Thursday, July 06, 2006

Women's-rights activism in Iran

This is an open letter to Monthly Review, a once-serious Marxist journal whose on-line version has increasingly become a sadly predictable mouthpiece for knee-jerk defenses of Stalinist, fascist, theocratic, racist, sexist, homophobic, genocidal, or otherwise repressive regimes around the world as long as they are anti-American and/or anti-Israel. (See here for another recent example.)

MR no longer really deserves much attention. The main interest of this open letter (passed on to me by Michael Pugliese) lies in its picture of women's-rights activism in Iran, which apparently has managed to continue even in the face of very difficult and repressive conditions. It is hard to know how widespread and vigorous it is, given the general shipwreck of Iranian opposition and reform movements over the past few years, but the fact that it has been able to carry on to any significant extent is impressive. It is not at all far-fetched to believe that this represents the future of Iran (not immediately, but in the long run).

--Jeff Weintraub
Via Yassamine Mather- Center for the Study of Socialist Theory and Movements- Glasgow University, UK.
Concerning, "What Really Happened in Tehran on June 12? Did Human Rights Watch Get It Wrong?"

Open Letter to Monthly Review Editors

Dear friends,

In a recent posting on your web site, Rostam Pourzal uses an anonymous email by a 'witness' in Tehran to deny the extent of the repression of women demonstrators by vigilante Islamic police on 12 June 2006 ( ) [JW: Here is a report by Human Rights Watch.]

Pourzal tries to portray president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a 'popular', 'radical' figure, and tries to underestimate, justify and excuse the brutal, repressive nature of the Islamic regime in Iran; in doing so he makes various assumptions and claims that we will deal with in a another posting. However as far as the events of 12 June in Tehran are concerned, contrary to the claims of the anonymous 'observer', the extent and intensity of the brutal attack on the peaceful women's demonstration was far worse than that portrayed by the BBC and the international media.

It is sufficient to refer to comments and reports by organisers and participants, most of whom have no fear of giving their real names, despite the fact that they were arrested and imprisoned by the regime's security forces. In an effort to stop the protest, several prominent women's rights activists were issued summonses in the middle of the night on Saturday and on the days leading up to the protest.

Since then, others have been summoned for interrogation by phone or in writing. The women summoned include Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Parvin Ardalan, Sussan Tahmasebi, Farnz Seify and Fariba Davoodi Mohajer. Only Fariba Davoodi Mohajer received her summons in person. Others were not at home or at their offices when agents arrived to issue summons. Fariba Davoodi Mohajer was issued a summons in person at 11:00pm on Saturday, and subsequently spent 10 hours in interrogation on 12th June. On Monday morning, the day of the protest, another women's rights activist who had endorsed it, Shahla Entesari, was arrested in her place of employment.

Prior to the protest, a massive campaign of harassment against those who had endorsed the protest was carried out by security forces. Scores of women were summoned to court and interrogated, including women's rights activists, student activists and webloggers, who had spread word about the protest.

In refuting the superficial content of the anonymous email quoted by Pourzal, we refer you to the photographs of vigilante/policewomen attacking the demonstrators on 12 June, and to the testimony of Parvin Ardalan and Noushin Khorassani, labour activists from Vahed bus company who participated in the event. They wrote:

The principal demands were as follows:

• Abolition of polygamy
• The right of divorce by women
• Joint custody of children for mothers and fathers
• Equal rights in family law
• Increasing the minimum legal age for girls to 18 (currently it is 15)
• Equal rights for women as witnesses in courts of law

According to official reports including that of the Ministry of Justice 70 people (42 women and 28 men) were arrested by 13th June 2006, while several women's rights activists have been summoned to appear in front of the Revolutionary Court and others have been sent to Evin Prison in Tehran. In an interview with the daily 'Shargh' , the minister for Intelligence, Mohsen Ajheii claims that the women's demonstrations for equal rights endangers 'national security'. Police
attacks before and during the protest were widely reported in dozens of blogs, they more or less agree on both the level of attacks and methods used by women police officers armed with batons:

Zahra, a law student, describes the day in her blog:

"When we got there it was really scary. Several police buses and cars covering the whole area. Cell phones were obviously monitored because we were receiving suspicious text messages from an unknown number...We got to the meeting point in the Hafte-Tir Square and saw the police forces already being "busy" in three other spots. We sat down and started chanting slogans..After about 5 minutes of confused stares from the pedestrians at us we received the first surprise: the women police force which are scarier than men for two reasons...First they are "mahram" to women so they can kick and punch women without violating any religious code and second they are strangely way more aggressive than men! First they tried to force us by hand to get up and leave...When we resisted they started using their nightsticks, after not very long the kicks and punches and the nightstick beatings got very harsh...Right in front of my eyes one of them beat Mana right in her head so badly that I don't think I will ever forget the sound of it...All of sudden everywhere is red...The second surprise: they are using a paint spray on us. We didn't realize first but they were marking us so that they know later in the crowd who was sitting and

They finally forced us to get up and pushed us to the center of the square while we were still chanting the anthem for Iran's women movement. At least people are seeing us and you can see the objection and sympathy in their eyes...The other side of the square is so crowded I can't really see anything but I hear that they are arresting people...We are scattered...This is partly bad because we are so scattered that we can not even say why we are here so that they won't call all this "a police encounter with women with bad Islamic Hijab".

Azieh Amini's blog:

"We said that that sitting in the park is not a crime. They said, "Get up before we proceed to using other methods!" …"They kicked us out of the park. They beat us and kicked us out. We walked. Calm and peaceful. We walked around the park. They kicked us out. They beat us up. Someone yelled and said, "I am your mother. Shame on you!" The answer was the following: " I do not have a bitch as my mother!" And then she pushed the older lady very harshly. We left. They took us. Around the square we were holding papers on which it was written, "Change the anti-woman laws!", "We demand the rights of a complete human being!" and then we started to whisper collectively, " We are women. We are humans. And yet we have no rights…" This time they started to beat us from all sides. Not only men were beating us. There were also women with chador (the garment) who were screaming: "Do not argue with the police!" and as soon as someone would start to argue, they would start to curse and kick them all over.

"We walked around the square. They took our papers away and torn them into pieces. They pulled the crowd of young and old women who were yelling out slogans and took them to their assigned busses. The crowd resisted their forces. But there were many policemen and policewomen around. It was odd. All of a sudden it seemed as if everyone around us was a member of the moral police. We heard them over and over saying, "No worries. We are not strangers!" I do not really know how many of us were there. All I know is that it was not a small crowd and that we will increase in number."

To summarise: the courage and determination of Iranian women participating in this protest for equal rights went far beyond what was suggested by the superficial references in Pourzal's article.

We find it amazing that, instead of relying on very accurate reporting of these events by bloggers, named and known individuals, tens of very clear photographs of the use of batons by policemen and women, Pourzal chooses to devote so much attention to an email by someone who doesn't even dare admit his identity.

Let us assume for a moment that the report in the email received by Pourzal is correct, and that the demonstrators were not hit by batons but by flowers. Shouldn't one consider any effort by the state to stop a peaceful demonstration by women in a park an act of aggression? Isn't this unnecessary violence?

Or let us pretend that nothing happened in Tehran on 12 June. What does Pourzal have to say about the attacks on protesters in Ahvaz(April 2006) , in Piranshahr, and in Tabriz (June 2006) , or the many attacks by security forces on workers in Tehran, university students in Tehran, Shiraz and Hamedan over the last few weeks?

Weren't those attacks orchestrated by the same government and the same president Ahmadinejad? Has Pourzal received any anonymous reports about those incidents? Given the length of the article he contributed about the 12 June events, shouldn't he have used the opportunity to dismiss all those incidents too!?

Clearly Pourzal is concerned that the US might use claims about the regime's anti-democratic and suppressive policies as an excuse to attack Iran. We share this anxiety, however one cannot overcome this anxiety by denying the realities of the regime's brutal repression of its own citizens. Can one stop imperialist aggression in Iran by denying or underestimating the extent of dictatorship and repression in Iran?

It is regrettable that your web site has recently become so apologetic about Iran's Islamic regime. Many of us consider this to be in total contrast to the radical traditions of Harry Magdoff , Paul Sweezy , Ellen Woods… who considered anti-imperialist struggle as inseparable from anti-capitalist struggles and the battle for democracy. Your site's support for – indeed, at times, adoration of – one of the most brutal, militarist factions of the Islamic Republic regime in Iran, and your inaccurate reporting of the economic stance of the Iranian president, whose main allies include German neo-Nazis (an inevitable consequence of his Holocaust denial statements) is an insult to the Iranian working class and its supporters worldwide.

We, Iranian feminist socialist activists are alarmed that your political stance is damaging the reputation of your journal amongst left wing activists inside and outside Iran. Lifelong translators of left wing books and articles inside Iran have either been killed by this regime and its death squads, e.g. Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Pouyande, or they are in prison for defending families of these dead left-wing writers, e.g. Nasser Zarafshan – who happens to be a regular translator of your journal's articles to farsi. And yet you show no hesitation in defending their executioners and jailers such as Ahmadinejad.

We enclose for your attention links to a number of eyewitness statements about the events of 12 June 2006, as well as some of the recent statements by Iranian workers regarding this regime's continuation of the neo-liberal economic policies of the last decade . We can assure you that left-wing activists inside Iran will not rest until they have exposed the sham reactionary anti-western slogans of this president, dished out by your web site as anti-imperialism.

After all, many of us remember the consequences of earlier shallow anti- American sloganising, culminating in disasters such as 'Irangate' – when the 'anti Imperialist' ayatollah Khomeiny ended up supporting Nicaraguan Contras through payment for Israeli arms, via none other than Oliver North!!

6th July 2006

Ardeshir Mehrdad -Co-editor Iran Bulletin Middle East Forum
Shahrzad Mojab - Professor and director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto, Canada
Haideh Moghissi - Professor of Sociology – York University, Canada
Cyrus Bina - Professor of Economics and Management – University of Minnesota, USA
Yassamine Mather- Center for the Study of Socialist Theory and Movements- Glasgow University, UK
Torab Saleth – Editorial board journal Critique
Saeed Rahnama - Professor of Political Sciences – York University, Canada
Younes Parsa-Benab - Professor of Political Science at Strayer University- Washington
Mehdi Kia- Co-editor Iran Bulletin Middle East Forum
Nasser Kakhsaz - Poet, Literary critic
Sulmaz Moradi - Socialist , feminist activist
Borzu Fuladvand - Socialist activist
Fereshteh Shoja - Socialist, feminist activist
Faramarz Dadvar - Center in Defense of Freedom & Democracy in Iran-Chicago
Sadegh Tehrani - Socialist activist
Hassan Hessam - Poet