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.