To see Fariborz Pooya’s comments on religion and radicalism, click here.
Fariborz is one of the founding members of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and the head of the Iranian Secular Society.
Update on Mahmoud Salehi from the Committee in Defence of Mahmoud Salehi
According to news we have received, on Saturday 29 March 2008 Mahmoud Salehi appeared in court, where he made his final defence in front of the judge.
Mahmoud Salehi’s case has been referred to the prosecutor’s office for the administration of sentence.
While on hunger strike, Mahmoud Salehi has lost weight, but psychologically remains determined and resolute. Following the court appearance, he was transferred back to the Central Prison of Sanandaj.
Mahmoud Salehi’s family have been able to meet him and pass on the message of his fellow workers and activists requesting him to end his hunger strike.
As an appreciation of the hard work of all those who have fought to save his life, Mahmoud Salehi has agreed to put an end to his full hunger strike.
Committee in Defence of Mahmoud Salehi
Saturday 29 March 2008
Guilty, the only way to plead
It’s been more than 80 years since anyone in English Canada has been charged with blasphemy. Or at least it was until Jan. 11, 2008. That’s when I was called before Alberta’s Human Rights Commission to answer for publishing the Danish cartoons of Mohammed two years ago in the Western Standard magazine. The Alberta HRC isn’t a criminal court, but the complaint against me is clearly the crime of blasphemy; my accuser, a Pakistani-born Muslim imam, told the HRC that I offended Islam and Mohammed himself, and cited passages from the Koran as legal proof. The HRC bought it, and for two years the secular government of Alberta has been enforcing a religious fatwa against me. Last month the imam said he’s dropping his complaint because of the public backlash against him, but another Muslim group has filed an identical complaint, so the HRC is still prosecuting me. I’d call that a blasphemy case.
Like criminal blasphemy, the prosecution is handled by government lawyers paid for by the state; my accusers don’t pay anything and are not liable for costs if they lose — or bail out like the imam did. The costs of my defense, even if I win, are paid for by me.
The officer investigating me has powers that exceed those of police officers. Under ss. 23 and 24 of the Alberta Human Rights Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act, she can enter my office without a search warrant, at any “reasonable” hour, to examine anything and take copies of any documents from my computer. She can enter my home to do so, but she needs a court order for that — though the law specifically permits ex parte applications.
The HRC has court-like powers when it comes to sentencing. The tribunal, which has no judges, can order me to pay five-figure -fines to both the government and the imam. It can order me- to “apologize,” even if I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong. Some Canadian HRCs have gone further still, issuing lifetime publication and speech bans. Real judges throw out jailhouse confessions… HRCs demand them.
These procedural flaws have turned the process into a punishment in itself. But the real problem I have with the proceedings against me — and the reason I’m going to be convicted is that the statute I’m accused of breaking doesn’t just inspect me. It measures other people’s subjective feelings about me. The test of my guilt is not whether I’ve done anything or even intended to do anything. It’s whether others — in this case, an imam who believes Canada should live under sharia law — felt a certain way.
The Alberta statute, and it’s much the same across the country, bans any ‘publication’ or ‘statement’ or ‘symbol’ that “is likely a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt.” That’s it. I don’t have to discriminate. No harm or damages need to be shown. The law doesn’t even require proof it exposes someone to contempt. I don’t have to cause such feelings. As long as such feelings are a “likely” result, then I’m guilty.
Any critical commentary, whether in the realm of art, religion, politics or comedy, causes feelings of admiration or contempt. It is absurd to propose to outlaw feelings or the causing of them. The outlawing of contempt in itself causing feelings of contempt, at least in me. Nowhere in our Charter of Rights or eight centuries of common law since the Magna Carta is there a right not to be offended or a right to be loved. But again, the HRC doesn’t seek only that utopia. In addition to banning thought crimes, they wish to ban thought pre-crimes.
Pre-crime is the phrase popularised in the blockbuster Minority report. Tom Cruise played a police officer in the near future who relied on psychics to predict crimes. He’s then arrest the people before they did anything report. There was no actus reus – just the say so of the psychics.
That’s what the statute’s working is. It’s not just the Orwellian crime of hurting feelings. It’s the sci-fi “pre-crime” of possibly hurting feeling in the future. For this, I stand accused. There is no honest way to plead, other than guilty.
Ezra Levant is a Calgary lawyer.
March 18, 2008
You might have already been informed that Mahmoud Salehi, one of the well-known worker leaders in Iran, has been in prison since April 9, 2007. He is in prison for organising May Day celebrations in the city of Saqez and defending workers’ rights. Mahmoud Salehi is not in good health and his life is under threat. Salehi’s one-year prison term ends on March 23, 2008. However, yesterday Branch 4 of the Public Prosecutor’s office of the city of Sanandaj summoned Mahmoud Salehi. Salehi is accused, this time, of communicating with outside of prison, of publishing messages in support of workers and students. The prosecutor’s office has issued a new temporary arrest for Mahmoud Salehi.
The Islamic Republic’s decision to keep Salehi in prison despite his grave health conditions is a criminal act. To protest this decision, Mahmoud Salehi has gone on total hunger strike (food and drink). Mahmoud Salehi’s life is under even greater danger now that he has made such a decision.
Neither celebrating May Day, nor issuing messages of solidarity with workers’ and students’ struggles is a crime. Mahmoud Salehi should be freed immediately and unconditionally and should be provided with necessary health-care.
To save Mahmoud Salehi’s life, immediate international action is required. This is the only way to put powerful enough pressure on the Islamic Republic regime in order to release Mahmoud Salehi, so that he would not have to continue with hunger strike and risk his life even further.
We request all workers’ organisations to act immediately on an international scale to save the life of Mahmoud Salehi and secure his immediate and unconditional release.
Shahla Daneshfar, Coordinator, International Labour Solidarity Committee of WPI
Bahram Soroush, Public relations
On Monday, after 11 years in prison, Makrameh Ebrahimi, 43, who was sentenced to death by stoning was released from prison along with her 4 year old son Ali as a result of local and international outrage.
Whilst she and her son will be able to celebrate the Nowrooz with their family tomorrow, they will sorely miss Jafar Kiyani, her partner and Ali’s father, who has already been stoned to death in July 2007.
Congratulations to all those who campaigned on her behalf.
We must, however, keep the pressure on to stop stoning and the death penalty altogether in Iran and elsewhere.
18 March 2008
URGENT APPEAL: [UA-IN-18.03.2008].
Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) would like to express its sincere sympathy concerning the continuous sufferings of human rights activist Taslima Nasrin.
Ms. Nasrin, whose Indian visa recently was renewed for another six months, has sent GHRD a letter telling us that she is currently suffering from severe health problems due to denied medical attention. The author writes that; “It has been nearly eight months that I have been living under virtual house arrest, in a prison without any facilities. I have been asked continuously by the government to leave this country. When they saw it was pointless trying to destroy my mind, they attempted to destroy my body.”
According to her letter, even though it was clear that she was in need of a cardiologist, her condition was still ignored at the hospital in Delhi. Only a few days later, when her condition was considered so severe that she was likely to have a heart attack, she was allowed to see a doctor who prescribed her some medicine. After taking this medicine her condition worsened and she fainted. That same night she was admitted to the hospital where she was told that she needed to spend two to three weeks under intensive care. However, disregarding the doctor’s suggestion, after three days of being in the Cardiac Care Unit she was taken by officials to the Minister of External Affairs who asked her to leave the country immediately. The shock of the news made her blood pressure rise to 220/120 and she was rushed again to the hospital, but the doctors had been instructed not to admit her. She said: ‘I had no help at all’.
Taslima Nasrin has suffered tremendously both physically and mentally. Her blood pressure is now impossible to control, and the doctors say it is due to stress which she must avoid at all costs. “How can I not be stressed? I received the extension of my resident’s permit, but the status quo continues.” Due to the lack of medical care, Taslima has now developed a heart disease called hypertrophy, and hypertensive retinopathy. The hypertensive retinopathy will eventually cause her to go blind. The blood pressure, if uncontrolled for even two months, can destroy the heart, kidneys and eyes. “I used to call this the torture chamber. I gradually came to realize that it was the chamber of death instead.”
Taslima Nasrin wishes to leave the country as soon as possible in the hope that she will be free from stress if she is to have any chance at recovery. She requested a visit to her apartment in Kolkata to collect a few important documents she would need; that, too, has been denied.
The suspicion that she has deliberately been denied health care is repulsive. Taking her health condition into account, GHRD strongly urges this matter to be dealt with immediately. It is up to the Indian Government to guarantee Taslima a healthy and safe life while she is a resident in their country. In addition, we would like to encourage international organisations, governments and other NGOs to highlight the plight of Ms Nasrin, and ultimately to pressurise the government of India to take action.
*GHRD is an International, non-governmental organisation which strives for the protection of basic human rights throughout the world, as well as encouraging international awareness towards disregarded human rights violations.
To see video of speeches at the March 10 seminar commemorating International Women’s Day:
Pictures of the event:
From Facebook Save Mehdi Kazemi Group
In case you haven’t heard, Mehdi Kazemi is a gay Iranian national who studied abroad in the UK. Previously, while he was at his home in Iran, he and another boy began having a relationship. They kept in contact while Mehdi studied abroad in the UK. However, Mehdi’s boyfriend was caught with another man by the Iranian government.
Homosexuality is a capital offense in Iran. This is the same country that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said had no homosexuals. Mehdi’s boyfriend told the Iranian government Mehdi’s name under torture, and was then executed for being gay.The Iranian government is currently looking for Mehdi Kazemi, who’s student visa recently expired. He applied for asylum in the UK and was denied. He then fled, fearing for his life, to Germany and then the Netherlands. He applied for asylum there, but a European Union law called the Dublin Treaty prevents people from applying for asylum in more than one EU country.The United Kingdom has a history of deporting gay Iranian youths back to their home countries, where they are tortured and executed.
Defend Kazemi’s right to asylum. He, Pegah Emambakhsh, and all those facing deportation to Iran have to be granted refuge and protection.
No deportations to the Islamic regime of Iran!
Sex abuse allegations – where’s the evidence?
Mehdi Kazemi’s boyfriend defamed
LONDON, 13 March 2008
George Galloway MP is accused of mouthing “the propaganda of the Iranian dictatorship” after he claimed on the Channel 5 TV talk show The Wright Stuff this morning that the boyfriend of gay asylum seeker Mehdi Kazemi was executed for sex crimes (see full transcript below).
The criticism comes from the gay human rights group, OutRage!.
“We are calling on George Galloway to explain the source of his claim that Mehdi Kazemi’s boyfriend had committed sex crimes and this was the reason he was executed,” said OutRage! spokesperson, Brett Lock.
Mr Galloway also denied that Iran executes homosexuals.
“Neither OutRage! nor any other human rights group has seen any evidence to suggest that Mr Kazemi’s partner was a rapist or sex-abuser.”
“George Galloway has made this claim. He should now produce the evidence.”
“This looks like the Iranian propaganda. The homophobic tyrants in Tehran frequently defame political, religious, and sexual dissidents with false claims of rape, alcoholism, drug-taking and hooliganism.
But in this case, not even the Iranian authorities have made these allegations against Mehdi Kazemi’s boyfriend,” noted Mr Lock.
“Furthermore, Mr Galloway’s claim that gay people are not executed in Iran is refuted by every reputable human rights body, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Iran has the death penalty for homosexuality and gay people are often tortured to make confessions.
They are hanged in public by the barbaric slow strangulation method which is deliberately designed to maximise and prolong the suffering of the victim,” said Mr Lock.
GG: The Independent has a story about Peers calling upon the Home Secretary to halt the deportation of a gay Iranian. In part this is being used as part of the on-going propaganda against Iran. All the papers seem to imply that you get executed in Iran for being gay.
That’s not true.
MW: His boyfriend was hung though, wasn’t he?
GG: Yes, but nor being gay. For uh, committing sex crimes, uh, against young men.
GG: I mean, I’m against execution for any reason in any place, but it is important to avoid that propaganda.
MW: So you’re saying that his guy they want to deport should be deported because there is no risk of his sexuality.. or he shouldn’t be deported because there is at risk?
GG: He should not be deported not least because after all this Iranian propaganda he will be accused of being the source, or one of the sources. It would be ridiculous to deport him, and I don’t think he will be deported now.
FYI, Bahram Soroush was interviewed on More4 TV last week defending Kazemi’s right to asylum.
Against sexual apartheid
This is my open letter to anyone who will listen.
Sexual apartheid is the outrage of our century.
In Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and countries ruled by Islamic laws, millions of women and girls are segregated, degraded and relegated to second class citizenship.
Keeping women and girls separate and unequal are important pillars of Islamic rule, affecting every aspect of people’s lives.
Sharia law itself specifies that a woman is worth half that of a man and that she is the property of her male guardian, needing his permission even to travel and work.
As the source of ‘corruption’ and ‘chaos’, she must be segregated at workplaces, schools, libraries, universities, in sports and recreation, transportation, the health system, and even when attending weddings and funerals. In Iran, there are even plans to segregate pedestrian walkways on the basis of sex. ‘Alarmed’ at the large number of women university students, the Islamic regime threatens to limit female enrolment and change textbooks based on ‘gender differentiation.’ According to an official of the education ministry: ‘The spiritual, physical, and mental needs of boys and girls are not identical, and therefore textbooks that give them information cannot be the same.’
From age nine on girls must be veiled – a symbol like no other of what it means to be female under Islam – hidden from view, restricted and suppressed. Consigned to walking around with a mobile prison of one’s own.
Separate and unequal.
Like I said – the outrage of our century.
They say a society’s treatment of women is a measure of its freedom.
If so, the mistreatment of and discrimination against women is a measure of the degree of influence and power of Islamic and religious laws – whether in Iran or Britain.
But stop, I am told. Saying so ‘just supports Western propaganda’ – something by the way that the Islamic regime of Iran often tells women and men it is hauling off to prison and execution.
How absurd. It is like Iranian women’s rights activists telling one to stop opposing US-led militarism because it supports the ‘Islamic regime of Iran’s propaganda!’
The religious-nationalist anti-imperialist left always ready to act as prefect when women’s rights under Islamic laws are concerned has an affinity towards Islam, which it views as an ‘oppressed religion’ bullied by the USA.
It is an anti-colonial movement whose perspectives coincide with that of the ruling classes in the so-called Third World.
This grouping is on the side of the ‘colonies’ no matter what goes on there.
And their understanding of the ‘colonies’ is Eurocentric, patronising and even racist.
In the world according to them, the people in these countries are one and the same with the regimes they are struggling against.
So at Stop the War Coalition demonstrations here in Britain, they carry banners saying ‘We are all Hezbollah;’ at meetings they segregate men and women and urge unveiled women to veil out of ‘solidarity’ and ‘respect’.
But even their anti-imperialism – their badge of honour – is pathetically half-baked; it does not even scratch beneath the surface to see how political Islam is an integral part of the US’ militarism and new world order.
Their historical amnesia of even the past 30-40 years ignores that the political Islamic movement was encouraged and brought to centre stage by Western governments as a green belt against the former Soviet Union during the Cold War.
They conveniently forget how in Iran, for example, it was supported in an effort to crush the left and working class revolutionary movement. Or how political Islamists are some of the US’ closest allies.
They fail to see that in practical terms – notwithstanding the differences – political Islam and USA-led militarism are two sides of one coin with the same agenda, the same vision, the same infinite capacity for violence, the same reliance on religion and reaction, the same need for hegemony.
It should not be surprising then that anywhere US-led militarism has ‘intervened’ – from Afghanistan to Iraq to Palestine – political Islam has been brought to power or strengthened.
This type of politics denies universalism, sees rights as ‘western,’ justifies the suppression of women’s rights, freedoms and equality, under the guise of respect for other ‘cultures’ implying that people want to live the way they are forced to and imputing on innumerable people the most reactionary elements of culture and religion, which is that of the ruling class.
In this type of politics, the oppressor is victim and any criticism racist.
Whilst the anti-imperialist left defends and justifies political Islam on the one hand, the virulently racist and right-wing defends US militarism and the brutal Israeli occupation of Palestine on the other.
They include groups and organisations like Jihad Watch and the Horowitz Freedom Center. The latter even has an ‘Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week’ and rattles off fact after fact about the horrendous status of women under Islam so that it can help promote the neocon agenda of bombing men, women and children into ‘liberated’ swamps like Iraq.
Like the Stop Islamisation of Europe campaign, these groups have ‘difficulty with the concept of moderate Muslim’ and believe the ‘onus is on Muslims to ensure the safety of non-Muslims.’
Why? As if the onus of safeguarding Spaniards is on all those who are Basque or deemed to be Basque.
They are ‘concerned’ about the ‘rights’ of women and apostates so they can ban the Koran and ‘Muslim immigration.’ So they can stop the sub-human teeming hordes destroying the Christian nature of Europe and the West.
They are quite happy to defend Christian religious morality, restrict the benefits due single mothers, demand exemptions from the Sexual Orientation Regulations, bar funds for AIDS- related and contraception-related health services abroad if they provide abortions and consider the women’s rights movement’s fight for equality ‘the destruction of the nuclear family and of the power structures of society in general.’
According to their warped worldview, ‘the West has skyrocketing divorce rates and plummeting birth rates, leading to a cultural and demographic vacuum that makes [it] vulnerable to a take-over.’
Both anti-imperialist left and the right-wing refuse to see millions of people as truly human – with innumerable differences of opinions, and belonging to vast social movements and progressive organisations and parties – and worthy of the same rights and dignity as they believe is their due.
Despite all their language to the contrary, the politics of both sides has nothing to do with improving and changing the lot of humanity and women’s status.
It is within this context that left and progressive groups, socialist and mass movements within the Middle East and elsewhere are challenging people and organisations everywhere to take a principled and human stand against sexual apartheid vis-à-vis both camps of reaction.
This is the challenge that the women’s liberation movement in Iran brings to you today.
Clearly, sexual apartheid must enrage civilised humanity into an international movement that is about changing and improving people’s lives.
But in order to succeed, this movement must reject both US-led militarism and political Islam and rely on and support a third camp of the millions of refusing and resisting people across the globe. To do so, it must be uncompromisingly secular and humanist, it must refuse to tolerate the intolerable, it must raise the banner of universal rights, it must defend the right and historical duty to criticise religion, and defend the freedoms and equality of people everywhere.
To succeed, it has to have at its core a defence of the human being.
In 1973, as a result of international attention and widespread opposition to the apartheid system in South Africa apartheid was recognised as a crime against humanity.
On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, let’s together proclaim that sexual apartheid is a crime against humanity.
We must accept nothing less.
The above is Maryam Namazie’s speech at a seminar entitled ‘Sexual apartheid, political Islam and women’s rights’ in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day on March 10, 2008 at Conway Hall, London. The seminar was organised by Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran, and endorsed by the National Secular Society, the British Humanist Association, the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association and the Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq.
Articles in the first issue of Equal Rights Now – Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran’s publication, called No Hejab (Editor: Sohaila Sharifi) are:
If you can get to London on March 10, don’t forget about our seminar:
Sexual apartheid, political Islam and women’s rights
A seminar in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day
Monday, March 10, from 6:30-9:30pm
Conway Hall, London
Mina Ahadi, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Germany and Equal Rights Now; 2007 NSS Secularist of the Year
Louise Couling, Chair of Unison’s Regional Women’s Committee and member of the National Executive Council
Houzan Mahmoud, Spokesperson, Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Equal Rights Now, National Secular Society Honorary Associate
Joan Smith, Novelist, columnist and human rights activist
Chair: Hanne Stinson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association
The event is free of charge; donations are welcome.
The seminar is organised by Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Equal Rights Now, Organisation against women’s discrimination in Iran, and endorsed by the National Secular Society, the British Humanist Association, the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association and the Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq.
For more information, please contact Maryam Namazie or call 07719166731.
No Hejab No. 1
Rowan Williams’ lecture on Civil and Religious Law in England would do any Islamist – or for that matter archbishop – proud. And it has. Hizb ut Tahrir, Muslim Council of Britain, and UK Islamic Sharia Council have all rushed to his defence whilst the rest of us are still grappling with its adverse implications for real live human beings and our society at large.
Let’s be frank. The Archbishop’s lecture lays out quite concisely the Islamist strategy for gaining access to political power and a how to guide on diminishing the role of secularism (with lessons for religious groups aiming to access or – as in his case – maintain power).
Like the Islamists, Rowan Williams uses rights language to help justify regression and violations of rights. By using terminology like‘Muslim communities in this country seek the freedom to live under sharia law,’ he deliberately fails to differentiate between the political Islamic movement and Islamists on the one hand and Muslims and those deemed to be Muslims on the other.
Of course Islamists want sharia here and everywhere. But to imply that ‘Muslims’ would ‘freely’ choose sharia implies that the masses of 21st century humanity would choose to live in the Middle Ages. On the contrary, a large number of those of us he wishes to hand over to the Islamists have resisted and fled Islam in power and have not accepted nor ever will accept sharia law.
Moreover, like the Islamists, he uses anti-racist language to assert that his defence of sharia is a defence of the ‘rights of religious groups within a secular state.’ Clearly, however, having the right to a religion is not the same as having the ‘right’ to religious law. His is merely a prescription for discrimination, inequality and culturally relative rights.
Also, like the Islamists he justifies and excuses sharia law and even attempts to dispel the ‘myths’ surrounding it. He quotes Tariq Ramadan saying ‘the idea of Sharia calls up all the darkest images of Islam…It has reached the extent that many Muslim intellectuals do not dare even to refer to the concept for fear of frightening people or arousing suspicion of all their work by the mere mention of the word’.
Clearly, though, it frightens people because it is frightening.
From the death sentence imposed on Parwiz Kambakhsh in Afghanistan for blasphemy and the recent sentence of death by stoning of two sisters Zohreh and Azar Kabiri-niat for ‘adultery’ in Iran, the image of Islamic law is dark because its reality is even darker.
Of course the archbishop is not referring to nor do the Islamists want the stoning of adulterers or the hanging of apostates like myself from cranes in Trafalgar Square. That is – according to Suhaib Hasan, one of the ‘judges’ at these sharia courts or councils and a spokesperson for the MCB, the job of Islamic states. This, however, doesn’t mean that he can’t dream: ‘Once just only once if an adulterer is stoned nobody is going to commit this crime at all.
‘We want to offer it to the British society. If they accept it, it is for their good and if they don’t accept it they’ll need more and more prisons.’
Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, we are told that we need not worry. Ibrahim Mogra of the MCB says the sharia councils will only cover ‘small aspects of Sharia for Muslim families when they choose to be governed with regards to their marriage, divorce, inheritance, custody of children and so forth’.
Mogra implies that those who avail themselves of sharia law will ‘choose’ to do so. It is interesting how pro-women’s ‘choices’ the political Islamic movement becomes when it is vying for power and influence in the west. According to Mogra, sharia will even give rights to women they don’t have under English law. His pathetic example? ‘A Muslim man can take a second wife under sharia law and treat her as he wants knowing that she has no legal rights in Britain. It means that she is regarded as no more than a mistress and he can walk out on her when he wants.’
Despite their deceptive claims, in the real world, even ‘small aspects of sharia’ will increase intimidation and threats against the most vulnerable women and girls, deny them rights they have and deserve and leave them hostage in virtual Bantustans at the mercy of the likes of Suhaib Hasan and Ibrahim Mogra.
And for those rejoicing that sharia law in England will be a ‘moderate interpretation,’ I need to remind them that a ‘small aspect’ is not the same as a different interpretation. As Hasan says to the woman who questions his ruling in one of these kangaroo courts: ‘there is no exception to this rule, in the sharia there is no exception, you have to accept it.’
Marriage, divorce, child custody may be ‘small aspects’ to Mogra and the MCB but they are important pillars in the oppression of women living under Islamic law. Much of the struggle for women’s rights has taken shape in countries like Iran against these very aspects.
And by the way, laws are generally meant to safeguard rights not violate them. Many of the laws that sharia courts aim to avoid have been fought for by progressive movements over centuries in order to improve people’s, women’s and children’s position in society and often vis-à-vis religion in power.
This whole scandal is in my view a feeble attempt by the archbishop to muster up support for religion in power, safeguard its dwindling position in society and reduce secularism’s role by going to the Islamists. This time, though, the archbishop may have been a little too clever for his own good.
Nonetheless, we need to remind him and his friends that backwardness is never inevitable and we have many rights and freedoms here in Britain to prove it.
No Hejab No. 1
When you think about apartheid, you can’t help but remember the anti-apartheid movement of the 70s and 80s. At the time, there was hardly anyone who lived in the West and hadn’t joined a demonstration or sit-in, signed a petition, written a letter of protest, worn an anti-apartheid badge and so on. During that time, the anti-apartheid movement became the struggle or at least issue of concern for most every decent human being. And you didn’t have to be black or South African. The movement went beyond all those constructed divisions amongst people and went to the heart of being human. As a result of the movement, everyone had come to know that apartheid was fundamentally wrong and that something had to be done. Eventually, apartheid became despised and condemned. But it was not always so.
Racial apartheid was supported for years by Western governments. It was justified and excused whether by ‘scientists’ who could ‘prove’ that black people had smaller brains to organisations that said separate was still equal.
It was the South African liberation movement and solidarity groups in the West that fought long and hard to expose Apartheid and chip away at its justifications in order to remove all the layers of propaganda and excuses, revealing Apartheid – naked and bare, as it truly was – an intolerable inhumanity.
Today, the same must be done with the apartheid of the 21st century – sexual apartheid, and particularly in Iran as a pillar of political Islam. Just as a mass movement said no to racial Apartheid, so it must say no to the Hejab and segregation of women; no to the prevention of the mixing of the sexes; no to discrimination, no to women being deemed inferior, second class citizens and even sub-humans…
On the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and Equal Rights Now-Organisation against Women’s Discrimination in Iran are proclaiming 2008 as the year against sexual apartheid. We are asking people everywhere to condemn sexual apartheid and the political Islamic movement that perpetrates it, and to support egalitarian movements that courageously challenge it.
We invite all to sign the below declaration and call for an end to sexual apartheid.
We, the undersigned, unequivocally oppose sexual apartheid and the subjugation of millions of women living under Islamic rules and laws.
We condemn regimes and the political Islamic movement that perpetrate sexual apartheid, including in Iran.
We support the legitimate struggle of millions of women and men for freedom, equality and universal rights.
Sexual apartheid, like racial apartheid, has no place in the 21 century.
– Mina Ahadi; Spokesperson of Equal Rights Now; Coordinator of the International Committee against Stoning; Spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims in Germany, Germany
– Mahin Alipour; Coordinator of Equal Rights Now; Coordinator of the International
Campaign in Defense of Women’s Rights, Sweden
– Maryam Namazie; Spokesperson of Equal Rights Now; Producer of TV International English; Spokesperson of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, UK
No Hejab No. 1 interview with Sina Voget, co-author of Mina Ahadi’s autobiography which has been published in Germany recently. Sina Voget has been a freelance journalist for more than 10 years. Her work is mostly about human rights and health politics. In 2000 she was spokeswoman of Amnesty International Germany. Since September 2007 she has been spokeswoman of the University Hospital in Cologne, Germany.
What made you decide to write Mina Ahadi’s story?
Sina Voget: I first met Mina Ahadi in the late 90s when I did an interview with her for German TV about her fight for women’s rights under Islam. Then I met her again in 2006 at International Women’s Day in March where she had organised a campaign against so called “honour killings” with Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I wrote an article about Mina Ahadi for the German newspaper Taz after that and asked her if she ever had thought about writing a book about her life. Her power and spirit and her life-story just seemed to be something that should be written. So we met for the first interview. It took another year and needed the campaign of the Ex-Muslims until an editor was found to publish the book.
Based on Mina’s story, what do you think of the women’s movement for equality in Iran?
Sina Voget: I strongly admire the power of some Iranian women, in exile and even in Iran who fight for their rights and against sexual apartheid. After listening to Mina’s story I strongly believe that it needs a secular state in Iran to fight the dictatorship of the religious regime. I came to the conclusion that in Germany a stronger division between state and (Christian) church would be better for equality as well.
As a women’s rights activist, what is your opinion on the women’s rights movement in the west?
Sina Voget: The great feminist activists seem to be quiet on some very important matters regarding women’s lives in Iran and some Islam stricken countries. Matters such as compulsory Hejab, stoning and honour killing.
When I became a feminist in the 80s violence against women was a big issue. But it is no longer a big issue when it happens in “different cultures”. That shows the problem of wrongly understood “tolerance” even within the women’s rights movement. But there are always some German women, who don’t hesitate to talk about it, and some Turkish-German women who talk about violence against women in their own community. All German women should support that more, as well as your fight against sexual apartheid.
Do you think writing Mina’s life story might help strengthen a solidarity movement with Iranian women’s struggle against Sexual Apartheid?
Sina Voget: If her story doesn’t help to form a solidarity movement I have no idea what else could do so!
No Hejab No. 1
The past twenty nine years have been struggling times for Iranian people and in particular for Iranian women. Right from the very beginning of coming to power of Islamic republic, the women’s rights have been attacked and a sexual apartheid state has formed brutally oppressing and suppressing any activities demanding women’s right and equality. Thousands of young girls in Iran grew up to realise that they criminals by nature, just by being born women. In Iran and according to the religious laws, a woman is considered the root and the cause of most social problems. She is the one causing men to loose their minds and commit terrible sins. She usually gets the blame for rape, prostitution, corruption and many other dysfunctions of the society and more than often she is punished in a brutal way. According to the Islamic republic of Iran, women must cover up, stay at home and look after their family. Wearing make up, showing your hair, going out and being independent are not qualities valued in women. There is a sexual apartheid ruling women’s lives and unfortunately the rest of the world has turned a blind eye on all these for a long time.
At the same time and from the very beginning of coming to power of the Islamic government, a mass movement has formed to fight against inequality and discriminatory laws. The Iranian society very much resembles a battlefield with the government and its battalion of mullahs and clergies and security services and police and other forces on the one side and masses of women and men who refuse to accept reactionary and inhumane laws ruling their lives on the other side. In this battlefield there had been many attacks and counter attacks and loses and gains. At the beginning it was usually the government that won, brutally suppressing women, dismissing them from their working places, literally pinning the veil to women’s heads, cutting uncovered legs and throwing acid on the made up faces. But women and masses of freedom loving people never completely gave in. they fought back. They rebelled in their own little and great ways and so far they have achieved a great deal.
The first major demonstration in Iran was organised by women activists and organisations on 8 March 1979, only few days after ayatollah Khomeini’s Fatwa for compulsory veiling. Ever since, this struggle has continued and women have managed to force the government back step by step. They refused to stay at home and be mere servants, they went out and studied and tried to find jobs. They fought for custody of their children and the right to divorce. No wonder more than 60% of all students in higher education are girls and young women and no wonder this has caused great concern among the authorities, trying hard to dissuade young women to go to university and even limiting university places for girls and women. Even though many of these girls will never manage to find a job in the market, they still insist to go to university and study and do something about their lives. The unfair and unjust regulations have never stopped women from trying on the contrary, the more restrictions the government introduces the more women find ways to defy them. According to the authorities in the course of six months more than a million women have been arrested, flogged, fined and beaten up for not observing the Islamic dress code, and again according to the same sources the government authorities have officially announced they have failed in their attempts to force the proper Islamic Hijab on women in Iran. A survey done by a women organisation in Iran showed that 71% of women in Iran want a secular society and a secular state. They want internationally recognized human rights to govern their lives and thy want religion to stay out of their public and private lives. The list is long and these are only few examples of a strong and growing movement against sexual apartheid and discriminatory laws in Iran.
While the western governments and western media have been trying to sell a religious, traditional image of Iranian women to the rest of the world, while the followers of cultural relativism were trying to persuade people that what is happening to women in Iran is “their own culture and must be respected” , while the western politicians were looking for a moderate president or politician figures in Iran to justify their economic connections with a fascist government, Iranian women and those who cared for equality and freedom fought none stop for a better life, for equality and for freedom.
What is happening to women in Iran is horrendous and unique in a way. We hear sad stories of women who have been oppressed, destroyed and humiliated in different parts of the world, wherever traditional, religious and male chauvinist ideas have got any ground and power, but what is happening in Iran is a legalised sexual apartheid through which women are officially second or even third citizens who should be heard and seen as little as possible. The long arm of religious law reaches deep inside their private and public lives and they are deprived of the little rights that ordinary men in that society enjoy. Sexual apartheid or any kind of discrimination against human being is totally unaccepted in twenty first century and we have to do something about it. We have to form a united front and fight for a secular and humane society. We have to demand an immediate end to sexual apartheid in Iran. We can do that by demanding Iranian government’s isolation from the international organisations, by demanding that our governments break connections with Iranian government. The world and especially the western world has got experience in dealing with apartheid governments, what with the racial apartheid in south Africa and the international solidarity with people ruled by apartheid. It is up to us to do something and today is the day. The history and in particular the history of international women’s day is full of brave women and men who refused to accept the fate they had been destined to have and decided to step out and change the course of history and mark it with their own good action. It is now up to us to do our bit. We can make a difference to our world.
No Hejab No. 1 Interview with Hamid Taqvaee
Mach 8th is approaching and Worker-communist Party of Iran has decided to welcome it with the slogan “No to Sexual apartheid !” as well as with efforts aimed at the international isolation of Islamic Republic as a regime of Sexual apartheid. Why Sexual apartheid? What is it that makes Islamic Republic a regime of Sexual apartheid ?
Hamid Taqvaee: I believe all Iranian people, especially women, have a clear perception of what we mean by Sexual apartheid. You see, women are subjected to oppression and discrimination, and viewed as second-class citizens all over the world. In Iran, however, Islamic Republic is anti-woman in a peculiar way. It is, indeed, a misogynist state. Saying that women in Iran are deprived of their rights cannot, by itself, convey the whole truth about their condition. The Iranian state is officially, or legally, against women. It is a state with laws and regulations in which women are expressly and explicitly defined as unequal with men. Subjugation and degradation of women is part and parcel of this Islamic state’s judicial system, as well as an ideological pillar of it. It is a state that separates women from men in social life, in assemblies, in group activities, and even in private parties and gatherings, in schools and university classes, buses, sport fields, swimming pools, parks, on public routes, on the beach, at recreational places, mourning ceremonies, wedding parties; in short, in the social life as a whole, men and women must legally, that is, as far as the state is concerned, be kept apart. That is the reason why this state is a state of Sexual apartheid in the explicit and strict sense of the word.
Does Sexual apartheid just mean the separation of men from women, and vice versa? Generally speaking, what dimensions can apartheid take on in society at large, and to what extent can it have an impact on the people, i.e., both men and women’s, lives?
Hamid Taqvaee: Separation is only a part of the problem. This is a separation, not in the sense that social possibilities are divided fifty-fifty between men and women, or in that both sexes are equally subjected to the laws. It is a separation best conceivable if you remember the regime of racial apartheid in South Africa. In Iran men and women are kept separated, not as two equal parts of society, but as a superior and an inferior, or second-class, part. In the racial apartheid system of South Africa blacks were not even considered people. They were deprived of rights. The society was defined as a white society and, as a result, blacks were considered second-class citizens. It is the same under Islamic Republic, but in regards to women. Here the society is defined as a man’s society, in which only men are considered people, or members of the society, and women are defined as subjects of men, as “half-of-men”, if you like.
A symbol, or representative, of this system of apartheid in Iran is the Hejab. Hejab is not an item of clothing, or an outfit, but a wall, indeed, that separates a woman, as an individual, from her surroundings. Why is that so, you may ask? Because, from the point of view of Islam and therefore an Islamic state, women are sex objects, or sexual commodities, as it were; a sexual commodity that, within the context of reactionary, religious, Islamic morality, is thought of as beguiling. Within such a context, a woman is a commodity that, while still unmarried, belongs to her father, brothers, and other men in the family. Once married, she becomes the property of the husband; and now it is he who has the monopoly ownership right to her. That is the logic behind Hejab: shrouding a woman in black in order to protect her from the naamahram (non-kosher) glance, as they themselves put it; or, in other words, in order to ensure that the commodity remains the property of the person who has acquired the monopoly right to its use through proper religious channels.
Hejab, in my opinion, explains very clearly what we mean by Sexual apartheid. The Sexual apartheid in Iran is even more depraved and inhuman than what existed in South Africa. Because there blacks were not viewed as a beguiling force in whites’ lives and they could, as individuals, at least dress as they wished, and the colour of exposed parts of their skin would not beguile anyone! In Iran, however, women are the counterparts of blacks in the racist system of South Africa, while they are even deprived of the right, as individuals, as women, to reveal their identity, i.e., their face and/or their hair.
The existence of Hejab in and of itself declares that the society is patriarchal. It is the declaration of the fact that when it comes to social activities, social presence, sport and recreational activities, ranks and positions, and so on, they all belong to men, and women’s existence is a function of that of the men’s. From the standpoint of Islam and an Islamic state you are, not a woman, not an individual, but a man’s daughter, or a man’s sister, or a man’s wife, and, generally speaking, your rights and social status are defined relative to those of the men’s. In a patriarchal society, therefore, women must behave in such a way as to not cause any disruption in the status quo, and thus not make ‘sin’ fall upon it. And this, I believe, goes far beyond discrimination against women or depriving them of their rights. It is degrading them expressly and explicitly. It is insulting women through denying their human identity. That is why I think the term “Sexual apartheid” expresses women’s condition in Iran – the blatantly insulting, degrading discrimination that the Islamic state subjects them to – more clearly than any other term.
I must also emphasise here that the system of Sexual apartheid is not only against women, but insulting and degrading to men, or society at large, as well.
Men also suffer from the wall that separates them from women, and are insulted by it. Sexual apartheid is an anti-human system in general which imprisons the whole society and should be condemned by all progressive people.
What’s the significance of presenting Islamic Republic to the world as a regime of Sexual apartheid ? It is the regime of imposing Hejab as well as the regime of robbing women of dozens of other rights. Why do you put a special emphasis on “the regime of Sexual apartheid ”? Is Hejab, or depriving women of some other their rights for that matter, not more comprehensive than Sexual apartheid? Do you not think that placing so much emphasis on Sexual apartheid would overshadow the people’s struggles against Hejab; struggles that are carried out on a daily basis in the streets on a vast level?
Hamid Taqvaee: These two are not separable. As I have already said, Hejab is a symbol, a token, of Sexual apartheid. It is apartheid on a personal level. Through Hejab a woman is forced to separate herself, as an individual, from the rest of the society. That is the function of Hejab. So, when we emphatically demand the abolition of Sexual apartheid, we do not mean we are following a different policy or a different slogan. Hejab is a specific form, an outstanding feature, of Sexual apartheid, and the slogan “unveil!” remains our emphatic slogan this year too. Taking off the Hejab or unveiling is a field in which women can individually take action, stand up against Sexual apartheid, and practically bring down the wall of Sexual apartheid .
However, we should also bear in mind that if we focus solely on Hejab, and agitate only against it, by so doing we will not have presented and attacked the issue on its more extensive levels, that is, in its entirety. True, imposing Hejab is one of the most blatantly depraved forms of discrimination against women and of Sexual apartheid. But, Sexual apartheid is not limited to Hejab. As I have already mentioned, separating women from men at schools, universities, sport and recreational facilities, and even in private parties and gatherings, and so on, these are all concrete examples of Sexual apartheid, of humiliation and degradation of both women and men, and must therefore be abolished.
There is another point, another policy, which is also nothing new to us, but, on the contrary, something that we have always insisted on, and that is making every effort to get the Islamic Republic of Iran isolated and banned from the rest of the world as a regime of Sexual apartheid. The phrase “Sexual apartheid” expresses, almost comprehensively, the fact that it deprives women of their inalienable rights, and reveals its misogynist character to the people across the world; particularly as the world still vividly remembers the racial apartheid system in South Africa and its reactionary nature. One of the things that at last caused the fall of the racist regime was that progressive people of the world rose up against it, and even forced other states to boycott and break their relations with it. It was as a result of a global awakening, as well as an international mobilisation, that the South African regime was defeated and brought down. This background, this historical parallel, will also help us call on the people of the world to mobilise and raise their voice of protest against the regime of Sexual apartheid in Iran. This regime is in no way less anti-human and anti-humanity than the former racist regime in South Africa. That is one of the reasons we believe we must focus on “Sexual apartheid”, and expose the Islamic state in Iran as a gender-apartheid state.
In the direct anti-regime struggles of the women in Iran, Hejab will, of course, continue to play a pivotal role; and our emphasis on exposing and standing up against the regime as a regime of Sexual apartheid should, therefore, make us all the more determined to mobilize against Hejab, so that women unveil on March 8th as a symbolic action. Our call on women shall remain unchanged; while our demand for abolition of Sexual apartheid and condemning the regime as a regime of Sexual apartheid is something that we pursue on a world scale, and are hoping to be able to increasingly draw the attention women’s rights organisations, as well as progressive, humanist, secular and human rights institutions, trade unions, etc., to that issue, and ask them to condemn the Islamic Republic, exert pressure on international organisations such as UN, etc., demand that they condemn the Islamic state in Iran, and break their political ties with it.
What is the outline of activities necessary for exposing and isolating Islamic Republic internationally as a regime of Sexual apartheid?
Hamid Taqvaee: As I said, when we start from standing up against the Iranian state as a regime of Sexual apartheid, we can deduce that a chief demand of this year’s March 8th, both inside and outside Iran, should be abolition of Sexual apartheid. This should be one of the fundamental slogans. A practical and decisively significant step in this direction will be putting aside the Hejab. Unveiling, as it were, on March 8th as a protest gesture and for a limited span of time is quite feasible. Let us not forget that the women’s liberation movement in Iran has been active ever since the day the Islamic Republic came to power, and has continually protested against Hejab as well as other aspects of Sexual apartheid. According to the regime’s own statistics, during the past few months, more than a million women have been arrested for wearing “improper Hejab”, that is, for their practical protest against Hejab. The women’s rights movement in Iran is a vital, dynamic, and expansive movement, and is quite capable of taking a step forward by taking off the Hejab.
As for our activities outside Iran, we will make every effort – through leafleting, protests and so on – to, as I said, have the Islamic Republic condemned by women’s rights organisations, trade unions, progressive forces, etc., as a regime of Sexual apartheid. We will try to hold up the examples and instances of this apartheid before the eyes of the world. We will endeavor to show the people of the world why this state is not much less depraved than the previous racial-apartheid state in South Africa, and how it legally and officially considers half the population of the country as non-human. This must be shown, and our activities hinge on it.
I should add that March 8th is only one of the occasions for calling for the banning of the Islamic Republic from the world community. Calling for its isolation is not an occasional campaign of ours, but a pivotal policy of our party which we pursue earnestly and consistently. I hope on March 8th this year we will be able to present the world with the hideous, inhuman face the Islamic state in Iran more extensively than ever before.
From: The National Union of Dismissed and Unemployed Workers of Iran
To: International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and Amnesty International
Re: Solidarity with March 6th, International Day of Action in Support of Workers in Iran; protesting the flogging sentences for the workers in Iran
Date: Feb. 28, 2008
We, in the National Union of Dismissed and Unemployed Workers of Iran, salute your determination in supporting the workers in Iran, and shake your hands in gratitude for declaring March 6 the International Day of Action in Support of Iranian Workers. We also declare that, despite the existing pressures and prohibitions inside Iran, we will try our best to participate in that global campaign, within the limits of imposed restrictions on us, in order to represent the attempts made by the workers to achieve their human demands.
As you are aware, not only have the judicial authorities of Iran so far not taken any heed of the demands made by the workers in Iran and across the world in regards to releasing Mansoor Osaanloo and Mahmood Saalehi, but also have intensified their measures against the workers. They have now taken an unprecedented action and sentenced the workers participating in last year’s May 1st ceremonies to flogging. Despite protests on the part of the workers, as well as the public opinion, in Iran, the sentences have been so far executed in the case of five of the eleven convicted workers, namely, Abbas Andaryaari, Sedigh Amjadi, Habibollaah Kalekaani, Sedigh Sobhaani and Faares Gaviliyaan.
Handing down official sentences of flogging by the judiciary, in any country, for the workers participating in May 1st ceremonies goes beyond intensifying anti-worker policies and practices. It is tantamount to reviving slavery. It blatantly mocks the hitherto progress made by the world working class, that is, ridding the labour force of flogging, and thereby putting an end to a shameful era in the history of mankind; an achievement the world working class has paid for dearly in blood.
Moreover, as last year Mahmood Saalehi was imprisoned (despite his grave ailment) for holding May 1st ceremonies, and the workers are being flogged for the same charge this year, one has but to conclude that flogging the workers in Iran for holding May 1st ceremonies is a heinous act, not only against the said eleven workers, but against May 1st itself as an international achievement of the working class.
We, therefore, expect you, our dear friends in International Trade Union Confederation, International Transport Workers’ Federation and Amnesty International who have organized the International Day of Action in Support of Iranian Workers around the demand for the release of Mansoor Osaanloo and Mahmood Saalehi, to also turn the demand for observing the dignity of May 1st as an achievement of world working class, the protest against flogging sentences for the workers, and the immediate cessation of persecution and prosecution of labour activists in Iran into other pivotal points of your international action.
Long live international solidarity of the working class!
National Union of Dismissed and Unemployed Workers of Iran
CC: Global Unions
[Translated by the International Labour Solidarity Committee of the Worker-communist Party of Iran]