Feminist dissent from Chavez embrace of Ahmadinejad

From our correspondent Jennifer Fasulo:

Chavez’s Shameful Embrace of Iranian President Ahmadinejad:
Show Solidarity with the Women and People of Iran, not their Oppressors!

Hugo Chavez, one of the key important figures in the left populist movements spreading throughout Latin America, has publicly lauded and embraced Iranian president Ahmadinejad. (See “Two anti-US nations heap praise upon each other,” AP, Sept. 17) It is moments like this, when feminists and any activists who care about women’s liberation, are reminded of just how little women’s lives matter in the world of patriarchal nationalist politics.

One expects Chavez to condemn all US war-mongering and threats against Iran. We can applaud as he uses the public stage to denounce Bush as a criminal who is out to dominate and destroy the world. But there is no excuse for declaring solidarity with a misogynist theocrat like Ahmadinejad. By embracing Ahmadinejad, Chavez is adding steam to the growing and dangerous alliance between left-wing and right-wing anti-imperialism. In this equation, the only thing that matters is one’s opposition to US imperialism. Women’s rights, worker’s rights, student’s rights– the things that are supposed to matter to socialists and progressives– be damned.

Apparently, Chavez, appears not to have noticed that the Iranian government has created one of the most brutal and misogynist regimes in modern history—turning Iran into a country where gender apartheid and sexist hatred of women has been enshrined in law, where women are still TODAY stoned to death for the “crime” of adultery, buried up to their necks and pelted in the face and head with stones until they die, where women have no right to divorce or child custody, are legally forced to veil under threat of physical beating or imprisonment, can’t travel without the permission of a husband or father, where their testimony in a court of law is considered half that of a man, and where political dissent of any kind, for women and men, is punishable by imprisonment, often torture and death. This is the government that Chavez compares to his own as a “heroic nation,” one which he deems, “revolutionary.”

Chavez’s lack of concern for women’s rights under Islamic governments is reflective of the male left generally. The issue is not on the radar screen. If an ethnic or racial group were treated the way women in Iran or Afghanistan have been treated for the last 30 years, it would be widely and routinely denounced. But if its happening to women, its dismissed or excused as an issue of “culture.” This insidious use of the word “culture” implies that women are brutally subjected not through force and violence, but because they or their “culture” wants it that way, and therefore it’s okay and nothing to get upset about. This argument, aside from insulting the human spirit, which never passively accepts subjugation, is also profoundly ignorant of the actual conditions and historical facts in Iran. Any cursory investigation of Iranian society will show that the Iranian people are a people in utter revolt against their despotic rulers, with women leading the way.

For 27 years women have resisted and defied the Islamic regime’s persecution of them, often at great risk to their lives. Along with an inspiring women’s movement, there are strong, secular workers and student movements, all of them opposing not only the Islamic regime, but also the US threats of military attacks and sanctions on Iran.

How can Chavez, who considers himself a socialist and a defender of the downtrodden, align himself with the leader of such a reactionary regime, rather than the inspiring socialist and feminist movements which are fighting against it? It is a terrible political choice that he need not make. Chavez can and should renounce his solidarity with Ahmadinejad and place it with the people of Iran where it belongs. He should be standing, not by the side of the executioner, but by the side of the unjustly accused and condemned, like 17-year-old Nazanine Fatehi who awaits execution for the crime of defending herself and her niece from a gang of rapists. Or Kobra Rahmanpour who also awaits execution and writes in a public letter, “I have suffered enough… Please help me! I don’t want to die. But right now I am more like a lifeless body who has forgot happiness and laughter in the scare from the execution rope… My only hope lies in people and my fellow humans.” (see the International Committee Against Executions) How must Kobra, and Nazanine feel to see Chavez throw his arms around their excecutioner?

Chavez’s stance needs to be condemned by all progressive forces within the international community. One group that has already issued such a condemnation is the Worker Communist Party of Iran (WPI). In a statement issued on September 14, they write, “We see the attempts by right-wing pro-America forces to overthrow Chavez and we value every bit of positive reform by the Chavez government in the interest of deprived and hungry people, but defending the murderous and terrorist leaders of the Islamic Republic, rolling out the carpet for them under the guise of anti-imperialism is nothing but throwing dust in the eyes of the people and covering up the brutal reality of the Islamic regime.”

The WPI goes on to challenge the very notion that the Islamic Republic is an anti-imperialist force. “We must make it clear to Chavez and Castro that the Islamic current, without the support of the US government and western powers, could not have come to power—and without their help could not have stayed in power.”

In these bleak times, many on the left see Chavez as the great hope for the world and are loathe to call into question his commitment to revolutionary politics. Chavez does deserve credit for the things he’s done to improve the lives of poor people and curb the abuses of capitalism in Venezuela. Many feminists have also praised his economic initiatives for women and willingness to recognize the contribution of women’s unpaid labor in the home. Recently, he passed a historic bill which would compensate women for their unpaid housework, something that socialist feminists have been fighting for decades. Yet these facts must also be balanced by other disquieting aspects of Chavez’s politics. He has frequently been criticized for his authoritarian leadership, including by the Venezuelan women who are pushing him to make good on his promises.

In a manner disturbingly close to Bush and Ahmadinejad, he likes to claim that he has “god on his side.” After the recall election in which Chavez triumphed over efforts by the opposition to unseat him, he declared, “God has spoken.” And while some feminists have praised him as a champion of women’s rights, others have pointed to his strong anti-abortion stance, which included an attempt to create an anti-abortion amendment to the Venezuelan constitution.

Even the issue of paying women for housework is not clear cut. There has long been a debate within feminist circles as to whether this will have a liberating effect (raising women out of poverty) or whether it will further institutionalize women in the role of domestic servitude. All of these issues deserve to be reconsidered in light of Chavez’s alliance with an anti-feminist fundamentalist like Ahmadinejad.

We have to ask ourselves, what hope does Chavez represent, especially for women, if he’s willing to align himself with a government that treats women like sub-humans? What hope do we have if we can’t distinguish between revolutionary movements and the forces which seek to destroy them?

Precisely because things are so bleak right now and the forces of reaction and religious bigotry are on the rise around the world, we must not tolerate leftist alliances that seek to legitimize them. We must not allow the undermining of the women’s liberation movement in Iran that is tirelessly fighting to save women’s lives and break the chains of their legal imprisonment, nor the progressive revolutionary movements that are charting a third course between US domination and right-wing opposition to it. These are the movements that represent the true hope for the ideals of justice, equality and human liberation. Now, more than ever, we must stand up and defend them.

See our last posts on Iran, women in Iran, and the Venezuela-Iran alignment.

  1. A rebuttal…
    …from ZNet. Our readers are encouraged to weigh in.

    Who supports Iranian women?
    A reply to Jennifer Fasulo

    by Eleanor Ommani

    An Iranian friend drew my attention to the September 29, 2006 ZNet article “Chavez’s Embrace of Iran Leader Insults Women” by Jennifer Fasulo, under Feminism/Gender, to which I feel compelled to respond. While purporting to support women’s rights, Ms. Fasulo’s article contains some arrogant and injurious statements about Iran and Venezuela, misinformation about the condition and position of women inside Iran, and shows deep ignorance about Iran’s domestic realities.

    Ms. Fasulo’s initial efforts to ensure readers of her progressive, left “credentials” began with the condescending and loaded statement: “Of course Venezuela and Iran have strategic political and economic interests in each other based on their roles as oil producers.” My first thought: if their reason for alliance is based on being oil producers, then Chavez should have been hugging King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Then came Fasulo’s next clairvoyance: “And one expects Chavez to condemn all U.S. military threats against Iran.” Now that statement presumably puts Jennifer in the anti-imperialist camp, but behind the “Of course” and “one expects” statements, Fasulo’s real intent is to slander both countries’ leaders. We have only to read on to be confronted with a crescendo of childish statements, misinformation and outright lies about Iran, first of all, and secondly about Venezuela’s revolutionary president, Hugo Chavez.

    To quote Ms. Fasulo: “But there is no excuse for declaring solidarity with a theocratic regime that treats women like sub-humans.” Apparently, Ms. Fasulo does not realize that the solidarity expressed by the governments of Cuba and Venezuela towards Iran is based on the broad and dominant issue of the defense of the sovereignty of nations who are confronted by a ferocious war machine that threatens their very existence by regime change. Who doesn’t know that Chavez has already faced a coup attempt executed from Washington, and Castro has always faced plots and plans and a near 50-year-old embargo against the people of Cuba? Their solidarity with President Ahmadinejad of Iran is based on that reality. Ms. Fasulo’s claims and position goes far beyond the question of women; it falls within the category of revolution and counter-revolution. The question, Ms. Fasulo, is which side are you on?

    Facts and Fiction

    Let’s examine Ms. Fasulo’s first accusation: “Chavez appears not to have noticed that the current government of Iran has turned Iran into a country where gender apartheid and hatred of women are enshrined in law.” I couldn’t help but wonder when was the last time Ms. Jennifer Fasulo (or those who supply her with such descriptions) was inside Iran, or at least investigated some of the socio-economic changes that have been documented by credible, international organizations with access to people and statistics of Iran. How does our writer explain that over 60 percent of university students in Iran are women? In a summary entitled: “Iranian women in the workforce” on BBC radio’s “Woman’s Hour,” the Tehran reporter stated: “It’s one of the biggest social shifts since the 1979 Revolution. Iran’s Islamic government has managed to convince even traditional rural families that it’s safe to send their daughters away from home to study.” Today’s Iran sees women participants in every field: scientific, technological, trade, and environmental.

    Is our defender of feminist values aware that under the government of the Islamic Republic, according to Article 77 of the Labor Law, employers are obliged to accommodate pregnant workers, without wage cuts, by providing them with less strenuous work, as determined by a medical practitioner of the Social Security Organization? Furthermore, women of Iran are entitled to maternity leave for a total of 90 days, at least 45 days of which have to be taken after childbirth. For multiple births, 14 days are added to the leave. After her maternity leave has ended, the female worker returns to her previous position and her period of absence will be factored into her future entitlement benefits. (Above Excerpts from the book, Women’s Rights in the Laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran by Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Published in Iran in 2002.)

    According to research conducted by Shamsosadat Zahedi, female researcher and professor of management at the Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran, Iran, in an article entitled: “Women’s Resources are wasted in Iran”: “There are measurable improvements in women’s situation since 1979. And Iran has surpassed other countries with respect to women’s progress in some areas. Women’s life expectancy has increased to 70 years. Women’s literacy has increased to 79%. Attendance at elementary school is now at 94% for all girls. For young women age 14 to 17, school attendance has reached 65%. Women now comprise 38% of all the work force in the public sector.”


    Western readers should bear in mind such statistics have come about since the overthrow of the Shah’s despotic government, and rival many other developing countries’ statistics on women, especially with large Muslim populations, such as Pakistan, India, Sudan or Indonesia, for example. In June 2002, the Population Reference Bureau, (PRB), located in Washington, D.C., released a report entitled: Iran’s Family Planning Program: Responding to a Nation’s Needs which documented the stunning results of the Islamic government’s Family Planning Program and the Rural Health Care Network:

    “Iran has experienced dramatic demographic change in the last decade. Levels of childbearing have declined faster than in any other country, and maternal and child health have greatly improved. These changes have coincided with the revival of the national family planning program, which is delivered through a nationwide network of primary health care facilities. Many observers have wondered how such a dramatic increase in contraceptive use could have occurred in a traditional society ruled by Islamic law.”

    “The program has succeeded in removing both cultural and economic barriers to family planning, and the information and education campaign has assured the public that family planning is consistent with Islamic tenets and does not threaten family values (see Box 2, page 6). By providing free family planning services, the program has given low-income couples in both rural and urban areas access to services that would otherwise be too expensive for most families. In 2000, the ministry of health and medical education provided 75 percent of all family planning services (91 percent of services in rural areas and 67 percent of services in urban areas).”

    Instead of an honest presentation, Znet’s readers are presented with an example of abuse as the rare and out-dated practice of stoning. And she goes on to write: “A cursory example of Iranian society will show that the Iranian people are in utter revolt against their despotic rulers, with women leading the way.” Well, in fact, a statement like this “shows” nothing as much as it shows Fasulo’s utter ignorance. In an opinion poll conducted earlier this year by the U.S.-based firm Intermedia, 71% of the Iranian respondents expressed satisfaction with the general direction of the country.

    Preferring to give her readers a fast-track lesson in fighting imperialism, Jennifer’s next gem was an “eye-opener”: “By embracing Ahmadinejad, Chavez is adding steam to the growing and dangerous alliance between left-wing and right-wing anti-imperialism.” This statement is contradictory. Isn’t imperialism itself a right-wing force? How could a right-wing be fighting another right-wing, defeating its own purpose? Ms. Fasulo has to show how, when and where in history a right-wing force has been anti-imperialist? This is a frivolous concept benefiting imperialism in fact. It appears that Ms. Fasulo gets some of her information from the so-called Workers Communist Party of Iran, the WPI, calling it “a leading leftist group in Iran.” As far as we know, not one of their activists here in the U.S. has been in Iran in a quarter of a century, and even more telling, this group has not been an integral part of the anti-war movement here!

    According to Toofaan, the official monthly of Iran’s Labor Party, the WPI praises and condones the U.S. invasion of Iraq under the cover that it will result in the weakening of political Islam, which WPI brands as a form of terrorism. One of WPI’s spokespersons, Mansour Hekmat, defined the recent struggle in the Middle East as “civilized America” against “barbaric Islamists.” Ms. Fasulo holds up the WPI as a beacon of hope for Iranian women, yet its leaders have joined Britain’s far right politicians in a vicious campaign against London’s socialist Mayor, Ken Livingstone, who alone hosted Hugo Chavez earlier this year (the Queen and Tony Blair refused to see Chavez, too). The same British tories had proudly welcomed Chile’s mass murderer Augusto Pinochet to London a few years ago. We’re looking for genuine anti-imperialists, Ms Fasulo!

    If Ms. Fasulo has no agenda other than the defense of women, why doesn’t she address the problems facing women here, such as the dismal statistics regarding women prisoners in the United States (a report by UCLA Center for the Study of Women and of women’s legal issues in the United States?


    • the U.S. is number one in the world in the number of woman prisoners;
    • children of imprisoned parents are more likely to get in trouble;
    • there are 1.5 million children in the U.S. with at least one parent in prison;
    • over 200,000 women are incarcerated in the U.S., and their children, instead of getting help, often end up in prison too.

    According to a report released by Amnesty International, “There are 148,200 women in state and federal prisons in the U.S. In federal women’s correctional facilities, 70% of guards are male. Records show correctional officials have subjected female inmates to rape, other sexual assault, sexual extortion, and groping during body searches…Male correctional officials retaliate, often brutally, against female inmates who complain about sexual assault and harassment.”


    Subjugation and violence against women anywhere is a crime, and such statistics documenting the conditions facing women inside U.S. prisons presents Ms. Fasulo with an opportunity to defend women’s rights right here, but choosing to use the woman question to criticize the leaders of two nations directly in the cross-hairs of U.S. imperialism raises a question. Why has Ms. Fasulo not chosen to write about the recent horrendous crimes against the women and children of Lebanon who are facing bombs, displacement, degraded infrastructures necessary to support life and family? Are these not crimes we in the American progressive community should be shouting about? And isn’t it clear that the spokespersons for U.S. imperialism have been raising the cry about “women’s rights” and “authoritarian control” in the U.S. media to justify intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela and Iran? It seems Ms. Fasulo’s vision of progress does not go beyond her opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    Equality and the Emancipation of Women

    The struggle for equality and the emancipation of women, and the working class as a whole, of which women are a critical and integral part, is an on-going task under global capitalism, in all countries both advanced imperialist nations like the U.S. and in the held-back, developing nations like Venezuela and Iran. In today’s situation, U.S. imperialism is threatening not only the national sovereignty of Iran, but also the relative security of its working and middle class, including women from both classes. Individuals, groups or some ill-informed organizations who stand on the slippery slope with the neo-cons and old monarchists, repeating their charges and accusations that dominate the media regarding life in Iran, creates confusion as to the political identity of the Iranian women protagonists in the U.S., not to mention among the American progressive community.

    If Ms. Jennifer Fasulo’s intention is to defend women, how is it that the countries she has spotlighted to condemn and “expose” for their “anti-women, student and worker abuses,” are the two countries that have made the most advances in the shortest historical time for the vast majority of the working and poor people – Iran and Venezuela? Wouldn’t her time be better spent railing against the condition of women in Saudi Arabia, America’s ally, where women can’t even drive or vote, or exposing the horrendous conditions facing women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan where the social and economic fabric has been torn to shreds by the U.S.-British and Nato occupation armies. Why isn’t Ms. Fasulo crying out against the total destruction of the life support systems by the Zionist IDF forces in the assault on Lebanon and the daily attacks in Gaza and the West Bank, where the lives of thousands of women and children worsen by the day and hang in the balance between life and death? That would be a real contribution to the defense of women and the struggle against imperialism.

    Eleanor Ommani, is a retired NYC educator, peace and justice activist with Wespac, Nowarwestchester, Progressive News Network, and the American-Iranian Friendship Committee. Ms. Ommani lived in Iran 1979 -1980, and returned this past March 2006 to visit family in Shiraz, Esfahan, Saman and Tehran. She can be reached at: KlosRtoGod@optonline.net and readers can listen to her brief report on changes in Iran at http://www.progressiveportals.com/aifc.

    1. OK, I’ll go first
      This is typical of the mindless prattle we have come to expect from ZNet, which loves nothing more than to wave pom-poms for whatever odious regime happens to be on the White House shit-list this week. The most obvious flaw is the zero-sum thinking: If women are oppressed in Saudi Arabia (or the US) then they can’t be in Iran. If imperialism is a right-wing force (no kidding), then anything which purports to oppose it is not. It is this kind of thinking which has led ZNet to actually support genocide where Bosnia is concerned. If Ommani would take the time to look for it, there is evidence galore of women’s oppression in Iran. Especially hilarious that she should cite Amnesty International to back up her obvious assertion that women are oppressed here in the US–which she cynically uses as a mere distraction from the oppression of women in Iran. One could also, of course, turn to Amnesty’s reports on women’s oppression in Iran. If one were concerned with the truth, that is.

  2. And a counter-rebuttal…
    Again from ZNet:

    Reply re: Iranian Women

    by Jennifer Fasulo

    Eleanor Ommani’s response to my editorial “Chavez Embrace of Iran Leader Insults Women” is a perfect illustration of the kind of left thinking I was critiquing in my original article. She again positions women’s rights as a side issue, and regards any anti-imperialist posture worthy of support, even when assumed by a virulently misogynist and repressive government. Nothing in my article suggested that I support the Bush administration. To the contrary, my thesis was and is that in order to stop US domination of the world, we need people who consider themselves socialists and progressives to support the women and social movements in Iran, not the clerical state which is brutally repressing them.

    Since Ms. Ommani’s implication that I must be pro-Bush is not based on anything I actually wrote, I can only conclude that it derives from the dualistic mindset of which she is captive: that one is either pro-US government or pro-Islamic Republic. According to this mindset, anyone who condemns the Islamic Republic, must therefore, support the US government and its bloody wars of intervention. She can’t conceive of someone being against both the endless brutality of US capitalism and the horrific misogyny of Islamic theocracy. Yet this is precisely the stand that’s been taken by women’s rights activists throughout the Middle East. The Iranian and Iraqi women activists I know refer to these two patriarchal beasts as the “twin sides of terrorism.” No matter who wins this fight, women will lose. That is why it is not surprising that women are leading the way in charting a third course.

    Bush Record on Women’s Rights Abysmal

    While it is true that the Bush administration and their corporate media allies have exploited women’s suffering in countries like Afghanistan and Iran to gain support for their war-mongering policies, this does not make the suffering of Afghani and Iranian women any less real. The answer to Bush propaganda on women’s rights is to expose the utter hypocrisy of it, not to demand that women shut up and allow themselves to be brutalized and killed!

    The Bush administration has an abysmal record on women’s rights. At every level of government he has installed right-wing fundamentalists who are intent on overturning all the gains women have won over the past 30 years. Internationally, he has joined forces with the Catholic Church and Islamist governments, to eliminate progressive programs and policies for women and children around the world.

    In Iraq, the US invasion and occupation has been a disaster by all accounts, but the greatest travesty is what has been done to women. Due to a strong women’s movement in the 1950’s, Iraqi women once enjoyed more rights than women in other Middle Eastern countries. Today, thanks to the US occupation, they have been pushed into the terrifying abyss of state sponsored religion and misogyny shared by women in Afghanistan and Iran. They are no longer free to walk the city streets without the accompaniment of a male; they are routinely attacked by religious vigilantes and brutalized by US soldiers; forced out of work and school, and forced to veil and cover themselves. Bush’s record on Iraqi women’s rights alone should be a primary target upon which to attack and expose his bogus claims to be a defender of women’s rights. It should be a major plank of the anti-war movement. Instead, it’s barely mentioned. One reason why the Right is able to manipulate the issue of women’s rights to their advantage is because so much of the Left is shamefully silent, repeatedly failing to confront the issue of women’s rights in the Middle East.

    The Islamic Republic as a Paragon of Women’s Rights?

    Ms. Ommani would have us believe that there is no mass resistance to the Islamic Republic. She undertakes the extraordinary feat of presenting the Islamic Republic as a champion of women’s rights. She does so, not by refuting the facts I presented about women’s legal and social status in Iran: that women are considered in Islamic law to have half the status of men, have no right to divorce or child custody, can’t travel or work without a husband or father’s permission, are forcibly made to veil, that the legal age of marrying for girls is nine, and the “crime” of adultery is punishable by death, to mention a few of my examples. She has not a word for Nazanine Fatehi, the 17 year old I wrote about who awaits execution in an Iranian prison for having defended herself against a rapist. Instead, Ms Ommani points to the important things she claims I left out, such as women’s maternity leave benefits and the state’s “family planning” initiatives. Or she attempts to refute my argument by misinterpreting the signs of women’s mass resistance as signs of the regime’s benevolence.

    On the issue of maternity leave, Ommani selectively quotes from Shirin Ebadi’s book, Women’s Rights in the Laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran. She omits Ebadi’s interpretation of the ideological framework for such laws. Ebadi writes:

    A closer look at the place of women as viewed by cultural policymakers will reveal their emphasis on family values; a woman’s independence, her social situation, and the discriminations leveled against her are never at issue. Policymakers view women as wives and mothers, who need cultural reinforcement and guidance to better fulfill their domestic roles (Cultural Policies and Iranian Women: Ch 5).

    In discussing the practical application of the maternity law, Ebadi also explains that the law keeps employers from hiring women, thus forcing women out of the job market or into the black market (Social Realities: Ch 6 Section I). While the dynamic of discrimination is at play in many countries where women have maternity benefits, in Iran it must be looked at in light of women’s overall legal status. Women have no legal recourse for pursuing claims of gender discrimination. To the contrary, the law codifies such discrimination, and bases it on cultural ideology, also written into the law, that women’s primary role is as mother and carrier of “Islamic purity.”

    Shirin Ebadi is no radical. She is a woman who has made her compromises with the Islamic Republic in order to function inside it. However, even her writings, when looked at as a whole, totally contradict the picture Ommani paints of women in Iran. Ebadi herself was a victim of the Islamic Republic’s misogynist laws. She was stripped of her judgeship and forced to veil. In her book Iran Awakening: a Memoir of Revolution and Hope, she recounts one of her legal cases in which two men are convicted of raping and murdering a nine year old Kurdish girl. The presiding judge rules that by Islamic law, the life of each rapist is worth double, or four times that of their victim. Ebadi is unable to win any justice for the girl’s parents; in fact, the mother of the victim is then prosecuted for making a scene in court and Ebadi is almost held in contempt for appearing dissatisfied with the court’s verdict.

    These are the stories that Ms. Ommani ignores and omits in order to deliver the good news of women’s maternity benefits in Iran.

    Ommani also celebrates the Islamic Republic’s efforts at population control. Efforts by the state to control women’s reproduction, whether it’s to restrict or promote women’s childbearing, is never motivated by concern about women’s rights. Since the 1979 revolution, the population of Iran has doubled, leading to massive social and economic problems for the state. While women were once forced to “have babies for the Islamic revolution,” the plan has long-since backfired. The Islamic state must now contend with massive unrest from a young and defiant new generation. Half the population of Iran is under the age of 30. Efforts to curb population growth is the Islamic Republic’s response to these growing crises, not the pro-women initiative Ms. Ommani would have us believe. Certainly, it is absurd to believe that a government which considers any act of sexual freedom by women to be a capital crime is somehow interested in promoting women’s sexual and reproductive freedom.

    Islamic law in Iran punishes any woman who is suspected of sexual relations outside of marriage to death by stoning. It even specifies the size of the stone (it shouldn’t be too large, so the woman will suffer longer and not die too quickly) Ms. Ommani claims this is a “rare and outdated practice.” Perhaps she should tell this to the six women whom the Islamic Republic has condemned to death by stoning in the past year (Death Penalty/Stoning/IranWomen

    Women-led organizations, like the International Committee Against Stoning, and the International Committee Against Executions( (http://www.adpi.net/) have staged demonstrations, initiated media campaigns and gathered millions of signatures to save the lives of women being condemned to stoning and execution, as well as to stop the executions of gay men, political activists and intellectuals. Because of these effective campaigns, the Islamic Republic has been forced to back off some stonings. But this does not erase the fact that more than 2000 women have been stoned to death since the Islamic Republic came to power. Do their lives matter so little? Will no one be made to answer for these heinous crimes?

    Women’s Gains Owed to Women Themselves

    On the issue of women’s increased enrollment in college, Ommani again erases women’s resistance in Iran. It is at best, a sad mistake to attribute women’s small, but hard-won gains to the benevolence of the regime. At worst, it is an attempt to apologize for and cover up the crimes of a regime that has so restricted women’s lives that simply getting an education is an act of feminist defiance. Women’s determination to educate themselves can be compared to the changes we see in women’s dress: the wearing of colorful chadors and make-up allowing hair to show from under veils or clothes from under the chador—which are all in defiance of laws regulating women’s dress. These are some of the powerful examples of women’s mass resistance in Iran. As Haideh Moghissi writes in Populism and Feminism in Iran: Women’s Struggle in a Male-Defined Revolution:

    Women have succeeded in pushing back the offensive of the Islamists inch by inch, reappropriating spheres of public life that were lost immediately after the Revolution. Their success in forcing the government to remove, at least on paper, the ban on certain fields of higher education is a case in point… Women and the politics of gender continue to be the Achilles’ heal of the clerical state (preface ix).

    Or as Azar Majedi, veteran woman’s rights activist from Iran, said recently in a speech in Düsseldorf, Germany:

    Despite all the laws governing dress code and observing the veil, despite prison sentences, fines and lashings, women in Iran ridicule the veil and in their demonstrations have also burned it. The new generation cannot be silenced, cannot be forced back home.
    (The Reality of the Women’s Liberation Movemen in Iran: http://hammerandbroom.blogspot.com/2006/11/mass-resistance-is-other-side-of-large.html)

    When I read Ms Ommani’s arguments, and see the rosy picture she creates of the Islamic Republic, I am reminded of the right-wing women’s groups in the US, such as the Independent Women’s Forum, that seek to portray Bush and his criminal regime as great promoters of women’s rights. It is a common practice, especially today, to use propaganda about women’s rights to promote a right-wing agenda, and both the Iranian and US governments are masters of this type of deception. But we would never see a leftist publication print an article by an apologist for the US government that sought to cover up the Bush regime’s assault’s on women’s rights and laud it as a pro-woman government! This is an indication that the racist double-standard of cultural relativism is still alive and well in the US left.

    It is not surprising that after pages of praising Islamic theocracy in Iran, Ms Ommani then precedes to attack the secular Iranian left. She disparages the Worker Communist Party of Iran (WCPI) in much the same way she builds her entire argument—through obfuscation, quoting out of context, and counting on the readers lack of knowledge of the subject. I don’t agree with all the positions of the WCPI, but they are an important Iranian party, and they deserve, at the very least, a fair hearing by the US left.

    The WCPI has never supported the US war in Iraq and Mansoor Hekmat is the late founder of the party, not a spokesperson. Hekmat was a leftist scholar who wrote over a dozen books analyzing the Middle East from a Marxist perspective. Ommani’s unsourced assertion that he “defined the recent struggle in the Middle East as ‘civilized America’ against ‘barbaric Islamists’” is as false as it is ludicrous. In fact, the WCPI consistently condemned US threats against Iraq and predicted that such attacks would bolster the Islamist movement (which is has). They take the same position against US threats on Iran.(On the USA’s Military Threat http://www.wpiran.org/English/WPI%20Briefing/188-9wpibriefing1.pdf)

    What makes the WPI unique is its willingness to learn from the mistakes of the past and refashion a more progressive vision of revolution with a strong emphasis on women’s rights and human freedom.

    Without the Liberation of Women, Revolution Does Not Make Sense*

    Ms. Ommani thinks I don’t understand the anti-imperialist alliance—which is based on “the broad and dominant [emphasis mine] issue of the defense of the sovereignty of nations” She tells me that my position goes “far beyond the question of women [emphasis mine]: it falls within the category of revolution and counter-revolution.” In fact, I understand perfectly well, because it’s the same thing leftists have told women throughout history: women’s rights are secondary to the “larger struggle.” As if women, who make up more than half of the population, are not fundamental to the structuring of a society. As if we can build a revolutionary movement while women are still relegated to the margins.

    This is the same equation that allowed religious fanatics to hijack the Iranian revolution in the first place. Instead of supporting the women’s movement which spontaneously rose up against Khomeini, the secular left chose to make a fatal alliance with the Islamists against “the greater threat” of US imperialism. As Moghissi writes:

    Because of its refusal to see through the Ayatollah Khomeini’s ‘anti-imperialist stance’ and its infatuation with Islamic populism, the left ended up not only participating in the suppression of the women’s movement, but also in hastening its own elimination.

    Moghissi is referring here to the mass jailing, torture and execution of tens of thousands of Iranian communists after Khomeini came to power. Those Iranian revolutionaries who managed to survive learned the hard way that savage repression, inequality and brutality can emerge from within as well as without national borders.

    Women Need Solidarity in Order to Win

    Ms. Ommani’s attack on me is very personal. It’s the kind of attack routinely leveled by many on the left against anyone, but particularly feminists, who dare to express solidarity with women’s liberation movements in the Middle East. We are called arrogant, ignorant, racist, cultural imperialists and unconcerned about women’s rights in our own country. This creates a taboo that few dare traverse. It serves to silence and intimidate anyone who cares about the lives of women. And most importantly, it functions to cut off vital support for women’s rights organizations, like the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan (RAWA), the Organization of Women’s Liberation In Iran (OWLI) and Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) that are waging life and death struggles to free women from enslavement.

    I show solidarity with women’s liberation struggles in the Middle East for the same reason I support any revolutionary movement fighting for justice, equality, and an end to domination and exploitation– because I believe in these movements as the only hope for our world. I write about the heroic struggle of Iranian women because it’s inspirational and it makes contemporary US feminism pale in comparison. Women need the solidarity of other women, and all those who care about women, in order to win their battles. While there are real differences among women based on race and class and national origin, the universality of women’s oppression is undeniable. One does not have to go back far in US history to find the same kind of legal rightlessness imposed on women by the “founding fathers,” and justified by the exact same misogynist logic. When the Islamic clerics moralize about women’s “purity” and her “proper place in the home” who cannot hear the echo of the 18th century Christian ministers who said the same about American women? (or the fundamentalist preachers who say the same today) What is the difference between the Iranian mullah telling a woman she must cover herself so as not to arouse men’s lust, and the US judge telling a rape victim that she must have provoked her rapist by the manner in which she was dressed? There’s a difference in degree; but it’s the same ideology.

    The women of Iran have been battling the Islamic Republic’s violent persecution of them for 27 years. Now they must also contend with the increasing threat of attack from the US war machine. This threat only helps the Islamic Republic intimidate and crack down on women and workers’ mass movements. On International Women’s Day, March 8, 2006, Iranian women again served as a model of courage for the women of the world when they took to the streets despite government prohibitions against “unapproved demonstrations.” They marched, demanding equality and freedom; they chanted against both the Islamic Republic and the US threats of attack. Hundreds of women were badly beaten by the “morality police” and thrown into jail. (“Iran’s Brutal Assault Yesterday on Iranian Women Celebrating International Women’s Day” http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2006/03/irans_brutal_as.html). As US threats against Iran intensify, the question remains: will we understand that opposing US war on Iran does not mean supporting the oppressive regime of the Islamic Republic? Will we show solidarity with the women’s liberation movement, or will we again sacrifice women’s aspiration for freedom, equality and human dignity, to the “either-or” paradigm of the dominant male left?

    *The phrase “without women’s liberation, revolution does not make sense” was a slogan chanted by Iranian women during the massive women’s demonstrations in 1979.