in the long history of social movements and insurgent action in Iran. The eruption of the Jina movement was unprecedented in the way that it connected experiences of injustice across class, gender, ethnic, and religious divides. Incremental but steady struggles at home and in the private sphere, argues the author, are what made the Jina movement a “revolution,” insofar as it sparked the revolutionary transformation of political subjectivities and everyday life.

Parva—Inflection Points of a Pluralist Feminist Revolution
Given the ongoing crackdown in Iran against activists and women who resist the mandatory hijab, this text asks whether the Jina movement is over or lives on. It argues for an understanding of the movement as a pluralist feminist revolution, as distinguished from a sovereign revolution. Parva describes the unusual temporality of the Jina movement: “The time for this revolution is akin to a future in the past, a time that has begun but has not concluded, and is now ‘picked back up’ somewhere in the past. Its potentials roam free. Its capacities awaken. Its dreams come to life.”

Dasgoharan—Why Is Maho Our Symbol?
This essay was the first piece of writing to appear on the Instagram account of Dasgoharan, a group of Balochi women who have been publishing theoretical and investigative writing from their field work in Iran’s Balochistan since the start of the Jina movement. Dasgoharan’s writings have since become pivotal for the intersection of feminist and anti-colonial movements inside Iran. This piece concerns the bloody repression of protesters from the Balochi village of Zahedan, who in September 2022 rose up in anger at the killing of Jina Amini and the rape of a local girl by a police commander.


Al Khatib, “Becoming Monsters: What Happens When the Witness Becomes the Defendant?” Verso blog, March 13, 2024 ; El-Kurd, “Are We Indeed All Palestinians?” Mondoweiss, March 13, 2024 .

Editorial, Middle East, Iran, Protests & Demonstrations
Return to Issue #145

Ghoncheh Ghavami is a feminist activist and researcher. She is the editor in chief of Harasswatch, an independent Farsi-speaking feminist platform focused on gender issues.

Bahar Noorizadeh is an artist, writer and filmmaker. She is the founder and editor of Weird Economies, a platform that looks at the relationship between art and capitalism. Noorizadeh is currently an associate lecturer at RCA School of Architecture and the Design Academy Eindhoven.


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