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In September, after the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, at the hands of the morality police, demonstrations broke out across Iran. In response, the government has arrested thousands and killed hundreds. The bedrock grievance fueling the protestors’ narrative is a 1981 law mandating that women wear a hijab, and the right not to wear a hijab has served as a powerful weapon for the protestors, garnering international support and mobilizing the largest social movement in Iran since the 1979 revolution.
The concept of using a right as a weapon was explored by Dr. Clifford Bob’s 2019 book Rights as Weapons: Instruments of Conflict, Tools of Power. While the theory may be new, in practice states and movements have used rights as weapons for centuries. Today, weaponizing rights offers US Army special operations forces (ARSOF) an innovative option to gain an advantage in irregular warfare and strategic competition.
Historically, rights have been framed as the honorable ends or objectives of noble conflicts, releasing people from the bonds of servitude, oppression, and inequality. However, rights can also be leveraged and manipulated as the means (resources) or ways (methods) within greater struggles for power. In other words, rights are weaponized any time they serve as the means or ways to achieve another objective.
Major Joseph Bedingfield is an active duty US Army civil affairs officer currently attending the Advanced Military Study Program at SAMS. He has served with the 45th Infantry Brigade, the Army National Guard Warrior Training Center, and the 92nd Civil Affairs Battalion (SO) (A) with various deployments to the Middle East and Europe. Joseph holds a bachelor of arts from the University of Oklahoma, a master of business administration from Fayetteville State University, and a master of military art and science as a member of the Art of War Scholars program from the US Army Command and General Staff College. This article is a synthesis of the author’s research thesis conducted at the Command and General Staff College, which analyzed how and to what effect rights were weaponized through the Russian revolution from 1893 to 1917.
The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Image credit: PersianDutchNetwork