Iranian Left-Opposition Activist Azar Majedi Says No to Both
by Riposte Laique
Azar Majedi is founder of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iran, and a veteran of a generation of struggle against dictatorial regimes—first against the Shah, and then against the Islamic Republic. Forced to flee the country in 1982, Majedi has continued her activities in exile in Europe. She now produces programs in Farsi and English on New Channel TV, an independent satellite station broadcasting into Iran, which can also be seen on the Internet. Her weekly program “No to Political Islam” is a critical voice for secularism and women’s rights. She also publishes the journal Reflections, and is a leading member of the Worker-communist Party of Iran. She lives in England with her three children. This interview first ran in the French progressive journal Riposte Laique.
The interview was published just as Britain’s Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB) has drawn up a “code of conduct” on “civic responsibility” and tolerance for Muslims in the UK. Dissidents in the Muslim community protest that MINAB—which emerged from a Home Office taskforce on extremism in the wake of the 2005 London Underground attacks—is a male-dominated body which has failed to sufficiently emphasize women’s rights and dignity. Taking a stronger stance, avowedly secular critics such as Majedi and Riposte Laique view talk of “multiculturalism” and “tolerance” as too often a cloak for oppression and protecting privilege. At the same time, they oppose the culture of Islamophobia as paradoxically fueling Islamist reaction. They are especially critical of elements in the British left—including the Socialist Workers Party (UK), a leading force in the Stop the War Coalition—for failing to make this critical distinction.
Would you say that the British have become aware of the danger of multiculturalists’ policies since the London terrorist attacks?
Azar Majedi: It is difficult to judge the British public opinion, as it is usually the media that makes and shapes the public opinion. As far as the British political arena is concerned, I must say no, it has not changed. The British government continues the policy of appeasement of the so-called “Moslem leaders,” whom to my opinion, are self appointed. Consulting with these religious men, in order to “win the hearts of Muslim community,” is British government’s key policy.
Unfortunately, an atmosphere of mistrust has developed between the so-called Muslim community and the general public. The Muslim community feels isolated and discriminated against. It has been stigmatized. This is the negative effect of the present tension In the eyes of some, whoever considers themselves Muslim, has their origin in the region associated with Islam, or looks “Muslim” is considered a terrorist suspect. This attitude deepens the tension and friction in the society and deepens the existing separation.
On the left, perhaps with a good intention—to fight racism and stigmatization of Muslim community, the general mood is to support the Islamist movement, the veil, gender apartheid, and all the Islamic values which are deeply reactionary, discriminative and misogynist. This is very wrong. This is in effect racism—to say that gender apartheid and discrimination is OK for the “Muslim.” This is in fact a double standard.
We should first and foremost distinguish between “ordinary Muslims” and the Islamist movement. Second, we should feel free to criticize Islam just as we feel free to criticize any other religion, ideology or set of beliefs. However, part of the left movement does not distinguish between these categories and accepts the self-appointed Muslim leaders’ proclamations. The Islamist movement is not the representative of Muslim, is not the representatives of Palestinians’ or Iraqi people’s grief. This should be stressed.
I believe we need a healthy debate. We need to criticize Islam and the Islamist movement and at the same time fight racism, stigmatization and defend individual rights. Since the tragic events of September 11, many civil liberties have been eroded in the society, in the name of security. We should try and reverse this tide.
Has the Trotskyite SWP distanced itself from the Islamic fundamentalists or does it carry on openly in public with them as it did at the 2005 Social European Forum in London?
Azar Majedi: I must admit that I do not follow this party’s actions closely. As far as I know SWP has not changed its policy towards the Islamists. I believe they still fully support this reactionary and terrorist movement.
What’s your opinion about [London Mayor] Ken Livingstone’s Big Mosque project?
Azar Majedi: I am totally against it. We don’t need more mosques. There are already too many of them. What we need is better and more schools for the children and youth in the Muslim community, a better and better-funded education for them, more leisure centers and sports facilities. Much more funds have to be poured into these communities to improve the social environment. These mosques are the place for brainwashing of the children and the youth. Usually the underprivileged and marginalized youth are drawn into these mosques and are being fed by hatred and reactionary and misogynist values. It is proven that some of these mosques, for example the Finsbury, have been used to [indoctrinate] terrorists. We should also be aware that Islamist governments, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, are behind such monumental projects. This is quite telling about the goals for building such monuments.
You are hostile to Iran’s ayatollahs. What’s your stand concerning the war threats relayed by [French Foreign Minister Bernard] Kouchner?
Azar Majedi: Yes, I am a staunch enemy of the Islamic Regime in Iran. This is a brutal regime that has executed more than hundred thousand people. It is a brutal dictatorship that oppresses the people and it is misogynist to its bones. I have been fighting this regime from the day it came to power.
Having said that, I must add that I am totally against the war. Military attack will be a catastrophe. It is the people in Iran and the region who will suffer as a result of this war. This, to my opinion, is a war of terrorists. There are two poles of terrorism, state terrorism and Islamic terrorism, which are inflaming this war. Such a war has no positive result for humanity, for peace, or for the people of Iran and the region.
This war will strengthen the Islamic regime, just as the Iraq war strengthened the Islamists and Islamic regime of Iran, just as the war in Lebanon strengthened Hezbollah and the Islamic movement. As soon as the threat of war becomes imminent, the Islamic regime will make more restrictions for the people. It would brutally crush any sign of discontentment. It will execute people even more mercilessly.
The war will also be an environmental catastrophe. Attacking the nuclear sites will mean a nuclear hell in the region. I am totally against the war. We should try and stop this war. It will create a chaotic situation, a black scenario, which will only be a breeding place for terrorism. Look at Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon—the future for Iran will be if not more disastrous, just as catastrophic.
We must take the volatile political situation in Iran into consideration. People in Iran are resisting this regime. There is a great protest movement in Iran—workers’, women’s rights and youth movements against Islamic restriction and for cultural freedom. There is a significant secular movement in Iran. The war will have devastating effects on these popular and progressive movements. I believe our slogan should be “No to the war and no to the Islamic regime!” International left and progressive movements must support these movements in Iran
We should also expose America’s war-mongering propaganda. I should add that dismantling the Islamic regime’s nuclear power is a pure misrepresentation of the war’s aim, just like the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a pure lie. The American government has been defeated in Iraq. To win back its position as the bully of the world it needs another war. The Islamic regime was the actual winner in Iraq. By attacking Iran, the US will show the world it still has the muscles to fight this regime, to attack any country, or do whatever it so pleases to, for that matter.
How did you react when you heard about the Vosges case? [Concerning Yvette “Fanny” Truchelut, hostel owner in Vosges who was fined 8,000 euros for demanding that two female Muslim boarders remove their headscarves in the public rooms of the establishment.] Do you think that forbidding the headscarf altogether is the best solution to the headscarf offensive throughout Europe?
Azar Majedi: This is a complex issue. I must first state that I am against the veil. I believe that the veil is the tool and symbol of women’s oppression and enslavement. Moreover, nowadays the veil has become the banner of the Islamist movement. Many women both in the west and in the Middle East and North Africa wear the veil as a political gesture. American aggression, the wars in Iraq and Lebanon and America’s full-fledged support of Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians have motivated many young women to wear the veil as a sign of protest against the US and the West’s policies.
I have been fighting against the veil and have tried to expose its nature. Moreover, I am for banning the veil for underage girls. I think no child should be forced to wear the veil. A child has no religion. It is the parent’s religion that is forced upon them. The veil restricts greatly the physical and mental development of a child, and must be banned. I am also in favor of banning the burqa in all circumstances.
However I do not believe that other forms of the veil should be banned for adult women, except in public institutions and schools, as the French law has prescribed. I believe more than would be restricting individual rights of citizens to freedom of clothing and religion.
I believe a complete ban on the veil will have more negative effects than positive ones and will create a negative backlash which will damage our goals for a free and secular society, and for the freedom and equality of women. Instead of a total ban on the veil, we should campaign strongly against the veil, the Islamic movement and American aggression. We should expose both poles of terrorism to open up the eyes and minds of those women who have “freely” chosen the veil as political manifestation. The Islamic movement is trying to portray itself as the liberator of the people in the Middle East, the Palestinians, and the Iraqis. This is a big lie. We have to expose that. We need to fight against the Islamists and their banner the veil in the ideological and political sphere as well.
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Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Dec. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution