Conservatives were outraged when Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee during the national anthem, and they remained so as others followed suit at various levels of sports. Of course, Kaepernick grew up enjoying many privileges and advantages that others of many races did not enjoy. In stunning irony, Kaepernick hawked Nike sneakers that are made under horrible working conditions in third-world countries. Many despised and continue to despise Kaepernick, who was perceived as biting the hand of the country that fed him. And in our dopamine-addicted country, kneeling for the anthem became the benchmark for true enlightenment. While Kaepernick was lionized and almost canonized for hating the nation responsible for his success, the argument can be made for refusing to stand for a national anthem — in this case, that of Iran.
Reuters reports that during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the Iranian soccer team refused to sing the country’s national anthem prior to Monday’s game against England. All 11 players were silent as the anthem played. Additionally, according to The Daily Mail, the anthem elicited jeers and boos from the crowd. The players and the crowd were standing in solidarity with the protests that are taking place in Iran. Protestors holding signs have been photographed both inside and outside of the stadium. Catherine Perez-Shakdam, who is a specialist in Iran at the Henry Jackson Society, told the Mail:
“The refusal by Iran’s football team not to sing the Islamic Republic’s national anthem will be a decision the players will pay for dearly. Similarly, any Iranian fan identified by the regime for booing the anthem will also face being severely punished. This is the brutal reality of modern-day Iran. Iran’s players may have forfeited more than just their freedom today; and their lives may not be the only ones on the line. Indeed, the regime has demonstrated a particular propensity to target dissidents’ family members and in doing so deter others from voicing their opinions. Given Iran’s horrendous track record, it stands to note that the players and fans who today shunned the regime, knew full well about risks they faced. Such courage and dignity in the face of absolutism most certainly deserves our full recognition.”
Iran’s protests have been going on since Mahsa Amini died at the hands of police for not wearing a hijab properly. In September, the United States issued sanctions against Iran and its morality police for Amini’s death and for what Secretary of State Antony Blinken called “other human rights violations in Iran – including the violent suppression of peaceful protests.” In addition to protesting Amini’s death, Iran’s citizens are also opposing violations of women’s rights and the mandate that women wear a hijab.
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The soccer team and any fans booing the anthem have good reason to be concerned for their safety. Fox News reported that on Sept. 22, as protests mounted around the country, nine people were killed after Iranian protesters set fire to police buildings and stabbed a regime enforcer. On Sept. 26, around 41 people were killed and more than 1,200 were arrested in another protest. This past weekend, videos emerged of a group of people standing on a subway platform, stomping their feet and clapping their hands, shouting, “I am a free woman.” Bangs are heard before the group flees the scene. Police are seen shooting a man with a paintball gun, and in another video, a group of people run up the stairs from a metro platform while police drag one person to the ground. On Nov. 15, protesters torched the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini Museum. Thousands have been detained, hundreds have been killed, and Fox reports that at least one person has received a death sentence.
There are lightyears between the American kneelers and the Iranian players. The professional and amateur teams in America who decide that they are oppressed know that the worst they will receive may be a few negative op-eds or Twitter comments at most. By and large, they will be heralded as bold and heroic. The Iranian players and fans know that at best, they will be detained by their government for speaking out about human rights abuses. At worst, they and maybe even their families will disappear.
This Thanksgiving, remember Mahsa Amini, the Iranian soccer team and fans, and the Iranian people.