Report from European March Against Anti-Women Legislation in Iran
Revolution #039, March 19, 2006, posted at revcom.us
I’d seen the skit performed in four German cities as part of the Great March Against Anti-Women Legislation in Iran:
Women in black chadors kneel, watching a "mullah" lead a chained, burka-clad woman to be stoned. But as the "stones" hit her, the kneeling women rise with angry and determined cries, throw off their veils, rescue the woman and surround and chain the mullah.
This was March 8, 2006 in The Hague, Netherlands--and not just any place in The Hague. After an hour’s march through the city and into the suburbs, we were at the gates of the embassy of The Islamic Republic of Iran. As women and men pressed up against the police barricades, the street theatre took on new power. Burkas and chadors flew into the air with extra determination and intensity. The song in Farsi that accompanied the skit boomed out over the loudspeakers, with dozens of women joining in on the chorus:
No! Now is the time to do battle!
From the sound truck, Azar Derakhshan, spokesperson of March 8 Women’s Organization (Iranian-Afghanistani) and one of the march organizers, served notice on the regime:
"For 27 years we have been talking about the criminal things you’ve done. Today, we have news for you. A united and organized force is being born. When you took power, you celebrated by attacking these people. But these newly birthed forces will put the nails in the coffin of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
I travelled to Germany to join the march when it started in Frankfurt on March 4. Over the next four days we marched in Frankfurt, Mainz, Cologne, and Dusseldorf, Germany, concluding in The Hague on March 8. Approximately 50 women and 20 men were the core of the march, traveling between cities in a bus and several mini-vans. Most were Iranians living in exile in many European countries with several from England, Canada, and the U.S., along with several Afghani and a number of Kurdish women in exile. Radha D’Souza, a democratic rights activist from India, also participated, and I represented the RCP, USA.
We joined local activists in each city for rallies, marches, and indoor evening programs with delicious food, inspiring music and poetry, and joyous dancing. Organizers estimated that the crowds ranged in size from about 100 in Cologne and Dusseldorf to close to 1,000 in The Hague.
The March was organized by the Campaign for Abolition of All Misogynic Gender Based Legislation and Islamic Punitive Laws in Iran (website: www.karzar-zanan.com) and united a number of different organizations and parties to stand against repression of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran as well as imperialist aggression.
The Declaration issued by the Campaign on the first day of the Great March detailed the "unjust laws and Islamic sentences" suffered by women, and stated that "such oppressive regulations have been condoned by imperialist forces and their allies in the local occupation governments of Afghanistan and Iraq…George Bush and his administration want to bring about the kind of misery they have imposed on the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq to Iran…We are supposed to choose between the dungeons of the Islamic Republic or U.S.-style Abu-Ghraib prisons.
"We Iranian women defy such choices, our fight has nothing to do with Bush and other Western attackers or their current or previous lackeys in the Middle East…
"We have gathered here to demonstrate this fact. In this gathering we express our demands. Our choices are based on ideals of a different world, outside the scope of the current order. We shall bring about such a new world along with all oppressed and freedom-seeking peoples of our planet."
This stand was controversial among some Iranian and European forces. Zaman Masudi, one of the march organizers who works with the LINKS Partie in Germany, told me that several had said that it was wrong to criticize the Islamic Republic at this time when the U.S. is making moves on Iran. "I told them, look, we suffered once when we forgot about women; when the Shah was overthrown we supported Khomeini and forgot about the nature of the Islamic Republic. Now that we are struggling against the Islamic Republic we are not saying ‘yes’ to imperialism. We are saying ‘no’ to both."
Many women on the march spent years in the Islamic Republic’s dungeons for political activity. Husbands and other family members were executed, and they themselves were tortured. The march in a certain sense reflected the story of the ascendancy of the Islamic Republic and its murderous assault on revolutionary forces and progressive people who opposed it. Yet it was not a march about suffering and the horrors of the past. It was about the strength, passion, and determination of women to struggle for emancipation and liberation, knowing in a deeply personal way the costs of that struggle.
On March 6, we rallied in a central part of Cologne, and two women met for the first time. One, in her twenties, had been a child of six when her mother, a fighter against the regime, was executed in one of Khomeini’s prisons. The other, a woman in her late forties, was one of the last to see the young woman’s mother alive. The mother, due to be executed, had been released by mistake into the general prison population. She told her comrades there that the Islamic Republic had offered her a deal, that if she would renounce her beliefs they would let her live. But she told them, "there is a valley of blood between me and you, and it is too deep to cross." And she was executed shortly thereafter.
I reached out and put my hand on the young woman’s shoulder, and she said to me, "don’t be sad, Mary, I had the best mother in the world!"
While most of those travelling from city to city were in their late forties and fifties, there were a few younger women. One of these was 20-year-old Bayan, who led chants and agitated with great vigor over the sound system in both German and Kurdish. She is a Kurd from Iran who has lived in Germany for 15 years. She cannot go back because of the political activity of her parents.
"It is important that Kurdish women be here and say what they want," she told me, recalling that her aunt barely escaped death by stoning because she had been accused of causing the death of her ill husband.
About the support of Iraqi Kurds for the U.S. invasion and occupation there, Bayan said, "most of the Kurds in Iraq say that it is good if we have a little part of Kurdistan for ourselves. But I say no, we have a puppet regime. We had a bad regime in Iraq [with Saddam Hussein], but it would be better if Iraqi and Kurdish people go into the street and make a revolution than have the U.S. go in."
Well-known and beloved Iranian artists in exile were on the march the entire time and contributed tremendously to the sense of mission and joy that permeated it. Singer Gissoo Shakeri and poet Mina Assadi, both of whose works are banned in the Islamic Republic, have worked together for many years and created many of the songs of the march, including the one sung during the street theatre skit.
Filmmaker Jamileh Nedai is making a 60-minute documentary of the march. When she was 17 years old under the Shah’s regime, Jamileh acted in a musical called "City of Stories," a satirical look at social issues that became very popular--and is still popular today through underground tapes. As we were leaving the rally in The Hague, some of the Iranian youth now living in Holland began singing one of the songs from that musical--and were imspired to learn that Jamilah was part of the march.
I was asked to speak at each rally, as was Radha, the activist from India. Our comments were translated into Farsi and also into German while we were in Germany. Radha gave compelling exposure of the effects of imperialist globalization on the Third World and denounced the current visit by George W. Bush to India, where he made a deal to help India develop its nuclear capabilities while at the same time threatening Iran for its attempts to develop its own nuclear technology. When I spoke, I denounced the Bush regime and its crimes, including war moves on Iran, and said that the imperialists have no right telling anyone what they can and cannot do.
We learned that BBC and other media reported on the Frankfurt march and rally. In response, an Iranian TV news broadcast said a march opposing the Islamic Republic had been held by "counter-revolutionaries and prostitutes." News was also broadly spread through photos and daily reports on the March 8 organization website (8mars.com) that were picked up by various Iranian email lists and other websites.
The news that progressive and revolutionary forces, especially women, are fighting for a world outside the reactionary, life-destroying alternatives of U.S. imperialism, on the one hand, and Islamic fundamentalist theocracy, on the other, will surely be greeted by progressive people around the world and have a powerful impact.
Future issues of Revolution will include more stories and interviews with women on the European March Against Anti-Women Legislation in Iran