By Golbarg Bashi,
November 14, 2005
Feminist research or
women's studies is a methodological perspective that criticises societal
inequalities, with an emphasis on gender disparities. As a secular feminist I
initiated a re-debate over the crisis in Iranian women's studies/activism
(intertwined) so that our scholarship and activism embraces more lives inside
My major concern today is in gathering the scattered efforts, good-will and resources which we Iranians have an abundance of, and lend a helping hand to the women's and progressive movements, the impoverished NGOs, the oppressed, the marginalized, the hungry, the dispossessed, the prisoners, the censored intellectuals, the activists, and the students inside Iran (regardless of their religious and political convictions).
I would like to thank Dr
Shahrzad Mojab, Associate Professor and Director of the Women and Gender Studies
Institute at the
It gives me as much hope in an egalitarian future for Iran in reading Sa'adi Shirazi's poetry, Hojjat-ol-Eslam Mohsen Saidzadeh, Professor Ghari Seyyed Fatemi and Dr Mohsen Kadivar's work as it does reading Mehrangiz Kar, Parvin Paidar, Zanaan Magazine, Simin Behbahani and young pacifist and anti-racist Iranian web bloggers' writings. It is my privilege as a student to have access to the fruits of their hard-work, work which was/is often carried out under intense fear of prosecution, solitary confinement and ruthless avenge. Yet, I do not see theirs or anyone's work as providing all the answers to the ills of humanity, or being in any way sacrosanct and free from criticism (I may even have major objections to their framework). I do not think that any given text, declaration or political manifesto is the 'Holy Grail'. The struggle goes on, and it is the responsibility of us all to utilise our limited knowledge and resources in places we deem indispensable, and without violating others' human dignity (even those of scholars and students).
I believe that Professor Haideh Moghissi's response to Mojab (in 'About Ideological/Behavioural Crisis in Iranian Women's Studies', posted in August 2005) deals with the overall failings of the latter's arguments. Below, I aim to propose questions to Shahrzad Mojab in response to her criticism of my approach.
starts her critique of my two essays
by informing about her own work with women's issues and discussions with women
at "grassroots, ministerial, and professional levels" in "Jordan, Palestine,
Turkey, and Iraq" (Mojab, 2005). By doing this she signifies that cooperating
and working in these nations (even at ministerial level) does not automatically
render one a criminal or accomplice with criminal regimes. I refer to
lived for one year in
Mojab claims that my calls for 'dialogue', 'tolerance' and 're-negotiation' in the Iranian women's circles/meetings/conferences are "(neo-)liberal feminist politics which promotes local and global 'sisterhood,' 'inclusion,' 'empowerment,' and notions such as 'authenticity of voice,' 'representation,' 'location,' 'positionality,' and 'identicalness'...[stating]...We are disciplined by "accented feminists" to believe that the systemic violence perpetrated against women, in the West and the East, in and out of state and home prisons, can come to an end through appropriate rules of behaviour and in the course of "negotiations" with the ancient patriarchal order" (Mojab, 2005).
It goes without saying that systematic violence perpetrated against women will (of course) not end through "appropriate rules of behaviour" and only through the course of "negotiations" with the ancient patriarchal order.
But I am still curious to know how Mojab defines "tolerance" and "negotiation" as she works within a liberal democracy (Canada) a state like all others that has not achieved women's total emancipation, and she also works with national bodies and governments in Middle Eastern "ancient patriarchal capitalist orders" (Jordan, Palestine, Turkey, and Iraq). I would like to know how Mojab explains this inconsistency and contradiction in her arguments and practice?
"negotiation" (aided with other strategies) is such a shameful and disgraceful
act (with aristocrats, patriarchal ministers, Muslim veiled women in
There are indeed countless problems in actually existing liberal democracies (we can cite hundreds of credible feminist findings confirming this) but I would like to know what actual Marxist models have been accomplished, and also if Mojab's version of Marxism has been practically implemented anywhere?
By asking these questions, I am not defending capitalism. I am only posing these questions as Mojab suggested that my proposal for an expanded and peaceful Iranian women's movement was an unashamed paternalistic and bourgeois request which has no hope of creating an emancipatory, positive or empowering impact - ever. So I am merely curious if hers which is clearly an all-encompassing political ideology does.
am much interested to know if which/what women's group or feminists in Iran
Mojab is supportive of? Inside
I would like to see Mojab's approach to democracy, human rights, and women's rights and even Marxism (or is it Maoism?). It occurs to me that she sees democracy and human rights discourse as "liberal bourgeois" constructs and not adequate for helping Iranian women and men as it does not automatically diminish class stands. I can understand that Mojab does not appreciate the project of Enlightenment and with it the liberal rights discourse. Yet, I have to remind her that the emancipatory thrust of feminism is rooted in the 18th century European struggle for democracy (Enlightenment). Hence, isn't a peaceful path towards democracy the first step we can take towards liberation, human rights and dignity before we finally achieve our class-free egalitarian society?
I would say
that 'Third world' feminists have mainly welcomed the liberal rights discourse
and in it the human rights model as a means for women's empowerment and the
elimination of gender inequalities and violence against women. The gaining of
legal rights has globally played a central role for the empowerment of women,
and marginalised groups, for instance for African-Americans through
Abolitionists and the Civil Rights movement in the
So while I support those who have identified and the male and bourgeois bias in the rights discourse and are aiming at finding other ways for the liberation of women, I do not stop or ridicule women's rights NGOs and activists (Kar, Ebadi, Mir-Hosseini, V. Moghadam, Sherkat, and Tohidi) from using them to bring to an end gross violations of people's dignity and bodily integrity (death penalty, lashing, unequal laws, cruel and inhuman punishments etc). Feminists have widely criticised the mainstream human rights discourse for its inadequacies to defend and grasp all humans' rights (ranging from defending the female infant's right to food, education and bodily integrity along with the freedom of thought and protection against persecution for the political activist). But, their criticism of human rights has successfully forced a rethinking that takes the 'issue' of women's rights as human rights. Feminists have been continuously demanding a much stronger enforcement and protection mechanism for human rights than witnessed today. Today, considering domestic violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), right to education/employment, freedom from malnutrition and female infanticide as mainstream human rights issues, among many other 'female' and 'private' issues owe much to the efforts of feminist and women's NGOs. The majority of feminists would argue that human rights provide an authoritative platform from which to press for greater equality. But this does not mean that feminist scholars of our era are not engaged in critically analysing the andocentric nature of law; its preoccupation with male and 'public' interests, the philosophy of the Enlightenment and human rights from different perspectives. Shouldn't then scholars, students and activists be able to peacefully meet to discuss their shared interests (women's emancipation through various means)?
I am sure Mojab appreciates and benefits from living under the individual rights protections which the Canadian state offers so why is it so terrible that millions of women inside Iran would want the same? Are they so backward for wanting it? Would I and other feminists be so terrible for reaching out to them and holding them as intellectually equal?
think a premature abandonment of the Enlightenment project in feminism,
and in it the human rights discourse in particular is detrimental for women in
"if the human rights doctrine has its origins in Enlightenment Europe and in North America, should women everywhere work toward its universalization?...On the one hand, there is the intellectual quest to understand and to criticize the colonial experience, including absorbing the structure of the Enlightenment as a colonial subject...there [is thus] a need to demystify the Enlightenment project...The colonial venture, imbued by the philosophy of the Enlightenment, led to the morbid structures and developments in post-colonial societies...I...have reservations about the ways that certain Enlightenment ideas served to define, classify and exclude large segments of the world's population. Nonetheless, I recognize that I serve in some sense as an active instrument of the Enlightenment, promoting human rights standards and urging people to discipline and punish the violators of those standards, especially those who perpetrate violence against women".
feminists, especially from
This brings me to ask Mojab if she doesn't agree that even Marx believed that one cannot have socialism without first having a successful liberal democracy and prosperous capitalism (even Lenin after taking power, realized that Russia had to go through a bourgeois stage, hence he pursued NEP before beginning socialist agenda, but Stalin and Mao thought they can jump over that stage by creating a "non-capitalist path" of development to socialism and both of them failed as we can see in Russia and China).
I would hence like to know if Mojab condones the way revolutionaries in Russia and China silenced, harassed, abused, persecuted, and even killed thousands of people, intellectuals, academics and feminists, not just ordinary people, but also members of the Communist Party that did not agree with the "dominant radicals"? How is the behavior of "regular radicals" in Iranian meetings and conferences different from such tragic historical examples?
I would like
to ask Mojab if she sees stormy and constant heckling at meetings and
conferences as a successful form of resistance and/or empowering? Constantly
breaking conferences in disarray even when we are allowed to have our say, helps
no one but our own egos. How can brawling, and insulting be an empancipatory
tactic (year after year)? How can bullying fellow human-beings ever be a good
thing? If holding a peaceful meeting where we see factions of all Iranian
society (even our so-called 'enemies') to discuss various contributions is
"undermining Iran's real opposition" (stated before Berlin 2000 by a radical
then I see that "real opposition" and
its ideological force as a rather weak one. How can allowing and listening to
competing view-points, weaken and undermine one's own? This is the very tactic
conservative Islamists use in
We, be it liberal, neo-liberal, Muslim, Jewish or Marxist feminists have to condemn violence. Feminists have waged a powerful campaign for women's emancipation precisely because they have used non-violence strategies. As Iranians, I believe we cannot afford to allow violence in our circles.
Whatever our common criterion for coalition building or a constructive dialogue is, let's find it, and let's find it soon. I don't care what label it may carry, even if universal human rights is a UN construct and seen by some as a global capitalist cop-out, it can save lives and may be a source for coalition building, there may be other common criterion. I would like to hear about them, hence why I have asked Dr Mojab so many specific questions.
Mojab claims that in my pleas for an inclusive and expanded movement, I was trying to "come up with an agenda for Iranian women's studies, which at its best, does not move beyond the outmoded liberal feminist project, that is, the project of challenging structures of male power with "peaceful dialogue," liberal education, and reform of the status quo" (Mojab, 2005).
Here Mojab gives me more credit than I am due, I did not proffer any solutions which can end Iran's blatant gender-apartheid overnight, all I was and still am concerned with is the frightening lack of solidarity, the way individual activists and researchers from Iran (and those who do fieldwork there) are undermined. I see the mistrust, hate and abrupt/resolute labelling as crippling for a progressive successful movement.
Mojab states "To be polite does not mean to keep quiet and passively accept what we find questionable" (Mojab, 2005) exactly! Mojab thinks that "there is no purpose in a 'dialogue', if there are no consequences for changing the gendered status quo, if you state your point of view and I do mine, what have we achieved? Does not this mean the perpetuation of the status quo? What is the purpose of 'negotiation' if the two sides are unequal, and if it does not lead to a shift in the position of power?" (Mojab, 2005).
I can only wonder why Mojab is so pessimistic about a possible shift in the position of power. Mojab's pessimism disregards people's power and the fact that individuals not structures change history. The very minimum that could be realized from 'dialogue' and 'negotiations' is consciousness-raising and empowerment. It is simply in dialogue not monologue that we can reach a new level of consciousness, a new level of understanding (this is the very detail dismissed by religious fanatics thus resulting in violence and extremism). Dialogue can lead us - individuals - to change our own circumstance instead of waiting for a quick fix, a revolution or a savior to liberate us. Power shifts not through violence but through dialogue. So I would like to ask Dr Mojab whether or not individuals should be given the opportunity to strive for diminishing violence?
Has not participation in IWSF's conferences (when it's been peaceful and inclusive), empowered insecure and oppressed women like myself? I spent my elementary schooling in Iran where I was constantly put down and harassed by my Hezboll‚hi and Ch‚dori teachers and principal because of my secular thus 't‚ghoti' family background and my own 'indiscreet' and inquisitive behaviour (at the peak of Khomeinism and the Iran-Iraq war). One particular ultra-religious principal used to call me 'B‚shi el‚hi nab‚shi' as a terrorizing rime (translation: Bashi I pray to God that you go dead) in front of others and physically push me around in the school corridors. Throughout secondary school in Sweden, I was continuously bullied because of my 'refugee' status (at the peak of the Rushdie affair and the popularity of Betty Mahmoody's book) and once even physically beaten by several racist boys in my school, and had to negotiate my right to also attend school peacefully. I think one must give it a go, and let others do the same.
Meeting fellow Iranian and Middle Eastern women from various backgrounds has helped me see that none of us are 'winners', 'better' or 'stronger', we all deal with very similar types of oppressions, which by only sharing and admitting to, can we find peace, forgiveness, love, hope and strength. It is through peaceful meetings and a meaningful 'dialogue' that the process of healing can begin and a shift/re-distribution of 'power' can happen. To me it seems that by belittling and excluding those we perceive as the 'enemy' (veiled women, clerics, reformists, researchers of reformism etc), we are not only perpetuating the enemy's own channels but we create more hate and resentment, and we only put more oil on its vicious cycle.
reinforcement of the concept of all individuals' worth and dignity, through
dialogue at this very juncture in history is helping millions of human beings
across the globe, and I would hate to see it abandoned, especially by Iranians.
In the meantime, in the progressive Iranian movements, I think we need to meet
more often, listen, note, criticize each other while being the very change
(peace and none-violence) we desperately seek. I think we are not faced with a,
'You're either with Us, or Against Us' condition in the progressive movements.
We need to find out as much as possible about each others works, ideas, problems
and similarities. Let's remember that as I write this paper, women in
I look forward to your response.
With peace, Golbarg Bashi
For a list on all the 15 previous contributions to this debate, see below:
Samira Mohyeddin (English),
Leyla Pegahi (Farsi),
Shadi Amin (Farsi),
Maziar Shirazi (English),
Halleh Ghoreyshi (English),
Forough Nayeri (Farsi),
Golroch Jahangiri (Farsi),
Jamileh Davoudi (Farsi),
http://www.pezhvak.com/archive.shtml -- September 2005 (see pages 12 and 37)
Haideh Moghissi (English),
Shahrzad Mojab (English),
Golbarg Bashi (English),
Hamid Nowzari (Farsi),
Azar S (English),
not available online
Vida Kashizadeh (English),
Golbarg Bashi (English),
note that the US-based web site dedicated to Iranian women's issues, Irandokht.com have been covering the
recent debates extensively, at:
Please also note that some of the essays have been published in more than one web site (such as in Persianmirror.com and Iftribune.com). I have only cited the web sites that were first to publish the essays and those which have provided the shortest links.
 As observed between 2001 - 2005 in the Iranian Women Studies Foundations' (IWSF) annual conferences.
 A quote by Allan K. Chalmers.
 I am above all very grateful for the support I have received from many of our Iranian women's studies scholars, especially Nayereh Tohidi, Haideh Moghissi, Valentine Moghadam, Elham Gheytanchi, Halleh Ghoreyshi, Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Nahid Tohidi (in Iran) (to mention a few), young Iranian web bloggers and the generous and unconditional space given by Iranian.com, Irandokht.com, Parstimes.com and Gooya News in allowing me and others in expressing our views. I am very grateful to the IWSF board and Ms Golnaz Amin for agreeing to publish the 15 essays that have so far been written in response to some of the questions that I have re-raised, in the form of a book. I am also thankful to Yassamine Mather for patiently organising Pal Talk sessions in the 'Iran Socialist Forum' (http://www.socialist-forum.com/) so that the debate could reach other audiences. I feel very humbled but immensely inspired by these generous acts of good-will and acknowledgment in the Iranian scholarly and activist/web community.
 For more about the Iranian 'blogging' phenomena, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_Blogs
 Haideh Moghissi is Professor of Sociology, at
 'Crisis in Iranian Women's Studies', posted on Gooya News on July 15, 2005, can be accessed at, http://news.gooya.com/english/archives/033176.php and Iranian.com at, http://www.iranian.com/Women/2005/July/Crisis/. My second essay 'Muddy Waters' can be accessed at, http://www.8mars.com/english/GOLBARG.htm
Shahrzad Mojab (2001)
a Non-State Nation: The Kurds. MAZAD
Ahmadi Khorasani collaborates with liberal and Muslim feminists while never
putting aside her critical view of the shortcomings of liberals nor has she
failed to be silent against the ultra leftists. Ahmadi
 Andermahr, Sonya, Lovell, Terry and Wolkowitz, Carol (1997) The Concise Glossary of Feminist Theory. London, Arnold. p. 65.
 Marxist and communist modes of thought also started out as patriarchal and male-centric.
 See Benhabib and Cornell (1987) (eds.), Felski 1989, Lovibond 1989, Soper 1989-1990. Cited in Andermahr et al, 1997, p. 65.
 Andermahr et al., 1997, p. 65.
Radhika (1997) 'Reinventing International
Law: Women's Rights as Human Rights in the International Community', paper
presented in The Edward A. Smith Lecture Series, Human Rights Program, Harvard
Law School. Accessed at, http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/HRP/Publications/radhika.html
 For an Iranian feminist perspective, see Nayereh Tohidi (2003) "Women's Rights in the Muslim World: The Universal-Particular Interplay" in Hawwa Journal on Women in the Middle East and Islamic World, Vol.1, No. 2, 2003: 152-188. In this paper, Tohidi argues for the universality of the human rights convention.
 Andermahr et al., 1997, p. 98.
 For more about the Berlin 2000 conference, see:
∑ BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/719590.stm (accessed 12 August 2005)
Within: Islamic Scholars' Protests Against the Islamic State in
∑ Human Rights Watch (Trial for Conference Attendees): http://hrw.org/english/docs/2000/11/02/iran610.htm (accessed 5 November 2005)
 I am indebted to
Elham Gheytanchi, feminist sociologist at UCLA in the
 I am again indebted to Elham Gheytanchi for her generous contribution in this question.
 Strictly veiled from top to toe by a large blanket-like often black cover.
 The term 't‚ghoti' was coined by Islamists to refer to anyone who is against the Islamic Republic. It refers literally to someone who is a pro-Monarch (supporter of the Peacock Throne).
 Betty Mahmoody's best-selling book titled, 'Not Without My Daughter' caused a major racist backlash against Iranian Diasporic communities throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.
... Payvand News - 11/17/05 ... --