Counterpoint: Women's Freedom In Iran

In the middle of an excellent links post, Natasha at Pacific Views wrote a response to one of my posts. Her response is short enough to quote in full:

Ampersand [...] complains that even if Hugo Chavez isn’t anti-Semitic, he embraces woman-hating Iran.

In response to that last, I’ll point again to this article about college enrollment and professional careers for Iranian women, which says that “since the 1979 Revolution: Iran’s Islamic government has managed to convince even traditional rural families that it is safe to send their daughters away from home to study.” I will paraphrase Amp’s commentary of the other day to say that the freedoms to walk outside your house without a scarf on, to have your testimony in court valued equal to a man’s and work without having to secure permission are important, but not the only measures of freedom. While their legal structure reflects a backlash against a rapid and forced modernization that forbade the wearing of religious garb in public, leaving many hardline Muslim women feeling confined to their homes, the movement of their society and real achievements of many women there point to the possibility of reform and a systemic lack of will to revert to a Saudi-style society where women are virtual non-persons. Iran’s laws are years behind their public sentiment, something I can’t say regarding my own country and the Bill of Rights, about African countries where many women get the choice by dint of social norms and economic oppression of being either wives or prostitutes, of Asian countries where the birth of a daughter is typically considered a sad day for a family, of the many countries where girls are routinely sold as child prostitutes to provide for their brothers. There are worse things in the world than having to wear a scarf, even if it’s not something I would choose to do.

Natasha is someone whose views I respect a lot; until I have time to do more research, consider me “on the fence” on this question.

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53 Responses to Counterpoint: Women's Freedom In Iran

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  3. 3
    AndiF says:

    Shirin Ebadi’s “Iran Awakening” paints a significantly less optimistic view. One thing she points out in the book is that while women are allowed access to education, they are regularly denied access to the jobs for which they have been educated. Ebadi was stripped of her judgeship and was for many years not allowed to practice law.

    From wiki, “According to the research ministry of Iran, about 6% of full professors, 8% of associate professors, and 14% of assistant professors were women in the 1998-99 academic year. However, women accounted for 56% of all students in the natural sciences, including one in five Ph.D. students.”

    In the Iran penal codes, a woman’s life is worth half that of a man’s which affects the calculation of blood money. Because of this, Iranian law requires families of murdered women to pay the murderer blood money (for his death) before he can be punished.

    Iran has sentenced women to be stoned to death. In one case, a 13 was sentenced to be stoned to death for being impregnated by her brother (who was sentenced to 150 lashes) and was saved only after international protest. Sentences for

    In June, hundreds of women were beaten and arrested for protesting for equal rights.

  4. 4
    Seattle Male says:

    As I wrote in another post, some folks seem to want to deny what is right in front of them. I find it terrifying that a woman would be so cavalier about freedoms to be a full-fledged person and so “understanding” of reactionaries.

  5. 5
    Soopermouse says:

    You don’t get it. This is a matter of context. In the context of the Middle East where Iran is, the advancements that were made by the women are significant, especially since Iraq, the country most advanced as far as Women’s rights went into the Middle east, was brought down by the USA’s involvement.

    Comparing the rights of the women in the USA, such as they are, to the one sof the women in Iran is comparing apples to crocodiles.

  6. I think Soopermouse has it exactly right, and while I don’t agree with what seem to me to be some of the implications of Natasha’s comments, she also is right on the money in pointing out that things in Iran, when it comes to women, are not as straightforward as they might seem if all you listen to is the rhetoric put out in this country by the media and conservative voices.

    At the same time, it’s important to point out that education for women is not necessarily seen in cultural terms in Iran in precisely the same way it is here, i.e., as an avenue towards personal advancement and fulfillment, social, financial and personal independence and so on. Not that education doesn’t have those meanings in Iran, but even to the extent that it does, those meanings are tempered by the fact that education, especially among the socioeconomically privileged classes, is also tied to a woman’s marriage prospects. (Remember, Iran is a country where the overwhelming majority of marriages are arranged.) The more educated a woman is, even if she never sets foot in the workplace, the more marriageable she is and so families pursue education for their daughters for this reason as well. (I want to be clear: I am not trying to nay say the points Natasha has made; I am trying to add a little more nuance to the point about context that Soopermouse made.)

    Also, Natasha, as quoted by Amp, wrote this:

    While their legal structure reflects a backlash against a rapid and forced modernization that forbade the wearing of religious garb in public, leaving many hardline Muslim women feeling confined to their homes….

    Two things I question in this quote: First, is the use of the word “hardline,” which has, in the current rhetorical climate about all things Muslim, unfortunate political connotations. A more appropriate word would have been “orthodox” or “strictly observant.) Second, and more importantly, I think it is a mistake to see the religious nature of Iran’s legal system merely, or even primarily, as a backlash against the secularism of the two shah’s that ruled Iran during most of the 20th century. For while there are certainly elements of backlash within it, and within the way it was imposed certainly shortly after the 1979 revolution, that legal structure also reflects a conservative religious agenda that has an intellectual and activist history quite independent of any reaction to the shah’s modernization programs.

    As someone married to an Iranian, and as a transaltor of classical Persian literature who has become involved with different, and often radically opposed elements within the Iranian community in the US, I have come to understand that this is an enormously complicated subject, and I actually hesitated before deciding to comment because it is all too easy to lose sight of the complexities in light of the position Iran currently occupies and has been assigned in the world. I hope I have not done that.

  7. 7
    natasha says:

    Soopermouse – Exactly.

    Seattle Male & AndiF – I don’t have a cavalier attitude towards the rights of women in Iran, I think it would be a fine and good thing for them to have what we have or better. But I have talked with people who visit and have extensive personal connections in the country and they tell me that what I see on the news is distorted. They tell me that there are parts of the country that approach western-style social norms. It must be granted that the people I know are ethnically Persian and that the people they know are largely, but not entirely, urban. These things make a difference.

    Yet it has long been the policy of the government of Iran not to interfere in the non-political subcultures that make up their country. Though the liberalized Persian sector of society (numerically about half the country, they were particularly targeted early on because they were the Shah’s power base and continue to be the bulwark of Iran’s governing bureaucracies and institutions, as well as a disproportionate voting bloc) has had to slowly wiggle towards having their old lifestyles back, they’re moving that way at enough of a pace to keep their young people from completely rebelling. Christian Turks are allowed to maintain breweries. There are 30k Jews living in Iran and Ahmadinejad’s government has donated to the charity hospital they run. A significant portion of their society is tribalized and either sedentary or nomadic through given areas, and the culture of these typically apolitical people has largely been left to itself, even those nomadic peoples whose transit across the shared border with Afghanistan has created enormous difficulties for a government fighting like hell to hold back the tide of opium trading with little international help. What I’m trying to convey with this is that the government of Iran, as well as their culture, shouldn’t be viewed through the black and white images we’re given.

    Women generally feel safe to walk the streets there and secure in their persons, even foreign women who visit, which is something that they don’t feel in many other developing and Middle Eastern nations (or even in all cases, here in the U.S.) They do not mutilate their daughters or forbid them from driving. There aren’t large numbers of Iranian families that rush to have an abortion when they find out that they’re pregnant with a daughter, they could not pawn off an unwanted girl as a temple prostitute before she was old enough to speak, as in nominally more free and secular India. Women may legally have to secure the permission of a husband before starting a business or taking a job, but in many (though granted, not all) sectors of their society this is a formality. There are runaways who become prostitutes, as in many countries, but unlike Thailand they do not have large numbers of parents who sell their children for sex to pay the bills. Gang rape of a woman for the sins of her family would not be permitted in Iran, as in the case of Pakistan’s Muktar Mai. If a pregnancy endangers your life or health, I’m told that an abortion can be performed before the point at which it becomes dangerous, which isn’t always the case in Latin America. A secular or liberal family in Iran can have a life for themselves and among their friends that, I am told, has most of the comforts of living in the U.S. or Europe.

    And yes, there are women stoned for adultery. There are honor killings. There are people caught in the merciless gears of the law and political prisoners and all these things which anyone would rightly condemn. And no one would want to be a political prisoner there, because it’s a schizophrenic split-off from what’s been described to me as an otherwise rehabilatory prison system.

    Yet I continue to feel that when I look around at all the societies in which it sucks to be a woman, Iran lacks many of the big, systemic evils that just make my stomach churn. Further, their willingness to open higher education to women and the obviously widespread ability of women to take advantage of that in practice is a crucial and defining point in their potential favor. The full benefits of that will perhaps be a long time coming, but they will inevitably come. IIRC, the U.S. didn’t go overnight from letting women attend college to letting them perform the full range of jobs they’d been educated to do. I believe that we also continue to have significant disparities in many fields, it’s a process.

    Further, it seems to me that this larger picture tends to be ignored because Iran is one of those countries that has a mandatory religious dress code. It’s vividly offensive to most westerners in a way that I understand but have come to regard as a trivial distraction. Trivial not because I’d be happy with having to live under it, but because if I was given the choice of being a daughter in a dirt-poor household in Iran vs. one in India, Thailand, Sudan, Honduras, Indonesia, Guatemala, Sierra Leone or many, many other countries where religious garb is not compulsory, I’d choose Iran. Given a choice between Iran and any of the other countries where religious garb is mandatory, I would also choose Iran. I bet either of you would, too.

    And that’s the choice, really, that faces more people in the world than the choice of the U.S. or Europe vs. Iran. They are taking a path to modernity that does not scare the hell out of their traditional public. They are taking substantive and meaningful steps that have in fact, if not in perception, secured significantly greater freedoms for their female population than exist in many parts of the world, even though they are not as great as the freedoms that existed for many of them under the Shah. There are a somewhere around a billion Muslims on the planet. Many of them live in countries that will not in our lifetimes get to make the choice of living like we do here, but their governments and people often respect what Iran has done and might get a chance to move towards being like them. Is that a good thing? I can’t answer that definitively, but I’d have to say that I believe it’s a better thing than if they were to idolize, say, Pakistan.

    To single them out is to buy the propaganda. It is to ignore the often far more substantial sins of countries that the U.S. uncomplainingly does business with every day. It is to make countries much farther down the rights ladder believe that nothing they could ever do would get the West off their backs. I don’t agree with everything in their society, but virtually all I ever hear about that country is griping and the essential repetition of the sort of talking points that I fear are dragging us into yet another pointless war. Further, it seems to me that it by definition pushes feminist Muslims who don’t feel oppressed by their religious clothing out of the debate and marginalizes their other concerns and arguments, because it seems to me that a particular focus on hijab is the main reason they are able to be singled out like this and that it’s implicit in describing Iran, but not India, as woman-hating. I feel that this is unhelpful at best.

    btw – Amp, I think you missed a link.

  8. 8
    AndiF says:

    Natasha, I’m not basing what I said on propaganda on U.S. newspapers but on what Iranian women have said about their position in the country and the fact that many of them feel that the revolution they supported and welcomed betrayed them and that what is occurring now are small steps back toward what they lost. As for the issue of clothing, you’ll note that I didn’t mention it and while I wouldn’t quite call it trivial (because it is symbolic of a problematic attitude that all patriarchal religions have with women), I don’t consider it important, either.

    I am strongly against the warmongering toward Iran and it has nothing to do with my attitude toward women’s rights in Iran (just as the current propaganda against Islam has nothing to do with my attitude toward women’s rights in Iran or anywhere else) . What’s more I would never think to tell the women in Iran what they should want and how they should live. But there appear to be many women who desire to have the full range of rights, value, and opportunities (as the various demonstrations have shown) and I feel it is important to support them in their efforts.

    Since I have no power to determine what country, if any, will serve as a role model for the Middle East, I can feel very free to say that it is my fervent wish that it would never be a country that is a theocracy.

  9. AndiF wrote:

    what Iranian women have said about their position in the country and the fact that many of them feel that the revolution they supported and welcomed betrayed them

    This is a crucial point; we often forget in this country that the revolution in Iran was not originally an Islamic one, but was, in fact, motivated by progressives who made common cause with Khomeini and such against the shah. Khomeini then, and with ruthlessness, turned the revolution into the one we know today as the Islamic revolution.

  10. 10
    Seattle Male says:

    My disparagement (and yes that is what it is) of Natasha’s enablement of religious authoritarianism because of context could have been easily applied to the post Civil war south (which lasted up until at least 1965). “Let’s just be understanding. Things can’t go too quickly.”

    Nuance, sure. But defending repressive values and honor killings because others are worse and the USA has stupid leadership — which is the bottom line of Natasha’s comments — is just too weird for me.

  11. 11
    natasha says:

    Here’s the thing: I don’t disagree with what any of you are saying about the problems in that country. I know that there are a lot of people in Iran who want more freedoms. I know that the revolution was hijacked by the Islamists, which is to say that after Khomeinei left that suitcase bomb to devastate the first post-revolution parliament that all argument about a secular and inclusive government was suspended. I know that a lot of women participated in the revolution expecting something completely different and that the ones who refused to veil afterwards were essentially blocked from society, that many of the troublesome ones wouldn’t have been allowed back to work even if they had veiled, that the popular singer/actress Googoosh was essentially silenced for over two decades. And I know that just about anything said regarding it will be a simplification.

    Yet my reasoning on this, to hopefully clarify, comes down to the question of why the adjective ‘woman-hating’ is applied nearly universally in some form or another to Iran, but not, say, to India. And what goes on in India? Honor killings? Check. A dowry system that makes women a burden to their families and sometimes gets them killed? Check. Acid attacks? Check. The widespread screening of fetuses for the defect of femaleness followed by enough abortions that their society’s overall gender ratio is significantly skewed? Check. Sexual violence as a form of racist oppression? Check. (According to Amnesty International, many of the crimes committed against women in Gujarat’s devastated Muslim communities weren’t even prosecutable under India’s definition of rape and have gone largely unpunished, while Iran has maintained largely respectful race relations within a multi-ethnic society for longer than westerners have even considered that important. ) Sexual and domestic violence widespread? Check. Widows turned out into poverty, excluded from the economy and generally shunned for remarriage? Check.

    And what I’m saying is, I look at all those facts about India and then notice that not once have I ever heard any western commentator refer to it as a woman-hating society. It may be a society in which bad things happen, in which there are backward social customs, but it is not given the blanket damnation of being described as a whole country whose motivating force is the hatred of women. I haven’t heard people single out India as a country whose mere association is a taint. Just as in Iran, there is a class of westernized people that have a better life, but it seems to me that in the case of Iran, the clothing issue just short circuits all these other things. It seems to me that by many measures, it would be objectively far, far worse to be born a woman of a lower class background in India than Iran. This, in spite of the fact that India is better by far than many of the others we could easily come up with. Yet the criticisms of Iran seem strident out of all proportion to criticisms of countries that have generally worse gender conditions, differing mainly in the key issue of religious garb. Even if it isn’t directly addressed, which it often isn’t, it hovers buzzard-like over the discussion. We see the pictures of western-looking men and grim reaper-clad women and imho it does something to our perception of that society that comes through in the way we talk about it compared to other societies.

    I’m not saying they’re above criticism. I’m not saying they should stop fighting for their rights or that we shouldn’t support them in that, provided that such support is truly helpful and constructive. I’m not even saying that you have to criticize everyone to criticize one, or that there’s some set bar past which a society should stop struggling for greater equity. But if you’re going to criticize them, be aware of the ways in which those criticisms compare to criticisms of other countries whose visible customs seem more normal to us but whose objective circumstances are similar or worse.

    Am I making sense?

    It really, in my mind, comes to the issue of imperialism. I would advocate a general, government-level stance of non-intervention in Iran’s affairs, not because I think that their reforms shouldn’t happen ‘too quickly,’ but because our touch is poison. Everything we support, they are inclined to criticize. Everything we hate, they are inclined to defend. It’s a country whose democracy, autonomy and integrity the U.S. has so violated as to put our motives under permanent suspicion. This is more an argument for not engaging them militarily, but in a time when they are being singled out for the Iraq treatment, a dual standard of indignation against them seems to be an enablement of those people who would gladly bomb them to kingdom come. That is surely not the objective of either Ampersand or any of the commenters here, but in the current political climate, I don’t think it’s a concern to dismiss.

    I don’t defend them because I don’t think they should change. I do it because the arguments I hear are one-sided to the point that I feel a need to bring up the other.

  12. 12
    steve says:

    This is cherry picking in the extreme. The plight of women in Iran is deplorable. That one or two shallow surface indicatore are trumpeted as cause for celebration is an example of whitewashing.

    The context issue is IMO an attempt to deny the prowar/sanction crowd from using the treatment of women issue rather than a true attempt to assist or even clearly see the status of Iranian women. Playing dhess against the right wing leaves these women as mere pawns.

  13. 13
    masoud says:

    I was just passing through the comments section, reading the posts has been both encouraging and disheartening. Encouraging, because there seem to be more than a few genuinely well intentioned posts, disheartening because most of you don’t seem to know enough of about Iran to contribute anything meaningfull to the discussion.

    The existence of a glass ceiling doesn’t mean Iran is woman-hating. A bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences is not a traditional barganing chip in aranging marriages. Both men and women are stoned and otherwise executed, most executions being targeted at afghan-west drug trade. Talk of the shah’s ‘modernization’ programs is a euphamism for police state brutality, economic backwardness, and western dress. The revolution not only was the result, in large part of iranian women’s efforts, but is still seen as hugely successful by large numbers of iranian women(and men). Women are murdered in fits of rage pertaining to some ebarasment they are seen to be the cause, as they are everywhere else in the world. I’m honestly not sure about the blood-money bit, but i think this sum is not meant to be a barromenter of an individual’s worth as much as it is meant to be compensation for economic loss, which is unfortunately deemed to be higher for the loss of males.

    Yes, the laws on the books in general, especially those with regard to women are a far way from where the population is, but i think too much hay is made out of this in the west. It’s none of your business, it’s never been your business, that’s sort of been the whole point of the past thirty years. Anyone who’s actually met any significant crossection of the women of iran really would have no concerns about their future and wouldn’t waste his/her own time offering high-and-mighty condemnations and deplorations while their own goverment loots and pillages and rapes indiscriminatly and the people to whome this government is responsible to do nothing but fall over one another to ‘support the troops’. You’ve probably never helped any iranian, you probably will never be able to, you might be able to stop a war or at the very least some amount of petty racism.

    P.S. another interesting fact about those horrible women-hating middle-eastern regimes……..their levels of bruatality and bakwardness correlate uncannily with their subservience to the west (compare Syria vs. Saudi, Lebanon vs. Gulf states, Pakistan/Taliban vs. Malaysia, 90′s Iraq vs now Iraq) food for thought.

  14. 14
    natasha says:

    RJN – “First, is the use of the word “hardline,” which has, in the current rhetorical climate about all things Muslim, unfortunate political connotations. A more appropriate word would have been “orthodox” or “strictly observant.)”

    I just wanted to specifically respond to this in order to say, yes, I agree completely that your suggested wording is more appropriate. It certainly conveys far better what I meant.

    steve – In what way is the fact that more than half of Iranian college students are female a shallow indicator? Or be specific about whatever else seemed shallow, and please be precise when you talk about plights in this case. Iran isn’t Darfur, where you can say such a thing and have people know at once what you mean because the facts aren’t in dispute.

  15. masoud:

    Talk of the shah’s ‘modernization’ programs is a euphamism for police state brutality, economic backwardness, and western dress.

    You are right that the word “modernization” glosses over many negative things about the Shah’s regime. I thought I had put the term in quotes, but I did not. As for your statement about a bachelor’s degree in engineering not being a traditional bargaining chip in arranging marriages: among the Iranians I know, education matters in assessing someone’s worth, including their worth as a potential marriage partner. It might not be an explicit bargaining chip in marriage negotiations, that doesn’t mean people don’t consider it important.

  16. 16
    Q Grrl says:

    Yes, the laws on the books in general, especially those with regard to women are a far way from where the population is, but i think too much hay is made out of this in the west. It’s none of your business, it’s never been your business, that’s sort of been the whole point of the past thirty years.

    Well, unless you own those women as property, it sure as fuck is my business.

  17. 17
    masoud says:

    Q Grrl -

    Well, unless you own those women as property, it sure as fuck is my business.

    Maybe it wouldn’t be if Iranian Women’s NGO’s had anything to say about it.

    And can we spare each other the fucking language?

    Richard-

    As for your statement about a bachelor’s degree in engineering not being a traditional bargaining chip in arranging marriages: among the Iranians I know, education matters in assessing someone’s worth, including their worth as a potential marriage partner. It might not be an explicit bargaining chip in marriage negotiations, that doesn’t mean people don’t consider it important.

    You would be absoloutely correct in saying Iranian highly value education in and of itself. But you don’t, you say that they value it in ‘assesing someone’s worth’. It seems that the only purpose that qualification serves is to allow you to explain away women’s increasing enrollment in university away without challenging racial stereotypes. It all makes sense if those recaltricants are educating their daughter’s just so they can sell ‘em off in marriage at a higher price, they obviously send them to university over there for the same reasons we do over here.

    The question is that if education makes women more ‘marriable’, why? Can it be for any other reason than the fact that Iranian people place a high value one education as a “as an avenue towards personal advancement and fulfillment, social, financial and personal independence and so on” as you put it? If this is the case why not just assume that this is the reason Iranian women enrol in school? Or are we working with the unstated assumption that whatever Iranian value in general they don’t for their women, whom they are obssesed with marrying off?

    I am sure i am coming off as more angry and more combative than i actually feel, but i’m not finding it easy to talk about these things in a passive tone. I feel racist overtones in many of these posts, well meaning though they are.

    I think the main point of what i’m trying to say is that Iran’s womens rights’ are in no need of defense becuase no one’s opinions here are particularly relevant to Iran or Iranians. Nor will any effort to make those views relevant, in any way, meet with any success, and until people understand and acknowledge this these discussions are the analog of abstract discussions about saddams rape rooms/Kurd gassings/Shia repression/wars against neighbours ect i.e. imperialist propoganda. But now that i’ve made my little disclaimer, why not get the discussion back on track, I think Natasha had asked an important question?

  18. 18
    Q Grrl says:

    Masoud: I apologize for my unladylike language. I feel Teh Shame.

    Look, you see racism here. I see objectification in your posts. You talk of women as things — it isn’t personal to you, just theoretical — and therefore you come across as laying a false claim to owning these women because you happen to what, share a culture with them? No dice.

    I may not know the nuances to specific cultures, but I know harm to women when I see it — and no amount of reversing the blame (by calling us racists!) will decrease the reality of women in Iran.

    Besides, you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. In one breath you say it isn’t our business, then in the other you underhandedly blame the West for the brutality that Iranian men reign down on women. Again, no dice.

    Women aren’t things. They aren’t cultural artifacts. And they certainly are not theoretical.

  19. 19
    RonF says:

    A more appropriate word would have been “orthodox” or “strictly observant.

    To use “orthodox” or “strictly observant” would be to presume that the various strictures against women’s rights in Iran are based on Islam. However, I have seen Islamic scholars argue that Islam itself does not require such strictures, and that they actually are cultural elements whose origins predate Islam and that linking Islam to them is being done improperly to perpetuate them.

  20. 20
    RonF says:

    Anyone who’s actually met any significant crossection of the women of iran really would have no concerns about their future and wouldn’t waste his/her own time offering high-and-mighty condemnations and deplorations while their own goverment loots and pillages and rapes indiscriminatly

    What government would that be?

  21. 21
    RonF says:

    It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to a culture where there are a large number of people who have an advanced education they have no opportunity to use.

  22. 22
    RonF says:

    It’s a country whose democracy, autonomy and integrity the U.S. has so violated as to put our motives under permanent suspicion.

    Massoud, just to make sure I’m interpreting you correctly; are you stating that Iran is a democracy?

  23. 23
    RonF says:

    Massoud = Masoud; sorry about that.

  24. 24
    RonF says:

    P.S. another interesting fact about those horrible women-hating middle-eastern regimes…….. … Pakistan/Taliban vs. Malaysia …

    Malaysia’s not a Middle Eastern country, although it is Muslim.

    Muslim/Moslem – what’s the difference in the usage?

  25. 25
    masoud says:

    I don’t think i have ever talked about women as things, and i’m pretty sure i haven’t done so in ‘thoeritcal’ terms, whatever that’s suppposed to mean. But could you please point out exactly what you mean?

    I think it would be a safe bet that the plight of Iranian women is at the very least as personal to me as anyone else posting here, and i have never blamed anything Iranian men do on the West, or asked that you understand the nuances of anyone’s culture. All i’ve done is enumerate a series of facts(and one admitted conjecture) that challenge some misconceptions posted on this forum and make it difficult for people to see things in black and white, and observed that lacking a serious commitment to be serious and careful about what is said, there needs to be a realization that you guys aren’t to be taken seriously. Nor can you claim speak for Iranian women because you what — share a gender with them?

    It’s telling that you consider me condeming the west as ‘reversing’ the blame, as if the blame naturally flows the other way, from the west to me, Iranian women being silent spectators, or perhaps maiden’s in need of a rescue? I’m not the one who thinks I ‘own’ Iranian women. I’ve never tried to speak for or coopt them, I think they can manage just fine without me, and even better without some others.

  26. RonF:

    To use “orthodox” or “strictly observant” would be to presume that the various strictures against women’s rights in Iran are based on Islam. However, I have seen Islamic scholars argue that Islam itself does not require such strictures, and that they actually are cultural elements whose origins predate Islam and that linking Islam to them is being done improperly to perpetuate them.

    All religions contain elements that are derived from the culture(s) in which the religion is practiced, including Christianity and Judaism. Orthodox Jews observe all kinds of things that are not found in the Torah and that are not, strictly speaking, required by the Torah, and many of them derive from cultural norms. That does not make them any less orthodox or observant.

  27. 27
    masoud says:

    Ronf,

    What government would that be

    If english is your first language, probably your democratically elected one.

    Massoud, just to make sure I’m interpreting you correctly; are you stating that Iran is a democracy?

    i didn’t write what your quoting, but since you asked, there is a very limited type of democracy in place.
    Your absoloutely right about malaysia not being part of the middle east, it’s south asian. I think the differene between muslim and moslem is the same as between color and colour, although i think moslem is used more in older texts.

  28. 28
    RonF says:

    Richard, I’m sorry that I was not clear. It’s quite true that many religions incorporate elements of the culture they start in. What I meant was that in this case, I have read arguments by Islamic scholars who state that many of the restrictions on women in the Middle East were not originally part of Islam. There are Islamic leaders who claim to be able to justify these restrictions through quoting the Qu’ran and haidiths, but it’s more the way that some Christian leaders used the Bible to justify slavery than it is something that was actually intended by the founders of the religion.

    The example I have seen presented is that it was apparently not unheard of in the Middle East in the 7th century A.D. for women to go topless, or nearly so. Mohammed’s command for women to dress modestly was meant to have them cover their breasts, not for them to cover their entire body in tents with only their eyes (or not even that!) showing. That is a custom in some areas where Islam is found. The religious leaders in those areas, seeking to impose their will on others, cobbled verses from the Qu’ran to bolster their case and then try to extend it (via Wahhabism) to other areas.

  29. 29
    RonF says:

    Masoud

    their own goverment loots and pillages and rapes indiscriminatly

    I have seen reports of a few instances where some soldiers acted in a dishonorable fashion. I have also seen where those soldiers are being tried and punished for that. But if you have some actual evidence to support the above allegation, I’d like to hear it

    I didn’t write what you’re quoting, but since you asked, there is a very limited type of democracy in place.

    My apologies; it was Natasha.

  30. 30
    RonF says:

    Natasha:

    As far as your remarks about what goes on in India, you are dead on about some of the things that happen. I have seen reports of this in American media; the first one that comes to mind was a 60 Minutes presentation about women in rural areas of India who are burned to death in “kitchen accidents” that are actually cases where a woman is deliberately burned to death by their in-laws. They are killed by soaking them in kerosene (kerosene stoves are apparently common in rural India) and lighting them on fire because the woman’s family won’t pay more dowry money to the husband’s family after their wedding. And I’ve seen other reports in American media about anti-woman activities in India as well.

    There is one difference; in India, such things are at least condemned by the government and are against the law, although enforcement of that law is uneven at best in rural areas. But in Moslem countries, anti-woman customs are actually enacted into law and those laws are agressively enforced. This makes little difference to the individual woman lying burned to death on her kitchen floor (what kind of person can do such a thing?), but when you’re talking about the attitudes and actions of a government (as we are here) it’s a significant difference.

  31. 31
    RonF says:

    Natasha:

    It’s a country whose democracy, autonomy and integrity the U.S. has so violated as to put our motives under permanent suspicion.

    Democracy? In Iran?

    It’s my understanding that there is an unelected group of clerics that can veto any laws passed by the legislature, with no recourse to override their veto. It’s my understanding that there’s an unelected group of clerics that can bar any given individual from running for office with no recourse for appeal, based on their political beliefs or expression, and that this has been used against 1000′s of potential candidates. It’s my understanding that newspapers that are critical of the government or that wish to present information that the government doesn’t want disseminated or that wish to present information that people in power thinks is detrimental to or insults Islam are prevented from being published or distributed, and that a similar process occurs with television programs. It’s my understanding that use of satellite TV is banned because it allows people to view un-approved programming. It’s my understanding that it’s not possible to build a non-Islamic house of worship.

    The U.S. can’t interfere with Iran’s democracy because Iran does not have a democracy for the U.S. to interfere with; it’s a theocracy, with the occasional sham election to put a democratic face on it.

  32. Masoud,

    You are right. I stand corrected. What I wrote in both my comments on women and education in Iran makes it sound like I meant that Iranian parents educate their daughters solely, or at least primarily, out of the cynical desire to make them more marriagable and not because education is valued in and of itself. This was not my intent—I certainly know better than to think this is the case—and I apologize.Chalk it up to writing carelessly and quickly, and since I don’t even remember the specific point I was trying to make, I will simply let the apology stand and not try to explain myself further.

  33. 33
    masoud says:

    Richard,
    Apology accepted, I can’t stay mad at anyone who’s got balls enough to try and translate the shahnameh, how’s that going by the way?

    RonF-

    I have seen reports of a few instances where some soldiers acted in a dishonorable fashion. I have also seen where those soldiers are being tried and punished for that. But if you have some actual evidence to support the above allegation, I’d like to hear it

    These remarks are digusting in the extreme, and i’m not going to humour them with any kind of a serious response, but in a similar vein, i’ve seen reports of a few americans who actually don’t deserve to be shot in the head, but if you have any evidence to support the claim that this is the case in general i’d love to hear it.
    P.S. Your ‘understandings’ are off, and on balance the Iranian government is as responsive to it’s people’s wishes as the americans’(IMO)

    Someone please tell me that this guy is one of the right wing nuts who are kept around these forums for color, and not the kind of lefty-feminist whom the moderator wanted as the mainstream regulars at the site?

  34. 34
    Robert says:

    on balance the Iranian government is as responsive to it’s people’s wishes as the americans

    When the government of Iran executes rape victims, which group’s wishes is it responding to?

    (I suppose that’s a right-wing nut kind of question.)

    I lived in Iran briefly before the revolution, and have been an amateur student of the country, and something of a parsiphile, ever since – although I won’t be translating any great historical texts anytime soon. I would characterize Iran’s government as being somewhat similar to that of South Korea up until ten years or so ago; an authoritarian regime with some electoral institutions in place. Hardly a democracy, but not a fascist state, either. As with South Korea, I have high hopes that Iran may liberalize and let all its people seek their highest aspirations. An Iranian constitutional monarchy could be a great force for good in the region.

  35. 35
    masoudamri says:

    When the government of Iran executes rape victims, which group’s wishes is it responding to?

    Dunno, maybe the same group the us panders to when it excecutes Tookie Williams for having the gall to dedicate a book to black leaders murdered by the state?

    Spare me the ‘parsifiles’ and their aspirations to return Iran to the age of the Pahlavis.

  36. 36
    Ampersand says:

    Masoud:

    Both RonF and Robert are what I think of as the token right-wingers here, yes. Try not to call them or any of the other folks here “nuts.” (Particularly since you took it upon yourself to criticize Q Grrl’s language).

    So far, you seem like a “anyone who disagrees with me is a jerk who I will treat with contempt” sort of person; that’s not acceptable behavior on this blog. Please read the moderation goals , if you haven’t already.

    Ron F: 10 of the last 16 comments left on this thread, were left by you. There’s no set rule about number of posts, but at the same time, please try to avoid posting so often that you dominate the discussion here.

  37. 37
    Robert says:

    Spare me the ‘parsifiles’ and their aspirations to return Iran to the age of the Pahlavis.

    The younger Pahlavi seems a reasonable sort, but of course it’s hard to tell. There’s probably too much justified hard feeling among older Iranians against the days of the Shah for him to ever take power, though. And that’s probably not a bad thing; the concept that the people can kick out a royal family, and keep them kicked, is a concept that can use some reinforcing.

    But there are other royal families, and other people who could fill the role that the monarch plays in such a system. Obviously that would be something for the Iranian people to arrange among themselves, if they even want to go in that direction; I’m merely a friendly outsider dismayed at the hostility between our two nations.

  38. 38
    masoud says:

    Ampersand,

    Not to make a big thing about this, but my ‘contempt’ has been strictly reactionary, I’ve tired to adress points and not even name people, whenever possible.
    To all:
    About the whole ‘nuts’ thing: I apologize.

  39. 39
    Tuomas says:

    Dunno, maybe the same group the us panders to when it excecutes Tookie Williams for having the gall to dedicate a book to black leaders murdered by the state?

    Actually, Tookie Williams was executed because he was found guilty of multiple murders.

    Instead of responding, you just bring up new “bad things” about US, hoping that it will distract everyone from the issue of Iran.

  40. 40
    masoud says:

    Robert-
    The younger Pahlavi seems every bit a stooge(hope that’s allowed) as his father was, and to this day won’t aknowledge any wrondoing on his daddy’s par. Reza has a better chance of winding up king of LA.

    As for all the hostility, I agree it is unfortunate, not at all mysterious though.

  41. I’m taking a break from grading papers and there are a few things I’ve been saving up to say:

    Masoud:

    The Shahnameh is tough, thanks for asking, tougher than both the Gulistan and Bustan, of which I have done significant portions. I will soon be posting sections of the Shahnameh “in progress” on my blog.

    I also wanted to say this to you. You have responded in this thread to criticisms of Iran—and I leave aside my own truly deserving gaffe, though that seems to have been, reasonably, one of the things that touched you off—with comments like this:

    Anyone who’s actually met any significant crossection of the women of iran really would have no concerns about their future and wouldn’t waste his/her own time offering high-and-mighty condemnations and deplorations while their own goverment loots and pillages and rapes indiscriminatly and the people to whome this government is responsible to do nothing but fall over one another to ’support the troops’.

    and this:

    Dunno, maybe the same group the us panders to when it excecutes Tookie Williams for having the gall to dedicate a book to black leaders murdered by the state?

    It is a tactic not dissimilar, if my memory serves me correctly, from the one used against Jimmy Carter during the “hostage crisis.” (I am using scare quotes because that’s what we call it here; it was perceived very differently in Iran.) At that time, someone from Iran—I don’t remember who—made a point of saying that the US had no right to say anything about injustice anywhere else because of the racism (and I think it was only racism that was referred to) that existed, and of course continues to exist, here.

    With all due respect, this kind of tactic is a cop out. First, it assumes a double standard on the part of those doing the criticizing, that, in other words, the people critiquing Iran do not also critique and actively oppose what goes on here in the US. Not only is this not necessarily the case, but it happens, as far as I know, especially not to be the case on this blog.(The double-standard Natasha was talking about in her post was different and had to do with how people selectively label what goes on in other countries based on the messages we get in the media.)

    Second, it is a way of not seeing, of making invisible, commonalities between and among the various forms of injustice in both countries. I am thinking here specifically of women’s issues. Iran, like the US, like pretty much every other country in the world, is a patriarchy and the oppressive injustices, the oppression that women suffer in all of those countries are part of system that transcends national boundaries, legal systems and identities. This is one of the most powerful insights of feminist analysis.

    Third, it conflates governmental positions with the positions of individual people and/or it essentializes imperialism/nationalism/colonialism/pick-your-ism by asserting that someone who lives in a country that is, say, imperialist cannot speak outside of her or his country’s imperialism. The Iranian women’s NGOs that you refer to in one of your earlier posts were making a statement about the US government when they excluded the US interest group from their meeting; they were not, at least I assume they were not, making a statement about whether the individual people in the interest group might or might not have something useful to contribute about women in Iran.

    Now, having said all this, I also have to say that it is, absolutely, the responsibility of people like me to speak responsibly and accurately (and, again, I use what I wrote as the perfect example of what not to do), but the fact that people do not always speak responsibly and accurately, or that they ask pointed questions in response to a statement you make, as Robert did, does not make it any less of a cop out to respond by deflecting attention away from the question itself and towards what, in your opinion, the asker should be paying attention to instead.

    Okay, I need to go back to grading papers, so let me say this, Masoud: I respect the intensity and the passion with which you responded to what I wrote, and I respect what I take to be your insistence that people who want to talk about Iran should know something more than what we hear and read here in the US. I just today had a very long and frustrating conversation with a student who cannot wait—I am paraphrasing his words—until there is enough evidence that Iran is building a nuclear weapon for Israel to ask us for and be granted permission to bomb whatever facility it is where Iran is making it. I do not want to turn this discussion into one about Iran’s nuclear ambitions; I bring this up only as a way of saying that I agree with you on this: the ignorance that makes you so angry is pervasive. I just think the tactics of your response are counterproductive.

  42. 42
    masoud says:

    Tumas,

    That conviction was about as fair as some of the more publicized trials that happen in Iran, I’m not going to get into the specifics here, but i’m sure you can google the details on his murder(and that of other black leaders), if you had any interest in knowing. The Governator explicitly listed the dedication of his book as the main reason not to grant him a pardon, as it shows he has no remorse.

    I only brought it up because the comparison I made, which was challenged (in quite a subversive manner, I was talking about the responsiveness of the government not the fairness of the justice system), was between Iran and the US.

  43. 43
    Tuomas says:

    Well, it’s a distraction, so I’ll pass. I studied the Tookie case when it was relevant — and nothing convinced me that he was innocent.

    What your whole point here is taken straight from Uncle Joe’s Talking Point Memo To Western Useful Idiots — see, the West is bad in some aspects too, therefore you can’t criticize us!

  44. 44
    masoud says:

    A clarification,

    I am not trying to deny, or deflect attention away from any of the injustices against women or minorities in Iran. The fundemental question raised in the original post, is whether Iran is ‘women-hating’, not whether so-and-so law is outrageous, or a particular custom is patriarchal, it is about applying a hateful label to a huge entity. I have a couple of problems with this.

    The first is consistency. The US and it’s European partners have had a demonstrably worse effect on women in the middle east by supporting autocratic regimes with much worse records, who are immune to internal reform, and turning women’s rights into a political football. Do we then talk about women-hating America? women-hating Britain? have we? Well most here aknowledge how all societies are inherently patriarcal, but somehow I don’t think that’s quite what anyone was getting at in the original post/first ten comments. The implication was that Iran somehow breaks the bank, otherwise there would be no story.

    The Iranian regime is one of the more progressive forces for women’s rights in the middle east, the true culprit, and again i’m not trying to deflect attention away from anything happening in Iran, are the patrons of virtually every other regime/network/religious sect in the region, i.e. the US/great britain. Misunderstanding this point would be catastrophic.

    My next gripe is, and i’m not being trying to be over dramatic, the inherent racism(sexism?) of some of the posters in trying to explain away every fact thrown at them. Anything that challenges their views of Iranian women as uneducated subservient victims is either shallow or a distraction. Some people really need to get a grip. As I said before some people talk more than they should considering what they know.

    The last point i’m going to make here is the complete lack of reference to or direction from any Iranian groups or intiatives in this whole discussion. Fasulo had a passing reference to the Communist Workers Party(i’m pretty sure that’s expat), but absoloutely nothing since, and there is huge activist in Iran. That’s how I know your not really working twoards their freedom, but rather what you think their freedom should be. That’s dangerous.

  45. 45
    Ampersand says:

    Anything that challenges their views of Iranian women as uneducated subservient victims is either shallow or a distraction.

    I may answer in more detail later, but first I want to ask: Who here, specifically, has suggested that they consider all Iranian women to be “uneducated subservient vicitms”? What comment numbers are you referring to, please?

    Because although I don’t deny that the stereotype exists, I don’t think anyone at this blog has said or implied that.

  46. 46
    Richard J Newman says:

    Masoud:

    Do we then talk about women-hating America? women-hating Britain? have we?

    People on this blog do it all the time.

  47. 47
    Kali says:

    “Yet my reasoning on this, to hopefully clarify, comes down to the question of why the adjective ‘woman-hating’ is applied nearly universally in some form or another to Iran, but not, say, to India. ”

    I think this has to do with the *official* position that a country takes vs. what individual people do and believe, often in violation of the official policies and laws. Yes, India as a culture does horrible things to women and a large percentage of the people have really regressive views of and behaviour towards women and girls. However, the government and those writing the policies and the laws do their best to fight against this. They have laws against practically everything you listed. Of course, the local judge or policeman may not be at all interested in implementing the law. That’s a problem at an individual/cultural level, not at an institutional level. So, the misogyny in India is cultural more than institutional. And just like there are pockets of progressive culture in Iran, there are such in India. I know that growing up in India, I had it much better than many American girls. Not only did I get full encouragement to achieve in whichever field I wanted, but I also did not have the peer pressure to be pretty, please boys and be sexually objectified.

    In Iran, the misogyny is not only cultural but encoded in the policies and laws. There are some areas where the misogyny is not as bad as in other countries, but overall Iran has a much greater backing for misogyny at the institutional level than do other misogynistic countries.

  48. 48
    Q Grrl says:

    Masoud: Do you think it’s a coincidence that the latter half/bulk of this thread is talking about men’s roles in Iran? Men this, men that. King this, king that.

    When I criticize other countries’ treatment of women it is on this base level. Individual customs don’t matter relative to the deeper social myths and concepts of women that are fairly universal. Iran has it’s particular histories, stories, and customs. As does the US.

    Fundamentally, however, both the West and Iran build their myth of woman around the belief that she is the embodiment of sin and the weakness/temptation of male flesh. When that changes, you, Masoud, might have a right to be offended. Until then, the only differences between US men and Iranian men are the superficial customs put in place to keep men in power, better educated, and more fully participatory in the government of their individual cultures.

    So, yes, my gender – and the lies and brutality surrounding that gender – tie me to Iranian women in a way that you cannot be tied. That is the nature of gender. That is the nature of patriarchal power.

    If you don’t like my assumptions of how Iranian women are treated, then change how they are treated instead of getting offended. Have them fully participate in your society and then we can talk more honestly.

  49. 49
    RonF says:

    Masoud:

    I’ve tried to address points

    My point was that there have been a relatively few Americans who have acted dishonorably and illegally in Iraq, and that they are being punished for it, and that this is a long way from supporting your allegation that “their own goverment loots and pillages and rapes indiscriminantly”, by which I presume you mean the U.S. Government.

    So do you care to address that point? Or do you consider that “These remarks are digusting in the extreme, and i’m not going to humour them with any kind of a serious response,” is addressing that point?

    P.S. Your ‘understandings’ are off, and on balance the Iranian government is as responsive to it’s people’s wishes as the americans’(IMO)

    Are none of the points that I presented as “I understand that …” factually correct? Are any of them?

    Qgrrl:

    Do you think it’s a coincidence that the latter half/bulk of this thread is talking about men’s roles in Iran?

    Yes, I know that wasn’t directed at me, but I’ll jump in, anyway. In a word, “No.” In two words, “Hell, no.” Unlike the U.S., Iran has an established church and a theocracy., and the state church in Iran (and many other majority-Moslem countries) enforces a true patriarchy. Women have what rights and power the men in power decide to give them, and thus there’s no way to talk about women’s rights in Iran without talking about men.

    Amp:

    Sorry about the multiple postings. I got wound up a bit.

    “Token right-winger”, eh? Hm …. I have a few reasons for being on here. I feel that I need to at least listen to people I disagree with, both to make sure I understand what they’re saying (as opposed to what people I may agree with *say* they’re saying) and to see the reasoning behind it. Also, maybe I’ll learn something. Just because I disagree with you on one issue doesn’t mean I’ll disagree on all issues. Another is that I get to see the spectrum of ideas; not everyone who has a particular opinion about one topic (e.g., abortion) all share the same opinion about another topic (e.g., illegal immigration), and I get an idea here of what that spread is.

  50. 50
    RonF says:

    Speaking of women’s rights in Iran, here’s something that I should think we can all agree on. Take a moment to let the authorities in Iran know how you feel about stoning women to death as a punishment for a breach of chastity.

    http://eteraz.wordpress.com/2006/10/04/stand-against-women-stoned-to-death-you-apathetic-monsters/

  51. 51
    natasha says:

    RonF – “Democracy? In Iran?”

    It pains me to have to explain this to someone who appears to consider themselves an expert on injustice as it occurs in the nation of Iran, but after Iran threw the British out (without anybody having to die over it) for stealing their oil for about a century, they had an election. A free election. A fair election. They elected a man named Mohammed Mossadegh, widely beloved and generally considered incorruptible. He was named “Man of the Year” in 1951. People in Iran still carry his picture when they want to agitate for democracy, because memorializing him can be explained as a criticism of the West.

    And then in 1953, the CIA’s Kermit Roosevelt engineered a coup against him and replaced Iran’s democracy with the Shah’s dictatorship. Anyone who doesn’t know that, imnsho, in unaware of the single biggest grudge that the Iranian public holds against the United States and any moralizings from us about a need for greater democracy.

    “My point was that there have been a relatively few Americans who have acted dishonorably and illegally in Iraq.”

    Except, you know, for the leadership of the U.S., who dishonorably, illegally and dishonestly started a war which has resulted in the death and dismemberment of thousands upon thousands of Iraqis and misery for those they left behind. And you clearly have no concept of how widespread abuse of the Iraqi people by either military personnel or U.S. contractors has been.

  52. 52
    natasha says:

    Correction – “He was named “Man of the Year” in 1951.”

    That should read, He was named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1951.

  53. 53
    masoud says:

    I’ve tried to explain my positions as best I can. All of the questions or counterpoints raised since my last post can be answered by a carefull reading of either my last post or the others i reference(particularly the fisrt 20-30) but here is an article that might open some eyes
    http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=67&ItemID=11221