More on the European March Against the Oppression of Women in Iran

In the weeks since I returned from participating in the March 4-8 European march against anti-women laws in the Islamic Republic of Iran, I have come to appreciate even more its significance. At this time in history when the alternatives posed to millions of people across the globe are either imperialist devastation and domination or repressive Islamic fundamentalist theocracy, the Iranian, Kurdish, and Afghanistani women who came together in this march are struggling against two reactionary forces in the world and raising a banner for others to take up.

I reported back on the march at an event at New York City's Revolution Books in late March, and the many questions and lively discussion that followed showed a lot of unclarity about taking this stand at this time when the U.S. is sharpening its nuclear knives to threaten Iran. Before the event, a friend showed me an email she had received in response to an invitation to attend the program. The email said, in part:

“I disagree totally [with the thrust of the program and the march]--doing it at this time plays into the hands of the monarchists who have left Iran and want to return with the Shah's son in power as U.S. puppet... It is not up to us to change these issues, it is for the women who live in Iran and believe me, they are up to the task when they decide to do it. In the meantime, we are providing this administration with ever more ammunition to turn Americans against Iran... This is not the time for us outside Iran to 'say no to both' [U.S. imperialism and the Islamic Republic of Iran]--because this pales in comparison with attacks on Iran and its people and a WWIII scenario.”

It's absolutely essential that people in the U.S. build the strongest possible movement to stop the U.S. from launching war on Iran which would be a monstrous crime against humanity. But we provide “ammunition” to the Bush regime if we do NOT speak out against the oppression of the Islamic Republic and support those, especially revolutionary forces, who are fighting against both reactionary Islamic theocracy and U.S. Imperialism. If we do not speak out against the attacks on women's freedom by the Islamic Republic of Iran and reactionary mullahs in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, we also leave the field open for the U.S. Imperialists to claim the banner of women's liberation and try to silence people into going along with their criminal actions.

This happened in the lead-up to the war on Afghanistan shortly after the September 11 attacks on the U.S. As I said in a speech prepared for the march, “One of the rationalizations for the U.S. attacking and occupying Afghanistan was to liberate women from Taliban suppression. This was one of the ways the U.S. rulers drew in or neutralized forces, especially women, who would otherwise have opposed the U.S. making war on the world. The hypocrisy here is astounding! How can a regime that is doing everything possible to deny women in its own country the fundamental right to control their own bodies, to deny them the right to abortion--how can such a regime dare to claim that it will liberate women elsewhere! And look at the reactionary regimes the U.S. has and continues to back, and what is happening in the countries where they claim they have liberated women!”

Unfortunately, too few people, including in the women's movement in the U.S., denounced this vicious hypocrisy and, in fact, by their silence if not outright support, gave credence to the ridiculous and dangerous claim that Bush & Company care about women.

If we do not speak out and support the struggle against the Islamic anti-women theocracy, what are we saying to the women of Iran, those in exile as well as those living and struggling inside the country--that they must stop their just struggle against those who executed thousands of Iranian revolutionaries and who stone and lash women? And what are we saying to the people of the world--that Islamic fundamentalism is the only way to fight imperialist aggression?

The women on the march--many of whom served long years in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic for revolutionary political activity--are very clear that imperialism and Islamic theocracy work hand in bloody hand to crush the people's aspirations and just struggles. Just look at the reactionary regimes the U.S. supports today, including its great ally Saudi Arabia where women are prohibited even from driving and must be made invisible under yards of cloth when leaving their homes. Look at the situation in Iraq--now worse for women who fear being raped or blown up by bombs if they leave their homes, and for the great masses of Iraqis, than under the cruel rule of Saddam who was no friend of the Iraqi people. And in Afghanistan, women's oppression is now enforced by the U.S.-backed warlords and mullahs instead of the Taliban.

Today, when “McCrusade” or “Jihad” seem to many in the world to be the only alternatives, this voice of resistance defying both reactionary roads can contribute to realigning forces on a global scale and give “air to breathe” to all those fighting for another future in the countries targeted by U.S. Imperialism and elsewhere.

In Their Own Words--Voices From the European March

The March 4-8 European March was organized by the Campaign for Abolition of All Misogynist Gender Based Legislation and Islamic Punitive Laws in Iran (see and united many progressive and revolutionary organizations and parties.

On the occasion of March 8, International Women's Day, the 8 March Women's Organization (Iranian-Afghanistani), one of the Campaign sponsors, issued a statement that said in part: “Today the Bush regime and their European allies, on the one hand, and the Islamic Republic, on the other, try to convince everyone that we have to choose between neo-liberal slavery and Islamic fundamentalism. But we know that these two are not mutually exclusive and we have seen them cohabit. We boldly declare that we do not need 'saviors' like the invaders of Afghanistan and Iraq. We know that another world is possible and that we cannot get there with the help of the oppressors.”

Zaman Masudi, one of the march organizers who works with the LINKS Partie in Germany, first came to Germany as a student in 1971 and returned to Iran in 1979 after the overthrow of the Shah. She told me her mother “had a very unfortunate life in a feudal family” and died while Zaman was a student. “In 1979, I told myself that I can’t help my mother any more, but there are thousands of mothers in Iran and I want to return to help them.” She was forced to flee Iran less than two years later with her husband and 7-month-old baby. Zaman told me that some people told her it was wrong to criticize the Islamic Republic at this time when the U.S. is making moves on Iran. “I told then, 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.”

Soraia, a 50-year-old Kurdish activist with the Communist Party of Iran (Komala) now living in Sweden, also saw her mother suffer from patriarchal oppression, including at the hands of her father who once pulled her mother’s two braids out by their roots. Her five sisters were married off at young ages, but Soraia refused and was backed up by her mother. “Even though my mother was illiterate, she always told me that you should never surrender your rights.” Soraia said that she hoped the voice of the march would be spread all over the world, that she supported the campaign because “women are half of the human species, and their struggle for emancipation cannot be separated from the struggle of the working class…A lot of slogans around the oppression of women were raised in this campaign,” she said, “and they should be taken up by many people.”

Bayan, a 20-year-old Kurd born in Iran, was one of the youngest on the march. She led chants and agitated with great vigor over the sound system in both German and Kurdish. She has lived in Germany for 15 years and cannot go back to Iran because of the political activity of her parents. “It is important that Kurdish women be here and say what they want,” she told me. Although a child when she left Kurdistan, she remembers the women “being under men” and recalls 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 we have a free Iraq, 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 on the street and make a revolution than have the U.S. go in.”

Bayan said she knows that young Kurdish girls living in Sweden, Europe, Canada have been killed by their fathers or husbands because the girls want to marry someone of their own choice. “In Europe in the 21st Century,” she said, Kurdish women are under the oppression of their husbands and fathers. Everyday we receive news that young Kurdish girls have disappeared. They say they have gone back home, but I know this is not true. They have been killed. This old culture was from 500 years ago and has to be changed.”

I asked her if there was a message she wanted to send other young women. She responded: “Don’t sit in your house and say ‘I’m all alone, there’s nothing I can do’. You’re not obliged to think like that. No, you can get out, work, change your environment. I know it’s hard, but you shouldn’t accept anything that’s not right…a woman needs neither husband or father to live. You can decide to rely on yourself and live on your own.”

These young women, as well as the veteran fighters on the march, are hated and feared by the Islamic Republic because their defiance of centuries-old traditions and the social relations they are based on strikes at the very heart of its theocratic state. Once awakened, they will not easily be contained.

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