Discover more from The International Correspondent
The Swelling Surveillance Alliance
A new facet of the Chinese-led Orwellian new world order has made its way to Iran, marking a devastating blow to women's rights in the country.
As a new chapter opens in the narrative of the world order, the global surveillance landscape continues to be redefined by emerging technologies. One particular development that stands out starkly is the uptake of advanced surveillance technology by various governments, sparking a profound shift in discussions around privacy, human rights, and the evolving concept of a "Chinese-led New World Order." A vivid and disturbing illustration of this is Iran's recent adoption of surveillance tools to enforce the mandatory hijab requirement for women.
Iran's morality police have resumed their controversial street patrols to enforce the stringent dress code that mandates women to cover their hair with hijabs and don loose attire. The reinstatement of patrols comes nearly ten months after mass protests sparked by the controversial death in custody of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, who was held for allegedly violating the "proper" hijab requirement.
The response to Amini's death was significant, igniting widespread outrage across the country. Women took to the streets, defiantly burning their headscarves or waving them at the anti-establishment demonstrations, with many ceasing to cover their hair in public altogether. These acts of resistance embodied the discontent and frustration many Iranian women felt toward their government's stringent dress codes.
After a pause in the operations of the morality police during the protests, authorities attempted other methods to enforce the dress code. However, their efforts were met with public mockery on social media platforms and open defiance on the streets. In some ways, it seemed that Amini's tragic death had intensified the struggle for personal freedoms in the Islamic Republic.
Under Iranian law, shaped by the country's interpretation of Sharia, women are required to cover their hair with a hijab and wear long, loose-fitting clothing. Since 2006, special police units, formally known as the Guidance Patrols (Gasht-e Ershad), have been tasked with enforcing these rules. Amini's detainment and subsequent death at the hands of this force sparked nationwide protests, which were violently suppressed by security forces, resulting in hundreds of deaths and thousands of detentions.
In response to the increasing number of women openly defying the dress code, authorities installed surveillance cameras to identify them and took action against businesses that ignored violations of the dress code. Some citizens who supported the dress code rules took matters into their own hands, enforcing the rules in public, including an incident where a man threw a tub of yogurt at two unveiled women.
Despite the harsh crackdowns, resistance and civil disobedience remains high. A university student, identified only as Ismaili, voiced doubts about the state's ability to reimpose the dress code. "The number of people who do not obey is too high now," she said. "They cannot handle all of us; the last thing they can do is use violence and force against us. They cannot do it."
Her defiance echoes the sentiments of many Iranians, highlighting the widening divide between the state and its people. Reformist newspaper Hammihan has criticized the resurgence of morality police patrols as potentially causing "chaos" in society, and reformist politician Azar Mansouri has noted it indicates the "gap between the people and the state is widening."
Even Iranian actor, Mohammad Sadeqi, was arrested for urging women to defend themselves when confronted by the morality police. In an Instagram post, he warned officers of the potential consequences of their actions, stating the state had "declared a war" on the people. Hours later, he was forcefully detained during a live-streamed raid on his home.
The continuation of Iran's hijab monitoring through the morality police and the adoption of Chinese surveillance technology illustrates a hardening stance on personal freedoms in Iran. It underscores the need for increased international attention and action on these issues as we witness the unfolding of a new, troubling chapter in the narrative of the "Chinese-led New World Order." The Orwellian nature of this situation calls for a comprehensive global response as we strive to protect and uphold human rights and personal liberties in the face of increasing state control. It’s no surprise that Iran found a great ally in China.
In the past few years, China's exportation of its invasive surveillance model to countries in Africa and Central Asia has raised eyebrows globally. This model, honed in China's tightly controlled society, has been exported to Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. It employs advanced facial recognition technology and indiscriminate data harvesting, often with little to no regard for citizens' rights to privacy.
What is particularly alarming about this phenomenon is the seeming acceptance and eagerness with which some governments have adopted these measures. Once considered an extreme dystopian scenario, China's surveillance state apparatus is progressively becoming the new normal in certain parts of the world. This Orwellian picture envisages a world where citizens’ every move is tracked, personal freedoms are curtailed, and state control is absolute.
The Chinese technology companies leading this wave, like Huawei and CEIEC, have been pivotal in implementing these advanced surveillance systems in various countries. In Zimbabwe, for instance, the government openly embraced Chinese surveillance technology, with President Mnangagwa touting the government's capability to track citizens' movements and activities. Similarly, the Central Asian nations have trusted their population's data to Chinese corporations with close ties to the Chinese military establishment, in many cases with little to no public discussion or oversight.
Iran is the latest country to join this surveillance alliance. Given the country's history of rigid enforcement of religious dress codes, the use of Chinese surveillance technology could potentially heighten the government's control over women's personal freedoms and puts women who dare to defy the government’s theological edicts in danger of arrest— or worse.
Various nations' adoption of these systems underscores the need for a global conversation on using and regulating surveillance technology and protecting human rights in the digital age. Indeed, as the world stands at the precipice of this potential new era, it's crucial that we collectively reassess the balance between technological advancement and human rights preservation. If left unchecked, the march of the Chinese Orwellian surveillance state could redefine the global landscape, casting a long, inhibitive shadow over personal freedoms and the basic tenets of privacy.
The International Correspondent is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.