Revolution #195, March 14, 2010

"The veil is not just some cultural symbol…"

Following is an excerpt from a speech by Sunsara Taylor, "From the Burkha to the Thong: Everything Must, and Can, Change—WE NEED TOTAL REVOLUTION!" given in New York City on February 23, 2010, kicking off a national speaking tour:

[C]ulture is not something sacred. This is another argument you hear all the time. "But that's just part of the culture..." Or, "But you can't criticize someone else's culture."

This has even come up, I have been told, in many people's reaction to the title of my speech [From the Burkha to the Thong: Everything Must, and Can, Change—WE NEED TOTAL REVOLUTION!]. "Who is she, who grew up in this country, to criticize the burkha?" Or, "Who is she, to say from the outside, that these women are oppressed?"

Well, lynching was part of American culture for a long time too. White people used to gather in crowds to watch Black people get lynched—they used to bring their lunches and their children, like it was a picnic. And, after the lynchings, often as the bodies of Black people hanging from trees had been mutilated and disfigured, white people would pose and snap pictures, and make post-cards. That was a big part of this culture of this country—not only in the South, but also in the North. But, by this logic, I guess this should have been respected. Maybe it was impossible for anyone who didn't live there to say whether those Black people really were oppressed?

The question is not, "Who are you to criticize a culture," but, "Who are you standing with?" Do you stand with the slave-masters and the racist mobs—or do you stand with the Black people who rose up against that and, yes, disrupted the culture and the way of life of those white people?

And today, are you going to stand silent and passive in the face of the modern day slave-owners and exploiters, the rapists and the chauvinists, the Christian fascists and those oppressors my Iranian comrades call the "filthy mullahs"? Or will you stand with the women and the men who are rising up against this—and will you become one of these women or men?

The veil is not just some cultural symbol. If it were, you wouldn't need to have "virtue police" roaming around like thugs throwing acid in the faces of women who dare to walk in public with their faces showing. You wouldn't have these filthy mullahs and other fanatics waiting to arrest and molest young women if a wisp of their hair falls out from behind their veils.

The veil and the chador and the burkha are not just things that women took up one day. They were forced onto women.

How come no one here ever learns about the fearless uprisings of women against the veil, like in Iran, in 1979. This was just a few months after the Iranian revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah. But the Islamic fundamentalists seized the initiative—they hijacked the Iranian revolution and consolidated a theocracy. One of the very first laws they passed in the first year they were in power—as part of crushing the people's spirit and their resistance—was a law mandating that women cover themselves in the chador. The veil wasn't taken up voluntarily—it was forced on women by a reactionary fundamentalist theocratic state. And women erupted over this—they poured out into the streets by the tens of thousands, chanting, "We did not make revolution to go backwards." But the Islamic Republic sent its thugs and its secret police and its torturers after these women—they imprisoned many thousands... they tortured many hundreds of these women and they killed a great many of these women. And ever since then, they have mandated that women endure the ultimate humiliation of covering themselves when in the presence of men who do not own them. Women who have sex outside of marriage can still be legally stoned to death. The testimony of women is worth only half that of a man. Things are so barbaric that the calculation is actually made that the entire female body is worth only one testicle of the male.

Or look at Iraq—this is a country where, before the U.S. launched its unjust war that has caused the deaths of more than a million Iraqis, women used to be able to walk around uncovered. Now, as the fundamentalists have grown in strength and ability to recruit with every U.S. bomb that has dropped and every child orphaned or buried in rubble—women have been forced under the veil and the burkha. This was not voluntary—15 women a month were beheaded in the city of Basra alone for walking the streets without head-coverings. Don't tell me this is just a cultural thing.

So, when someone asks me who am I to criticize the veil, I have an answer: I am a communist, I am someone who understands that humanity can live a whole different way, free from all of this... I am someone who looks to a place like Iran and sees not some foreign culture, not some distant other kind of people, but who sees our blood—our sisters and our brothers putting everything on the line to get free.

Let me stop here for all of you to take a second and ask yourselves, "Did she just say she was a communist?"

Yes, I am a communist—and you should be too. I'm a communist who works out of the theoretical and practical framework developed by Bob Avakian. Avakian has defended the great achievements of the genuine communist revolutions of the past, but has also criticized their weaknesses and revitalized and re-revolutionized this whole movement. Bob Avakian is also the leader of a party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, that is actively and aggressively building a movement for revolution right now—hastening and preparing for the day when revolution can be made. And, by the way, if you haven't checked out Bob Avakian then you don't know a thing about communism and you especially don't know why the communism being developed by Bob Avakian is the key to emancipating ALL of humanity—so you really do have a responsibility to check him out.

A big part of what Bob Avakian has fought for is internationalism, and a whole deeper and higher understanding of the centrality of the liberation of women to any revolution worth making.

So I am very proud of my comrades in Iran and Afghanistan.

Here, I want to tell you about something I find exciting and inspiring. There is a group of women from Iran and Afghanistan who have come forward to say they don't want either Islamic fundamentalism OR U.S. imperialism. They call themselves the March 8th Organization, named after the date of the revolutionary holiday International Women's Day, and they are calling on people to celebrate and stand with the women of Iran who have been a great source of strength in the outpourings against the reactionary Islamic Republic of Iran in this last year in the challenges that have grown up against the so-called election of President Ahmedinejad. Many of these women have cast off their veils, and together with their brothers, are lifting their heads and demanding an end to the Islamic Republic.

In calling for protests commemorating International Women's Day this year, these Iranian and Afghani women of the March 8th Organization have pointed out that these women of Iran are "braving street battles with the Police force and militia thugs of the Islamic Republic of Iran—one of the most brutal women hating regimes on the planet Earth. Many have been arrested, injured and even killed in these street battles and others have been picked up by the security forces in their work place, classrooms and university dormitories. These women who dare death need nothing less than the complete overthrow of the IRI—and this is a growing sentiment. And in doing this they need the internationalist support and love of their sisters—and their brothers—around the world. If they achieve this, it will be a new day for women in the Middle East and a victory for women's liberation movement and for ending all oppression in the world."

I am very proud to say that this March I will be joining my Iranian comrades of the March 8th Organization to take action around this by marching in the streets of Los Angeles. And I invite you to join the march that will be held in Harlem as part of this on Saturday, March 6th.

We don't have to choose between U.S. imperialism and Islamic fascism. Between these two, the U.S. has—by far—done the greatest damage and poses the greatest threat to the world's people—but we can't let ourselves be forced into thinking these are our only choices.

As Bob Avakian has said, "What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these 'outmodeds,' you end up strengthening both."

We have to bring forward another way—and this is what revolution is.

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