Iran News ...


3/5/07

Shedding Crocodile Tears

By Golbarg Bashi

 

On Sunday March 4th 2007, more than thirty two women's rights activists were arrested after they had peacefully gathered in front of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran to protest the trial of five of their fellow activists. The five were being tried for "organizing a protest last June against [unequal gender] laws...[and for] endangering national security, propaganda against the state and taking part in an illegal gathering."[1] According to various news agencies, this "gathering was to protest the recent state pressures on women's rights defenders".[2] 

 

According to Iran-e Emrooz and other sources, "the organizers of the two major current campaigns, "Stop Stoning Forever," and "One Million Signatures to Change the Discriminatory Law," have been among the women rights defenders [arrested] by the National Security Police." The New York-based Human Rights Watch has highlighted these arrests and demanded that the Islamic Republic "end its prosecution of...women's rights advocates for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly"[3]. Furthermore, Iranian bloggers have been active in their quick and extensive coverage of events inside Iran[4]-thus, generating tremendous international attention to these violations. 

 

As it is known to most observes and citizens of Iran, the Islamic Republic is a horrendous gender apartheid state, one where within family law in particular women are treated as second rate beings, are discriminated against culturally, and in the repressive political atmosphere, both feminists as well as civil rights activists are continuously censored, arrested, harassed and even murdered. The Islamic Republic is responsible for the torture and killing of tens of thousands of dissidents since it came to power in 1979 through the militant repression of all other political movements that have an equal claim on the Iranian polity (nationalists, socialists and feminists). This particular persecution, harassment, and incarceration of women's rights activists is yet another indication of the violent criminalisation of dissent within the state apparatus of the Islamic Republic. But at the same time it is a clear indication that what we are witnessing in Iran is a grass-roots movement of unprecedented dimensions.   

 

Women's rights activists have since the presidency of the ultra-conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2005 come under increasing attack, while their activism has flourished even further, and taken on ever-more bolder manifestations.  In recent years, coalitions of individual women activists, associations and NGOs have effectively mobilised themselves in public and online, demanding their constitutional civil rights and an end to legal discrimination in the Islamic Republic. As such the Iranian women's movement has entered a "new, more daring and organically rooted, phase"[5]. 

 

As witnessed by activists as well as scholars in and outside Iran, the Iranian women's movement has never been as socially multifaceted, ideologically diverse and politically bold as it is today. While during the Pahlavi era, women's rights activists were ushered either under the state-controlled imperial women's organisations (and their achievements claimed by Ashraf Pahlavi's WOI or else appropriated in Mahnaz Afkhami's monarchist historiography),[6] or else evident in the guerrilla-based and male dominated oppositional groups, today's women activists and ordinary citizens have united under some basic but clear demands vis--vis the Islamic Republic. They have called for an immediate "end to discriminatory laws against women", have set up highly active networks and web sites with hundreds of new essays on various topics dealing with feminist concerns, children's rights and democracy, have gathered peacefully in public, staged acts of civil disobedience, and thus gained much global attention[7]. Iranian women are also at the forefront of literacy, educational, artistic, journalistic, and legal advancements unmatched in the entire Western Asia.

 

 


June 12, 2005

Women from various backgrounds assemble in front of Tehran University

to demand equal laws in the Iranian Constitution

 

 

This however is not to paint an overly rosy picture of women's activism in Iran. Inside Iran, women's activism is also caught in all kinds of non-constructive dead-ends-reformists vs. conservatives, seculars vs. religious, etc. Moreover, Iranian women activists are mainly concentrated in the capital and are middle class and Persian-speaking. As such, they are not part of the global feminist debate, which could be very helpful to the growth of an Iranian anti-racist, anti-war transnational feminism[8]. Be that as it may, over the last few years, we are beginning to see major improvements in coalition building and mobilisation against the atrocities of the Islamic Republic. 

 

As even more courageous women's rights activists are, again, arbitrarily arrested in the Islamic Republic, and new and more hopeful signs of coalition building become evident, one may rightly wonder what precisely is the role of women's rights activists outside Iran in these historic moments.  Here, apart from the work of a handful of feminist scholars who are doing some groundbreaking work in the quiet corners of their scholarship and a few globally-minded activists, alas, the scene is one of astounding hypocrisy and opportunism. A band of self-appointed secular (as they dub themselves) fundamentalist "lumpen-activists" has now developed the habit of shedding crocodile tears every time women activists inside Iran are arrested. These secular fundamentalist "activists" who are ordinarily busy vilifying and raging against "Islam" and "Muslims" shoulder to shoulder with such racist frauds as Hirsi Ali[9] are again in full gear, stealing the noble cause of women's rights activism inside Iran. As perhaps best represented in the work and speeches of a certain Chahla Chafiq (a principal collaborator with a fraudulent and racist opportunist like Hirsi Ali, chiefly responsible for creating a wide-range of hatred in Europe against Muslims), this barefaced hypocrisy usually moves into full gear as soon as the international spotlight is on the legitimate and acute situation of activists who have been hard at work for decades inside the Iranian theocracy. From the safe distance of their bastion in Frankfurt, Toronto, Paris, Stockholm, London, or Los Angeles, and lucratively provided for by the widespread anti-Muslim and racist sentiments in Western Europe and North America, these lumpen-activists have not for once shown any remorse nor even contemplated their ignoble, parasitical and inorganic role in the humiliation of millions of Muslims, noble women activists inside Iran, and for mudding a multifaceted and emancipatory discourse into "you're either with us, or against us".  

 

This gang of lumpen-hecklers is known and feared for their constant harassments at meetings and conferences, their sabotaging of democratic events, their scandalising and bullying of veiled women, and their intimidation of Iranian women scholars and activists who have attended European and North American conferences. This is all when they are not busy siding with racist policies towards Muslims in Western Europe (to ban veiling in public spaces, for example, or denigrating Muslim communities into subhuman entities and calling "Islam" the "greatest threat to humanity"), or else publicly insulting women's rights activists like Shirin Ebadi or Mehrangiz Kar, distinguished scholars such as the late Parvin Paidar and scores of women's rights activists inside Iran. 

 


Maryam Hosseinkhah

Long-time women's rights activist and journalist (visibly wearing the full chador) currently arrested together with over 32 other activists.  If she were to appear in an IWSF conference in Western Europe or North America, she would be subject to terrorising intimidation by the selfsame secular fundamentalists who are now shedding crocodile tears over her arrest. 

 

These very same Iranian women who are now arrested in Iran, and over whose arrest these lumpen secular fundamentalists are now shedding crocodile tears, would be the subject of terrorising ridicule and shameless insult if they dared to come to Western Europe or North America to present a paper or report of their activities. The lumpen fundamentalists, the functional equivalents of the Hezbollahis inside Iran, pretend to admire these Iranian activists inside Iran only when they get arrested, incarcerated, and silenced. But the second they dare to come out and participate in an international conference (and thus expose the utter uselessness of the secular fundamentalists) they become the targets of the vilest and most vicious attacks for the singular sin of living and working inside the Islamic Republic.  I have been personally a witness to repeated insults in IWSF (Iranian Women's Studies Foundation's) annual gatherings against as prominent Iranian women as Mehrangiz Kar and as dedicated and courageous women as Shadi Sadr who are working against all odds inside Iran and occasionally come out to conferences to present a paper or report of their activities. Rarely in history of women's rights activism has an expatriate community been so utterly useless and in fact terrorising and counterproductive in the fate of a people they pretend to represent. 

 

 

Judging from the names and backgrounds of those courageous Iranian women arrested in Iran (those whose lives are now in danger in the dungeons of a criminal theocracy) they come from a broad range of ideological persuasions and classes-and yet they are all united in their call on the Islamic Republic to end legal discrimination against women.  While inside Iran, a vicious theocracy is squeezing progressive intellectuals and activists, outside Iran a whitewashed Iranian "feminism" has degenerated into a racist, reactionary and utterly useless fixation with anti-Muslim fanaticism.  In Europe and North America, lumpen-activists keep celebrating an unexamined "secularism" as if once we obtain "secularism" all will automatically be well, as if all women of all classes and colours in the U.S. or France have achieved equality, peace and equanimity. This insular, useless, parochial, illiterate, and ghettoised "feminism" has plenty in common with the neo-conservative ideology now wreaking havoc around the globe. They use the same racist imagery that only the most rightwing and bigoted newspapers in Europe would display to prove the "backwardness" of Muslims. Then when you'd think this "activism" couldn't get any viler, they shed crocodile tears over the fate of arrested veiled women in Iran. They take advantage of being older, more artificially experienced, louder in their vulgar disposition, and even of the simple fact that they have a more streetwise command of Persian to intimidate, frighten, and denigrate the younger generation of feminists and activists, whom they condescendingly dismiss as "nasl-e dovvomi-ha." In IWSF gatherings, I have been personally witness to outrageous intimidation tactics of this squad of secular fundamentalists ganging up against any single voice of dissent that disagrees with them. A band of half-literate, barely educated, and intellectually ghettoized ideologues, more often than not with a pitiful command over the language and culture of their host countries, repeatedly and systematically humiliate and denigrate a younger generation that attends these conferences for intellectual engagement and feminist solidarity. And then this banality has the audacity to issue one nauseating fatwa after another about the fate of women's rights movement inside Iran or Muslim women's predicaments world-wide, about which they know next to nothing and against its leadership they harbour nothing but hatred, jealousy and anger.[10] 

 

On the adjacent side of this barefaced hypocrisy of lumpen-activists we have the overtly right-wing Iranian women memoirists[11] in the U.S. who as an Iranian web site unwittingly announces, "are hot these days!" In the post-9/11 era and in the U.S. in particular, "Iranian women" who classify as "modern, secular, unapologetic, extremely intelligent, media savvy...[are] getting much deserved media attention". To be qualified for the honorary degree of "extremely intelligent" and thus secure "media attention" one must be "secular" and look exactly like the white women who thus bestows these epithets on Iranian expatriate bourgeoisie.  Thus millions of working class, rural or religious women in Iran can automatically go to hell-they'd be too backward for the U.S. or even Western European media to be allowed to represent themselves.

 

Inside Iran, a grass roots and heroic activism is now in grave danger.  In addition to their own groundbreaking efforts, the women's rights activists in Iran need our moral support and critical affinity with their glorious uprising against theocracy and systemic prejudice written into the very letter of Islamic law. The opposite side of that Islamic law is not a bland notion of "modernity" and "Eurocentrism". A blind celebration of an unexamined "modernity" is to me the "sealing their approval of global injustice and racism towards 1.5 billion people"[12] and the poor, the hungry, the working-class and the racialised, marginalised, and disenfranchised people living right in the heart of the Western metropolis. Empty rhetorical slogans or tear-jerking stories about the terrible and misogynist Islamic culture, or alternatively the wondrous freedoms of the "Western world", does not amount to joining the struggle of Iranian women for their civil and human rights.  The choice isn't between a self-promoting racist like Hirsi Ali and a petite-tyrant like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The future is much brighter than these two identical twin bats can see. 

 


June 12, 2005

Women's rights activist confronts the Police in Tehran

 


 

[3] Accessed at, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/02/27/iran15416.htm (February 28th, 2007).

[5] See my 2006 essay: "A Historic Landmark: Women's Rights Gathering in Tehran on June 12th". In OpenDemocracy (June 14th, 2006).

[6] For a wonderful and comprehensive study of the Iranian women's movement during the Pahlavi era see, Mana Kia, "Negotiating Women's Rights: Activism, Class, and Modernization in Pahlavi Iran". In Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Volume 25, Number 1, 2005, pp. 227-244.

[7] For an analysis of Iranian women's movement in recent years, see, Mahsa Shekarloo, "Iranian Women Take On the Constitution". Middle East Report Online (July 21st, 2005).

[8] For a pathbreaking theory of transnational anti-racist, anti-imperial and anti-war feminism, see the works of the American scholar Zillah Eisenstein. Eisenstein's 2004 book Against Empire: Feminisms, Racism and 'the' West (Zed Press) is one of the most cogent feminist critiques of the U.S. Empire and the trapping of cultural relativism in defending women's rights.

[9] Hirsi Ali is a Somalian-born anti-Muslim propagandist who rose to fame after 9/11 when she collaborated with Theo van Gough on the anti-Muslim film called "Submission", as a form of critique about Islam and its uniform treatment of Muslim women. While widely accused of plagiarising the work of the prominent Iranian artist Shirin Neshat in her "Submission", Hirsi Ali proceeded to call on the Dutch government to perform mandatory gynecological examination on all women and girls from Muslim backgrounds (while female genital mutilation is predominantly an African and not a Muslim practice-in fact it is banned under Islamic law in the majority of Muslim countries). She also claimed she is "speaking truth to power" (the power being the disenfranchised and already racialised Muslim communities). Hirsi Ali was granted Dutch citizenship and as a member of the right-wing VVD Party, she was elected to the parliament in Holland based on a lie-the typical rescue from the harem fantasy. She applied for asylum in Holland claiming that she was escaping from the war-torn Somalia and her life was in danger because her parents were threatening to kill her unless she married the man they had had chosen for her. It turned out that her comfortable upper middle class family left Somalia when she was a young child and she grew up in Kenya and went to private school and broke an engagement she willingly entered and everyone accepted when it broke off. She just wanted the credentials of having just run away from a harem and a fast track toward citizenship. When all this came out last year she resigned from the parliament and left Holland. Now she has found her safe-haven in the United States, has written yet another best-seller anti-Muslim memoir while heavily promoted by the neo-con PR establishment and employed by one of the vilest pro-war U.S. think-tanks The American Enterprise Institute. For a critique of Hirsi Ali's writing, see: Laila Lalami's The Missionary Position. The Nation (June 19, 2006 issue).  I am grateful to my friend and colleague Mana Kia for sharing with me her research on Hirsi Ali. 

[10] I have already dealt with this subject in some detail in a number of essays back in 2005, including, my "Crisis in Iranian Women's Studies", in Gooya, and "Ideological Tyranny in Iranian Women's Studies" in Payvand News.

[11] For a critique of the recent Memoir industry see, Negar Mottahedeh's "Off the Grid: Reading Iranian Memoirs in Our Time of Total War". Middle East Report Online (September 2004), Hamid Dabashi's "Native Informers and the Making of the New American Empire". Al-Ahram Weekly (June 1st 2006) and his interview with Foad Khoshmood, "Lolita and Beyond". In Znet (August 4th, 2006), and a joint essay I wrote with fellow feminist scholars, Niki Akhavan, Mana Kia and Sima Shakhsari titled, "A Genre in the Service of Empire: An Iranian Feminist Critique of Diasporic Memoirs". In Znet (February 2nd, 2007).

[12] Hamid Dabashi, "Islam and Globanalisation". Al-Ahram Weekly (March 23rd, 2006). 

 

... Payvand News - 3/5/07 ... --



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