The first precondition to women’s liberation in Iran is an end to political Islam

Maryam Namazie
Speeches given in Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto Canada and Los Angeles, USA in
commemoration of March 8, International Women’s Day
March 8, 2000

Imagine living in a country where the government, and civil and criminal codes are based on Islam and the Koran’s verses, and the courts, police, militias, guards, and all officials impose it by force. According to the Koran, men are superior to women, righteous women are devoutly obedient, and men who fear disloyalty and ill conduct, should admonish women, refuse to share their beds, and beat them (Surah al Nisa (4): verse 34). The Koran says, wives are fields that husbands can approach when and how they choose (Surah al Baqarah (2): verse 223). Imagine living in a country governed according to the actions and sayings of a prophet, Mohammad; he “married” Aisha at the age of nine and she was so small that he would carry her on his shoulders and play with her. According to Mohammad, women are deficient in intellect. In Mohammad’s last will, he placed a long list of prohibitions on women, including that they are not to be in charge of the task of judging and not to be consulted.

Now imagine that you live in Iran, where your daughters can be legally raped under the guise of marriage at the age of nine or younger if her male guardian permits; a husband can deny your working if he finds it incompatible with the family’s interests and dignity; and where many fields of study are closed to you because you are a woman. In Iran, you need the permission of your husband or male guardian to travel; your rights to divorce are extremely limited; you have no long-term right to child custody; and domestic violence is the right of your husband. In Iran, you may be executed for being a lesbian and stoned to death for a voluntary sexual relationship outside of marriage; the law even specifies the size of the stone to be used in the stoning. Imagine living in a country where sexual apartheid rules and as a woman you are segregated in schools, buses, public offices, even while swimming in the sea, and you must cover yourself each time you venture outside of your home. Pretend that you live in Iran, and the government and its religious rule of law interferes in every aspect of your life. Whom you sleep with, what music you listen to, and what you wear become political acts of defiance against the regime and Islam. You would resist even if you were there for one moment as women and people are resisting daily, despite the repression that follows.

The so-called Islamic “feminists,” an oxymoron, say that the problem in countries where Islamic laws are practiced is that Islam has been misinterpreted and they themselves put forth “progressive” interpretations to prove that Islam is “just.” For example, regarding the verse in the Koran sanctioning violence against women, they say that Islam only permits violence after admonishment and confinement and as a last resort. They say, since men would beat their wives mercilessly at that time, this is a restriction on men to beat women more mercifully (Women Living Under Muslim Laws, For Ourselves Women Reading the Qur’an, 1997). On the verse that says women are men’s fields, they say the Koran is encouraging sexuality (same source), even though women are killed for expressing theirs. Regarding the fact that women are not to judge or consult, one such “feminist” who is a mullah from Qom using a female pseudonym says: “Or, Let’s suppose that in other planets, women are stronger and more learned than men, do we accept their custom or do we reject it totally?” (Zanan 4 and 5)

These so-called “feminists” along with Western governments, their media, and pro-Khatami “opposition” are not concerned with defending women’s rights. Instead, by legitimizing Islam and an Islamic regime using the racist theory of cultural relativism, they intend to defend and maintain crimes against women.

When speaking of Iran, why do they compare the status of women in Iran to those of women in neighboring countries? They say women in Iran are better off – at least they can drive in comparison to Saudi Arabia and there are women in parliament, never mind that they enforce and regulate misogyny. Using cultural relativism, they call the “elections” of Khatami as president several years ago, an exercise in the free will of the people. Only four, including Khatami, out of 238 reactionary, Muslim men, were selected for their loyalty to the regime by the “Supreme Spiritual Leader,” Khamenei and the Guardian Council. They say that there have been “reforms” since Khatami’s “election;” during his presidency, the government-controlled press has been banned from discussing women’s rights outside the framework of Islam and legislation has been passed segregating hospitals. Women have continued to be flogged, stoned, and imprisoned. Why in Austria, when a fascist party recently gained power, Western governments boycotted it, yet 21 years of religious fascism in Iran is called an “Islamic democracy?”

Why do they not compare the situation of women in Iran to those of women in France? It is because the more repressive a regime and the less rights women have, the better it is for profits. Creating divisions, including sexual divisions, guarantees more disadvantaged segments of the working class and helps drive down the standard of living for all people. Moreover, to maintain Islam, women more than anyone else must be bound and gagged. If the status of women in Iran was compared to that of France, and women could for one moment walk in the streets without a veil, this would mean the end of an Islamic regime. Western governments that supported and encouraged the growth of political Islam for cold war gains and profits, helped make the Islamic Republic of Iran and countries where Islamic laws are practiced a brutal reality for millions of human beings. They have shown that they will do anything to defend their class interests in Iran, even in their own countries. In Germany, the police beat asylum seeker Roya Mosayebi and forcibly veiled her in order to prepare her file for deportation to Iran. When she filed a complaint, a German court found that the police had acted in accordance with the law. Because Mosayebi was born in Iran, she must be beaten and veiled for an archaic religion.

In their continuing efforts to maintain the rule of Islam in Iran, Western governments and their media say that the increasing protests in Iran are in support of Khatami’s “reformist” faction over Khamenei’s “conservative” faction. Today Khalkhali, the infamous hanging judge who tried and sentenced to execution 22 people in 15 minutes in Saghez, is called a “reformer.” Today, Khatami, the former Minister of Islamic Guidance who censored books, films, the government-controlled press, music, and expression is called a “democrat” and “reformer.” These criminals have not changed. The situation in Iran has. In reality, the factional infighting is because of the explosive situation in Iran.

Despite immense repression, the media blitz legitimizing the Islamic regime, and the use of cultural relativism to deny the universality of women’s rights, women and people in Iran are resisting on a daily basis. The women’s movement has never been so strong. During the July 1999 protests, the protesters, many of who were young women, attacked the symbols of this rule – banks, mosques and mullahs. Even female students in Qom, a city like the Vatican, have protested against segregation in their university. Even taxi drivers will not stop for mullahs anymore; recently a mullah showed up late to parliament because he could not get a cab until he went home and changed his clothes. This is the environment in Iran. The root of the protests is that an Islamic government is antithetical to people’s needs and desires. If there is any opening in Iran, it is because of people’s daily resistance, not Khatami. To say it is because of Khatami discounts people’s aspirations and struggles to create a better life and live as human beings.

What will end women’s oppression in Iran? A war against fundamentalism is not the answer as it is used only to divert people’s wrath against all of religion. In addition, reinterpretations of Islam and the Koran will not liberate women; it is impossible to make human and pro woman that which is inhuman and misogynist. Khatami, too, cannot bring about freedom and equality or even reforms. People take reforms, freedom, and equality by force in the streets.

The Islamic “feminists,” Western governments, their media, and pro Khatami “opposition,” along with the Islamic regime, aim to legitimize women’s oppression, ensure that women reconcile with the unbearable situation that has been forced upon them, and to divert women’s struggle for equality and freedom. They are using any means necessary to maintain the Islamic regime, especially in the face of increasing protests in Iran. Those of us who are believe in freedom and equality, who believe that women in Iran deserve to live as human beings, we too must use any means necessary to defend women’s and people’s struggle to end this heinous regime.

While complete equality and freedom can only come about with an end to class exploitation, the first precondition for women’s liberation not only in Iran but in other countries where Islamic laws are practiced, is an end to the Islamic Republic of Iran and an end to political Islam.

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