Remarks: Mahsa Amini Memorial Event

The following remarks were delivered by Arig al Shaibah, Associate Vice-President, Equity and Inclusion during the Mahsa Amini Memorial Event on September 15, 2023.

Assalammu ‘Alaikum.

Let me start by acknowledging that the UBC campuses on which we are gathered for this event sit on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, and Syilx Okanagan Nations. This land acknowledgement serves to remind us of our positionality and relationship to the land and First Peoples who have sought to responsibly steward the land and its resources in a manner that promotes environmental and social sustainability and justice so that all life that traverses the land may flourish and live in harmony.

Thank you to the UBC Persian Club for organizing this important event and for inviting me to make a few remarks on behalf of the university.

One year since Mahsa Amini’s senseless death, today’s event serves both a commemorative and generative purpose.

We are being brought together to remember the life of Mahsa Amini, to recognize the pain inflicted on and to honour the courage of the Iranian community, and to renew our support for the ongoing women, life, freedom global liberation and social justice movement that was since spawned.

Whatever our nationality, ethno-racial ancestry, ability, sexual orientation or gender identity the women, life, freedom liberation movement is relevant to all of our communities and the collective humanity – geopolitical events and societal injustices around the world have far reaching implications and deep impacts on all of us.

The words of the late US civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind. Writing while imprisoned for acts of civil disobedience while fighting for civil rights, Dr. King said:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

– Martin Luther King Jr, Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963

Mahsa Amini was a vibrant 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman who was reportedly severely beaten for allegedly improperly wearing the hijab according to the standards imposed by the government. She died in a hospital while still in police custody shortly after this encounter. Around the world, we have seen the outrage and an outpouring of support including through the “We Are All Mahsa Amini” campaign.

Iranian community members abroad and the Iranian diaspora in Canada have continued to experience trauma and grief, as a consequence of Mahsa Amini’s death and surrounding circumstances, as well as the persistent repressive actions of the country’s regime in response to the women, life, freedom movement – a movement calling for gender equity and respect of human rights.

We honour the courage and perseverance of the Iranian people who have risked their lives to speak out and relentlessly pursue gender equity and human rights before and after Mahsa’s death. Iranian-American author, Azar Nafisi, has written about the courage and perseverance of the Iranian people. She says:

I no longer believe that we can keep silent. We never really do, mind you. In one way or another we articulate what has happened to us through the kind of people we become.

– Azar Nafisi

As a queer, Arab-Canadian woman and cultural Muslim, I continue to experience the grief and survival guilt assoiated with reconciling the relative freedom I have in Canada in contrast to the curtailment of freedoms for women as well as sexual and gender minoritized peope in my country of origin – Yemen – and even among my diasporic communities here in Canada. To fight for these rights in a country were there is an accepted human rights framework as a starting point is very different from fighting for these rights to reform or transform the legal landscape itself.

In closing, this is a challenging time for the UBC Iranian community, and I am proud to stand with you and loudly declare our commitments to supporting human rights globally in a way that calls attention to the senseless death of Mahsa Amini, recognizes the resilence of the community, and declares our commitment to forging a more just world now and into the future.

Thank you for your generosity in inviting me and giving me the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment and support to the Iranian community at UBC.

Lastly, just before I step-off, I want to applaud the visible degree of community support.

For those who may wish to reach out for support or assistance, please consider some of the resources available to you at UBC. A handout is available for your consideration.

Thank you

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