Mahsa Jina Amini and Anne Frank: Woman, Life, Freedom

Speech delivered on November 30, 2022, at TU Delft, as part of the Campus Rally for Iran, in which scholars from 227 universities across the world demonstrated for freedom, justice, and democracy in Iran.


Dear Friends, Salām!

Thank you for the invitation to speak here, which is an honor. My name is Arie, Arie van Deursen. I am a professor in computer science, and I am head of one of the Computer Science Departments here at TU Delft.

Computer science, like many other academic disciplines, is highly international. For example, when I saw the list of 135 universities participating in today’s rally, I recognized many places. I visited or collaborated with scholars from UBC, UVic, Waterloo, Amherst, UC Davis, Stuttgart, Bremen, Milan, Utrecht, and many more.

The reason is that academia is united as one. As academics, we believe in the free, rational exchange of ideas, to make this world a better place. Such discussion does not take place in isolation, but happens together, among academics from all over the world. Scholars depend on each other. We need each other. This also means that

  • If academia in one country is suffering, all of academia is suffering;
  • If students and professors are assaulted or arrested at one university, all universities feel the pain;
  • If, as in Iran right now, academic women, life, and freedom are under attack, all of academia is under attack.

This is why we stand here today, as scholars from all over the world, in solidarity with the students and scholars in Iran, in their peaceful fight for the freedom of the people of Iran.

I also stand here as a head of department. Like the rest of academia, the employees of my department, and the students we educate, come from all over the world. These include dozens of incredibly talented and wonderful people from Iran, many of whom are here today.

I cannot begin to imagine how difficult this period must be for you. You must be deeply concerned about the lives of your loved ones in Iran and the fate of your country. We, your colleagues, your peers, your professors: We think of you and we support you, and we strongly condemn the violence against you. If there is anything we can do to help you, please let us know.

I personally began to understand the situation in Iran a little better when I started supervising a PhD student from Iran, back in 2005. (Since then I have worked with many, and they have all been marvelous). This first student (Ali Mesbah, now a professor at UBC), defended his thesis in June 2009. As you know, this was an eventful period in Iran, and he, his paranimphs, and many people in the audience wore green wristbands in support of the protests in Iran at that time.

A few years later I read Marjane Satrapi’s beautiful graphic novel Persepolis. I think the book is forbidden in Iran, but my then teenage children had to read it at high school in The Netherlands, which prompted me to read it as well. I was mind blown. Persepolis tells Satrapi’s story of growing up in the new Islamic Republic: The oppression, the violence, and the balancing act separating your secret private life from what is allowed in public. It is also a story about moving to Europe as an art student, the loneliness this brings, and about how much you can miss your home country. And it is, ultimately, a story about love and family.

In a Vogue interview in 2016 with Emma Watson (of Hermione Granger fame), Marjane Satrapi gave a clear diagnosis of the root cause of Iran’s current status: “The enemy of democracy isn’t one person. The enemy of democracy is patriarchal culture.”

For resisting that culture, for fighting the patriarchy, Mahsa Jina Amini paid the ultimate price.

Since then, women and men across Iran have followed her lead, demanding freedom. Hundreds of peaceful protesters have been killed, thousands arrested, and tens of thousands assaulted. Despite that, the struggle for freedom continues. An iconic picture to me is that of two young women, no hijab, who were simply offering free hugs in a street in the city of Kermanshah. This is a time when the sad people of Iran just need a hug, they observed.

They were risking their lives. Their bravery is an inspiration to all of us.

Therefore, we stand here, and in more than one hundred universities around the world, in strong solidarity with you, to support you, in your demand for justice and freedom.

Let me conclude with a quote from another strong young woman, Anne Frank. She wrote it in her diary on April 12, 1944, when she was 14 years old. She had spent two years in an attic in Amsterdam, hiding for the German Nazi occupiers of The Netherlands. The day before, their hideout had been discovered by a burglar. They weren’t arrested yet, but the danger was imminent.

This is what she wrote. I’ll read it first in Dutch, and then in English.

Ik weet wat ik wil,
ik heb een doel; een mening,
ik heb een geloof en een liefde.
Laat me mezelf zijn, dan ben ik tevreden.
Ik weet dat ik een vrouw ben,
een vrouw met innerlijke sterkte en veel moed.

I know what I want,
I have a goal, an opinion,
I have a religion and love.
Let me be myself and then I am satisfied.
I know that I am a woman,
a woman with inward strength and plenty of courage.

Woman — life — freedom
Jin — Jiyan — Azadî
Jin — Jiyan — Azadî

Thank you very much!


Arie van Deursen. Delft, November 30, 2022

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