Support Iranian Women: Oppose War!
Demonstrations in Iran are rare, and demonstrations by women even rarer, but days before I originally wrote this post a group of 32 women were arrested in Iran for speaking out against the total denial of freedoms to which they are subjected. With the possibility of attacks on Iran increasing, it seems worthwhile returning to the key issue raised by such events; should the desire to liberate the women, and men, of Iran lead to support for Western/Israeli military intervention in the country?
Last September, I encountered this question in a very real sense while at a protest in Manchester. Walking through the crowd, I became aware of a group of (mainly Muslim) anti-war protesters arguing forcefully with another, smaller group of protesters, one of whom was speaking into a small sound-system.
The group in question were very clear that they too were anti-war, but that they demanded the release of Iranian prisoners, and for Iranians to have the kind of rights that we take for granted. I signed their petitions, I read their signboards; once again I was horrified by what the Ahmedinejad regime is capable of, but, along with them, I still don’t want to see that nation being bombed. They tried whatever they could to continue standing witness to the horrors of Iranian rule, yet dozens of people shouted back at them, even demanding the British police arrest them for insulting the Iranian flag that was suddenly raised in front of them (the idea that as soon as someone brought an Iranian flag into their presence, this should cause them to fall silent utterly disgusts me).
Tragically, the Stop the War Coalition is incapable of dealing with the pressure from some Muslim groups, who want it to declare unyeilding support for the Tehran government, somehow justifying this as being more valid than condemning both Iran and America. I’d prefer to say the following: that I oppose what the Iranian government stands for, and I oppose bombing Iran, because that would cause even more suffering, and little real liberation, to those I want to support.
Its not that I don’t believe there’s a role for Internationals in supporting the Iranians; I’d love to go protest at the Embassy in London or better still, find some way of getting to Iran to help, but bombing is no help whatsoever. Look at Iraq, where women live in even greater fear now than they did before war broke out. The unjust stability, the negative peace of the Saddam regime, has been replaced with even less freedom for women. Its not safe for them to go out, and when they do they must cover up their faces for fear that extremists will attack them.
If we officially rid Iran of its religious police, do we honestly believe those who support them wouldn’t enforce their ‘rule’ through direct and violent action? And do we really still trust Western governments to enforce a new constitution which protects Womens, and LGBT, rights? Days before my rewriting of this, Ahmedinajad himself visited America, and when asked about LGBT rights, stated categorically that his country “does not have this phenomenon”. Sadly this is a view shared by some western LGBT activists, who seem to fail to realise just how dire the situation over there is for Homosexual and Trans people*.
America wants to exert its force to show it is still world leader. Israel wants to exert its force in the region against what it sees as an ideological threat. No matter what is said about the rights of Women in Iran by people supporting bombing or even invasion, or indeed what is said about standing in total solidarity with the Iranian people, we must not loose sight of the fact that, Islamism or Neo-Liberalism, the Iranians still won’t be free. Instead, we should seek to support peaceful movements for change that oppose Islamisation head-on, and seek to transform Iranian society into a just and safe place to live.
* The only example which comes directly to mind, and someone remind me if I’m completely wrong on this, doesn’t concern Iran but Afghanistan. I distinctly remember being told that a delegate to a recent NUS LGBT conference stood up and declared that there were no Trans people in Afghanistan. First, how do they know, given that, as the motion pointed out, its too dangerous to speak out? Second, is that the principle the same even if it applies to no one? Amd lastly, isn’t the point of Trans-politics to challenge gender binaries and their social enforcement, allowing everyone to explore the ‘other gendered’ aspects of their being?