Among rogue scholars
Inside the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies (IHCS), a Tehran research institute: 1993-1995
December 18, 2006
In 1992, the publication of a new women's magazine, Zanan, was a first clear sign that there was a rift within the ranks of the Islamic phalanx in Iran, creating a narrow crevice for uttering slightly different opinions without being immediately executed. So, having worked for many years as a social scientist with La Federation des Femmes du Quebec in Montreal, I decided to return to Tehran at the end of that year, to live and work in my birthplace for a few years. I had left Iran in 1969 with the feeling that women's situation under the Shah was unbearable. I thus clearly knew that the wearing of the compulsory hijab and abiding by other rules of the Islamic regime would be detrimental to my psyche; so I returned with the internal attitude of an observing sociologist and not of a woman, in order to cope with the offensive and alienating social environment in new Iran.
Academic Job Search
After my arrival in Tehran in winter of 1992, while visiting the Ministry of Higher Education for the approval of my degrees, I noticed, during my conversation with a young official, that he was frequently inserting the word "we" in reference to himself and I in opposition to the Islamic State. That was a new sign that went up in my mind like a red flag. I could see how this new reformist wing of the Islamic regime was trying to bring the Western-educated returnees to their camp. They were followers of Abdolkarim Soroush and I was extremely suspicious of any movement that was unable to rid itself of religious thinking.
To my dismay, in ensuing years most of the expatriate secular feminists fell prey to the reformist movement and the oxymoronic "Islamic feminism" -- be it out of lack of insight or for advancing their "academic careers." I refused to join the ranks of the reformists, which did not prevent me during my two year stay in Iran from writing for the Zanan magazine as I also published articles in the magazine "Sane Society" that targeted the "alternative thinkers" (i.e. secular readership.)
After a few weeks in Tehran and experiencing the city's extreme air pollution, I took a trip to Babolsar and visited the University of Mazandaran, thinking of maybe living on the shore of the Caspian Sea. I visited the Faculty of Social Sciences that was situated on a beautiful resort campus. I met with a sociology professor who told me in French (because an Islamist student was present in his office) that he was fed-up with his teaching job at that university. He said that he had had to give passing marks to a few incompetent Pasdars and basijis because they had threatened his life and that of his wife several times over the phone and in his presence. He was planning to move to the University of Guilan where he had friends who would be able to shelter him against rogue students.
On my return to Tehran, I read in the Hamshahri newspaper about an upcoming seminar on women at the University of Tehran. I called to find out about the exact location of the seminar. The man on the phone asked me if I was a newcomer to Iran (must have been my accent or turn of the phrases.) When I confirmed and told him a bit about myself in response to his questions, he invited me to submit a paper. I didn't know anyone in the academic milieu, so I decided to participate in that seminar as a way of getting to make acquaintance with women academics concerned with women's issues in Iran.
The Seminar was on The Social and Economic Participation of Women and took place in February 1993. It allowed me to get to know a few women academics and activists, to be known by a few others such Ms. Sherkat, Zanan magazine's publisher, and to meet several secular feminists with two of whom we founded an underground feminist organisation later on that is still active in Tehran. There were, and still are, several secular feminist groups in Iran that had never considered to be part of the "Islamic feminism" of the reformist movement. This is an important social phenomenon overlooked by some feminist scholars abroad. Just because our sisters do not want to risk their safety by attending women's conferences abroad, it does not mean that they do not exist, or are less active among women than famous names that support the Islamic State.
I also visited the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Tehran and met with some of the sociology professors to see how things were. The sight of male and female students being seated separately even inside the library was shocking to me. I heard that men and women still sat separately in the classrooms as well, and that male students were hostile to female professors. I was told that a Western-educated woman teaching a class for the first time in Iran was pushed to tears when an Islamist student with a thick beard and moustache sitting in the front row had offended her with his humiliating gaze and hostile gestures. I thought that I would probably get angry by such behaviour, kicking the rogue student out of the classroom and -- if he was a pasdar or a son of an Ayatollah -- being sent to jail.
Remembering the story of the sociology professor at Mazandaran University, I decided to forget about teaching in Iran. In Canada, too, I had opted for research at a major Quebec women's organisation instead of teaching at university because of, among other things, my abhorrence for arse-kissing rituals over mango Martini at faculty cocktail parties filled with egos and stuffy attitudes. But in Iran, it was the presence of the Pasdars and other rogue elements among university students, which redirected my attention towards research.
In the summer of 1993, while visiting the office of Zanan Magazine, Ms. Sherkat asked me if she could give a call on my behalf to Ms. Nasrin Hakami, Executive Director of the Institute for Cultural Studies and Research (ICSR.) I agreed and had a short and formal visit that same day with Dr. Hakami, an "Islamic feminist" wearing a Pierre Cardin scarf. Her office was on the second floor of the Institute, which was set up in the three-story building of ex-Empress Farah Diba's office on the corner of Youssef-Abad Street and Kurdistan Highway, still one of the trendy buildings of Tehran. Dr. Hakami phoned Mr. Massoud Mehrabi, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, and soon had me on my way to meet with him and a young researcher, Ms. A, in a conference room on the third floor.
They showed me around and explained that they were in the process of obtaining approval from the Ministry of Science and other government agencies to do research on the social conditions of the women offenders of Greater Tehran. Mr. Mehrabi was a US-educated secular man and the research director, but oddly did not ask me anything about my research experience. Two weeks passed with no letter or phone call from the Institute. As I was very interested in the research on women offenders, I called on Ms. Sherkat to inquire from her about the Institute's intentions. Ms. Sherkat called Ms. Hakami, and right there and then, on July 4, 1993, I was employed as a researcher in the sociology department of the Institute.
My Ph.D. thesis and degrees from the University of Montreal had already been approved by a group of old men from the Ministry of Culture and Higher Education, who got together every three months to study the graduates' theses written in foreign languages and determine if they were acceptable. The only criterion of acceptability was whether a thesis was devoid of anti-Islamic or anti-Islamic Republic statements. As it so happened that my thesis was about the origin of patriarchy and covered the condition of women from the dawn of human civilisation to the advent of patriarchal religions, there was some kind of assurance on the part of the old men that I had not written negatively about the Iranian Revolution or the Islamic regime. Therefore, while mine was accepted within a month, there were others whose theses - pertaining to the contemporary Iran, were suspended in the air indefinitely.
State of My Research Team
On my first day of employment as a researcher and member of the Scientific Board of the Institute, I followed a group of four secular female colleagues to the women's section of the Evin prison. What they were holding in their hands were both the text of their proposed project with the title of "The Condition of female Offenders of the Greater Tehran" and a typed questionnaire that was Xeroxed in several copies. I found the proposed project to be extremely conservative, containing questionable concepts such as "social pathology" or "women's delicate role as mothers and unifiers of the family," as well as praise to the Islamic Revolution and an à priori projection of the situation as being a result of the imposed Iran-Iraq War and the ancien régime's rotten values.
The questionnaire, too, was very limited in its scope, including questions that had only to do with the so-called offenders' biographical details. No mention of any relevant social context such as the state-run ailing economic infrastructure with its bad policymaking and corruption, the Islamic Cultural Revolution of the early 1980's and its extensive clampdown on employed women as "corrupt elements," or at least the discrepancies between the ideal "Islamic Ummat" and what was going on practically in women's daily lives. The à priori assumption was that there were two guilty parties in the situation to be looked at: women themselves and any regime other than the Islamic Republic (USA, Iraq, the Shah, etc.)
Having composed a research proposal that was flattering to the eyes and ears of the Islamic establishment, my colleagues guided by Mr. Mehrabi had still sought its approval from the Ministry of Sciences and other governmental bodies. No research could be done in any Iranian institute without the endorsement of the Islamic State. This fact, that is valid to this day, applies to the non-governmental organisations as well.
Before leaving the Institute for the Evin Prison, we had to linger for forty-five minutes in the heat of our common office with our imposed scarves and long coats on. We were waiting to see if there might be a car available to us. The administrators who regularly came to work in the Institute's vehicles had a habit of coming to work an hour late. The office cooling system was not functioning; so we chatted and waited under the loud roaring noises it was emitting. For forty-five minutes, our ears were constantly alert for a possible phone call from the 1st floor's co-ordinating office. My colleagues warned me that the phone lines might not even be operating because they were often out of order and might be shut down at any time.
Eventually, the awaited phone call came and we descended to the basement garage where my colleagues and I squeezed into the back seats of two old cars. The drive to the prison was a nail-biting experience for me. Our young driver seemed to regard the parkway as an opportunity to express latent racing driver ambitions. To my great relief we eventually arrived intact at our destination. For the next three months, we spent every day of the week going to either the women's section of the Evin prison or the women's re-training centres (i.e. shelters) under the above conditions. I'll be writing about the harsh conditions of getting inside these institutions in a separate article.
Often upon our return to the Institute from fieldwork, I sat with three other female researchers in our large shared office that enjoyed a beautiful view of the Alborz Mountains and chatted about our day over lunch. To my disappointment, none of my colleagues could produce a decent sociological analysis on any subject, nor could they speak or read a foreign language. In common with other researchers in the governmental organisations in Iran, they had become specialists of data extraction and cross-tabulation of variables. I myself, a sociologist trained in the West, was soon going to become translator of the academic texts from French and English into Persian. My knowledge and experience as a researcher and analyst was not going to be utilised at the Institute. There were no computers available to the researchers. There was one single room with four to five computers that only served a team of cartographers. Everything was written in long hand and later given to office secretaries whose typewriters were often broken. When we asked a secretary in another department to type our edited questionnaire, she worked as slow as a snail because she was unhappy with her working condition and salary. So, I brought my personal computer from home and placed it on my desk; I had a Persian software installed on it that was quite useful.
The composition of the research team lacked homogeneity. Mr. Mehrabi who had a long-ago record of service in research, was heavily involved in the administrative works of the Institute and supervised the research without participating in it. Ms. A had just finished her Master's degree in sociology and was a dynamic person, ready to be involved in serious research. On the other hand, Ms. B despite having a Masters degree in sociology, had worked for twenty years as a civil servant in the Ministry of Higher Education, and had only recently felt an interest in conducting research at this Institute. Besides not possessing the credentials to be a researcher, she often seemed apathetic about life in general. Ms. C, who had recently obtained a Master's degree in Economics, claimed to "hate sociology" with all her might. Ms. D, with a bachelor's degree in psychology, was adamant that we should only use sociological and psychological concepts specific to Iran. When I asked her to give me an example of "specifically Iranian concepts," she could not come up with any. Finally, Ms. Shahrestani was a high school graduate whose main function was to keep us under surveillance. She was a member of the Iranian intelligence agency, the VAVAK. Her official position was that of office secretary, but she also participated in our research for data extraction. She had a six month-old son whom she took to the Institute's Day Care and brought him to our shared office every single afternoon around the time of departure. It was alienating to be in the same room with this young spy; more so after she triumphantly told me about a Western-educated woman researcher who had been arrested at the Institute and put in jail because of her anti-Islamic views.
Members of my research team did not have sufficient grasp over social issues. They only knew how to create a questionnaire, to do data extraction and categorisation, and to find correlation between variables; but they could not formulate an analysis nor did they know how to apply a team approach. They would allocate the tasks between them as if they were tackling a production job. They each handled their assigned tasks without consultation or without any attempt to share information and ideas with the others. They would typically isolate themselves while doing mechanical jobs such as data extraction. They were also often assigned by the Faculty of Social Sciences staff to other research projects for the monotonous task of data extraction. I asked them what our theoretical perspective was going to be; which one of the theories such as functionalism, conflict theory, feminism, or post-structuralism were we going to apply to the condition of women offenders. First there were blank looks and then their next few comments revealed the fact that the research team had absolutely no notion of what it meant to have a theoretical perspective for the research. Ms. C's response was the following: "Before you mentioned the need for a theoretical perspective for research to me, I was not even aware that one had to establish a perspective, or had to determine and specify this perspective." In fact, none of the social research that was being done in Iran's research institutes was based on any specific theoretical perspective. All social research followed a method termed "the analysis of the percentages." Researchers used two quantitative methods to explore social phenomena: basic research and applied research. No specific framework of analysis or in-depth analysis of a subject within a theoretical perspective was at work because the Islamic values explicitly covered this area. The outcome of research activities was limited to producing a series of numbers and percentages that did little to contribute to any comprehensive understanding of social relations or situations in the Iranian society.
The research experience of my colleagues consisted of data extraction, codification, categorisation, and finally "content analysis." An experienced researcher from the adjacent room where male researchers had their office explained the research procedure in the following way: "We give the data to the University of Tehran's Computer Centre, then after producing our one-dimensional contingency table, we identify our independent variables and dependent variables. Then we produce a contingency table that presents the cross-tabulation between two variables. We have never yet cross-tabulated between three variables. Then, we provide our analysis based on the relationship between the variables and our assessment of the relationship between them and whether the relationship is positive or negative. Because our technique is "content analysis," we do not do a historical research on the subject. "Content analysis" is the only research method used by Iranian researchers. There are two sources that describe this methodology. One is "Technique of Content Analysis" by Jean Maisonneuve, and the other "Method of Content Analysis" by Dr. T. Firouzan." Later on in Montreal, I never found a book in French by Jean Maisonneuve with this title. Then again, I know that many translators in Iran give titles to the books completely different from the original, give themselves plenty of liberty to re-write the translated books or keep out certain parts and add others. Finding and mentioning correlation or discrepancies between variables was the extent of social research in Iran. Researchers could not dig deeper into the reasons behind these correlation or discrepancies. As for the project I was involved in, the interview method and few discussions that followed were out-of-date and sterile.
In the first few months, we, the women researchers, did our fieldwork and occasionally reported to our male research director, who was completely separated from our daily work, could not comprehend our problems, and did not have time to comprehend those problems. He constantly made suggestions to us that were impractical for a year-long project, and behaved in such a way as if ideas were supposed to be formulated by him and fieldwork, done by us. He also disliked novelty. Once, while we were having a meeting, I suggested that we could compare women's offences with those of men and find out the differences between the two gender groups of offenders based on their socio-psychological backgrounds and the different attitudes that the society adopted towards them. Mr. Mehrabi responded condescendingly and in a paternalistic tone of voice: "Madam Dr(!), stop this feministic talk. You are always into the line of feminist thoughts." For Mr. Mehrabi and other members of my research team, any new idea appeared to be too radical and even irrelevant or dangerous. I never understood why the idea of comparing female offenders with male offenders was so feministic!
Women members of my research team had been working together for a few years and had created a network of complicated, affective, generally positive, not very sincere relationships. As I had established positive and transparent relationships with them, I thought I would call a meeting and bring up some issues that concerned me, which I did. Mr. Mehrabi was present as well. One of these issues was the absence of the concept of respect for other people's spaces and boundaries in that academic institute. Every day, while our team was in the middle of a discussion, some Mr. or Madam Dr. psychologist or sociologist or linguist or computer specialist opened our shared office door suddenly and without prior announcement -- without knocking -- and began speaking loudly. They did not pay attention to our circumstance or mood, and spoke to one single individual in our group about something that had nothing to do with the group. I called this a violation of our team's space and expected that to stop. Another issue was the impossibility for me to participate in discussions where five to six people spoke all at the same time. Why couldn't we speak one at a time? Shouldn't there have been a difference of attitude between academics and people on the street? Finally, the issue of our theoretical principles was important to me. I had made a concession regarding the presentation of the project, the questionnaire's content, and the untimely manner in which extraction of the data was done. While I was opposed to many sections of the project, I had given in in order to continue my collaboration with the research team. However, I was not going to make concessions regarding the theoretical principles to which I adhered and wished our team to use in the analysis of the causes of "offences" by Tehran women. One of these principles was that women bodies were controlled by their male relatives and the State, which explained why half of the women we had interviewed at the Evin prison were there in the first place. I wanted to know what the research team thought about my above concerns.
Ms. B nodded from time to time in confirmation; MS. A and D were sitting silently in a corner without any expression; and Ms. C was overwhelmed for unknown reasons. Mr. Mehrabi responded to my concerns by first pointing out that we were in Iran and not in America (!) Then he said, "Every country has its own specific norms that we should get to know. To speak all at the same time and to open other people's office doors without knocking are among our society's norms." Yet, immediately after this rather dubious statement, he contradicted himself by adding, "Also, every time I organise a speech and conference for this or that professor, I have to constantly remind the gentlemen not to speak all together at the same time. When a discussion between the speaker and one of the participants takes place, we see a third and a fourth person enter into the discussion and begin expressing their opinions all at the same time without listening to others. This is part of our cultural characteristics and you cannot change it and you should not expect it to change." It was not clear to me why Mr. Mehrabi was telling me not to try to change these "norms" while he was giving me an example of himself having always tried to convince others not to follow these same "established norms". It seemed to me that the social scholars in Iran somehow confused people's bad habits with "norms." They also confused compulsory behaviours with "norms." For instance, once at the end of a meeting with Dr. Mohammad Mirzaei, Head of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Tehran at the time, when I intentionally extended my hand for a hand-shake with him (no one else was present in his office to witness the transgression), he said, "I expect you to know that the norm of our society suggests that a man and a woman who are not related do not touch each other. Did you hear what happened when Mr. Bani-Sadr (ex-President of Iran) shook hands with a foreign lady? All the newspapers wrote about it as a scandal." From this encounter I concluded that under an authoritarian regime such as the IRI, the masks that people wear in order to survive turns into an aspect of their personalities after a while. Not shaking hands with women, which is an imposed behaviour under the Islamic State, becomes internalised by people as a "norm", even in the mind of a sociologist like Dr. Mirzaei.
Mr. Mehrabi ended his response by stating the following, "In fact, it is you who should know your society better and adapt yourself to it. If you don't do it, you'll be either isolated or rejected. In short, what you are saying comes from your lack of knowledge about your society, because you have been away from Iran for so many years." The assertion "You don't know your society" was a typical nonsense I had heard from my conservative family since I was a teenager. I replied to my overly conformist colleague that although I had been away from Iran for a long time, I knew "my society" sufficiently as I had always followed the social and political events within the Iranian society and was in communication with my compatriots inside and outside of Iran. I said, "But the point is that not approving of a society's norms does not mean not knowing that society." Then I gave him the example of my trip to a village in Mazandaran where its inhabitants were extremely religious. I told him that during my visit, I prayed with women in the village Mosque, and after the prayer I sat and chatted with them and listened to their grievances. I pointed out that I did not expect the women of this village to not speak all at the same time -- although they spoke one at a time and acted much better than our educated people. But this was an academic milieu. My expectation of the intellectuals -- well actually I meant the educated -- was not the same as my expectation of people on the street. Then I digressed and added, "I say the educated, because I'm not really sure we have intelligentsia in Iran." Mr. Mehrabi quickly jumped in and corrected me, "In Iran, we call the educated, intellectuals." I said, "This is yet another abnormal so-called norm. Can you truly say that physicians, lawyers and engineers are intellectuals simply because of their specialized education?" Having felt cornered, Mr. Mehrabi threw a glance at my colleagues and turned to me, "And regarding talks such as "a woman's body belongs to herself", do not repeat that anymore. If you continue talking like that, the Security (Heraasat) will arrest you. So, don't tell me later on that I did not warn you about the situation." I looked at my research team, mystified and speechless.
Ms. C, who had become very upset to the point of explosion, suddenly burst into tears. She said, "Madam doctor (!), since you've been here in the Institute, I've learnt a lot from you and I thank you for that. But, I cannot at all accept that you compare me with villagers and say that I am less than they are because unlike them I speak at the same time as others do. Also, I know that when you talk about people who suddenly open the door and disturb us in our conversations, you are in fact speaking of my friend and I am very upset over this as well". I didn't know whether I wanted to laugh or to cry. I responded that when I spoke of the educated, I didn't at all mean only her. I meant the educated in that academic institute and all the educated people of Iran; I meant everybody. I said that her friend was not the only person who entered our office without knocking; other men and women at the Institute did the same. The room atmosphere got noisy and my colleagues began explaining to weeping Ms. C that these issues were not personal for me. But Ms. C was very angry, not listening to anyone and wanting to leave the meeting. Fifteen minutes later, when everything had cooled down, I was passing down the corridor outside of our office when a woman who was a friend of Ms. C and had the habit of suddenly opening the doors without knocking, stopped me as a gesture of defending her chum and asked me why I didn't go to her about the problem. I responded that every time I wanted to discuss the problem with her, Ms. C asked me not to do so because she wouldn't like it. At that moment, Ms. C appeared, wiping her tears and apologising to me for her "weakness." And I was standing there in silence with questions that looked out at my colleagues from my increasingly bewildered eyes: why some researchers behaved so much like children and why the environment at the research institute resembled a junior high school?
The Institute environment
All the western magazines displayed in the library were manually censored with black ink, blocking out pictures of women's arms and legs and bosoms, as well as paragraphs of articles that revealed the participation of the Islamic government of Iran in International crimes of trafficking drugs and women. With the large loops of repression around and within the Institute, an atmosphere of depression prevailed. Forced to be present every day of the week from eight to four inside their shared offices like civil servants, researchers either stared at the walls in a despondent torpor, muttering something to themselves, or seemed to vibrate with disconsolation and resentment. The halls and corridors of the Institute smelled of rice, stew and gloom and the dark library of the first floor felt to be without air. On the third floor, everyday I heard my colleagues' voices, snarling about not being able to sleep, being constantly exhausted, and feeling deeply sad. They all seemed to be in agony of some sort, fighting with either chronic or sudden psychosomatic symptoms. In the middle of winter, one day poor Ms. A came to the office with half of her face paralysed and distorted. She could hardly speak and didn't know the reason behind her sudden paralysis. A week later, she was back to her normal self, although now she could not digest food. Frequently people in their thirties had heart-attacks. An intense and charming young researcher, a 29 year-old man who was constantly expressing annoyance with the stupidities of the Institute's Islamists, died of a heart attack one day, which left me flabbergasted. There was nothing in the Institute to enjoy: no intelligent discussion, no challenging debate, and no happy faces. Stark walls of the shared offices and long corridors added to the feeling of hardship. What our office needed was aesthetic appeal, maybe a splash of colour. From home, I brought a small colourful painting of mine and some reproductions of René Magritte's paintings that I liked and placed them on the wall in front of me. Of course, a certain researcher, Morad, had to condescendingly say that he used to put those pictures in his room when he was eighteen. I asked him if he had also listened to Mozart when he was eighteen. When he confirmed, I asked him if he had now stopped listening to Mozart because that was something he did when he was eighteen!
The front desk Security would constantly call me, "Your scarf, Madam Dr(!)" And I would pull the fabric down on the forehead, after loosening its knot that squeezed at my throat and cursing the jerk under my breath. The arrogant and intrusive attitude of the Security was reinforced by the hypocritical behaviour of some secular women such as my colleagues from the UNICEF-Tehran where I also worked, who would come in a flock with their black chadors or large black scarves over most of their faces to visit with the Institute's director.
During the first few months of my employment when reformist Dr. Hakami was the head of the Institute, there was slightly more space for self-expression. During general meetings, Sorayya Maknoon, a hard-liner who had the vision of an Islamic planet earth, often showed her hostility to the relative liberalism of Nasrin Hakami. This tension allowed those opposed to both sides to express their anger against the Islamic regime by placing on the walls pictures of hard-liner Ms. Maknoon in shorts and tennis outfit from her pre-Revolutionary era lifestyle. Anti-IRI graffiti on the corridor walls occasionally appeared and quickly disappeared.
In October 1993, I took a trip to Montreal for family reasons and returned to Tehran five months later to a whole new environment at the Institute. The Security at the entrance didn't know whether they should allow me to go upstairs as I've been absent for a long while. I told them that I simply wanted to visit my colleagues. However on that day I was somehow re-hired verbally and later officially. There had been changes in the posts of responsibility as a result of the February 1994 Parliamentary elections. The Institute had been overtaken by the hard-liners from the "reformists," the name of the Institute had changed from the Institute for Cultural Studies and Research (ICSR) to the Institute of Humanities and Cultural Studies (IHCS), and reformist Nasrin Hakami had been replaced by Mehdi Golshani, a religious hard-liner, as Director. A rogue scholar par excellence, Golshani was a physicist who taught at Sharif University of Technology but, because of his delusion to mix Quantum physics with the Qu'ran and his big appetite for expanding his personal power and controlling those with differing views, had also become the director of this social research institute. He later became a member of Iran's High Council for Cultural Revolution, a job befitting his reactionary station. There were other changes in the posts of responsibility. With the departure of Ms. Hakami for the United States, Mr. Mehrabi too had left his post for one at the UNESCO-Tehran. In his place, as Head of the Faculty of Social Sciences, we now had a hard-liner, Hamid Tonekaboni. He was a man with thick black eyebrows, sporting a thick, black moustache and a pair of square glasses with thick, black frames, which made him look as if he was wearing a Halloween mask. He was too polite; every time I entered his office, he got up on his feet; and if I went there ten times a day, he would get up every single time. But there was something too obviously ingenuine about his politeness. His gestures were without affect, like a machine. He got along well with both the hard-liners such as Golshani and reformists such as Mehrdad Nouraei. The latter was Head of the Department of Sociology, a sly, double-crossing man with a Ph.D. from Sorbonne.
At the Faculty of Social Sciences, researchers often sat idle and chatted about all things personal, while frequently having tea, fruit and homemade pastries during long hours before and after the lunchtime. Relationships among them were completely personal, affective, non-academic and devoid of group mentality and rules. Every single afternoon, when Ms. Shahrestani brought her baby to our office, women researchers began cooing the little chap and expressing an exaggerated amount of joy and tenderness towards him. Witnessing this ritual before leaving for home soon became utterly annoying. There were all sorts of rumors coming out of the rumor-mill against the researchers. The Institute environment was permeated by clique-culture, dominance of personal relationships instead of administrative standards and criteria, petty jealousy, slander and character assassination, false rumours and lies that played with individuals' personal and social reputation. In fact, the same factors that had turned Iran into an uncivil society had made the Institute environment uncivil as well. At the Institute, as in anywhere else in the country, all relationships, all attitudes and behaviours, incidents and happenings, took place on a case by case basis. Nothing was systematic. Relationships between individuals at the workplace and in the place of study were personal rather than based on specific administrative, educational or research standards and principles. Boundaries between private and public relationships in all spheres of life were blurred and altered. Personal relationships, cliques, and relationships based on following one individual dominated Iranian society's administrative, educational and research systems.
The new administration and the gang of heads of this and that department were more oppressive than the previous ones. In the research Institute, administrative affairs ruled. The accounting office behaved in a humiliating manner with researchers. It did not pay their salaries, but stalled them. Some researchers made an alliance with these accountants for their own petty interest, which strengthened the discord between the researchers and the accounting office. Humiliating some researchers allowed others to behave the same way towards all the researchers. The Institute's bureaucracy had contributed to the creation of a feeling of alienation.
The IHCS, especially at the Faculty of Social Sciences, did not have the necessary productivity. Among the researchers, especially members of the Scientific Board, there was dissatisfaction with the job. Many factors such as low salaries, salaries often not paid on time, absence of a favourable research environment, and political repression were at the root of that dissatisfaction. Political repression created a feeling of alienation in researchers, which included isolationism, powerlessness, pessimism and meaninglessness. As a result of the political repression and the fear of receiving the label of "Westoxicated," researchers tended to pretend not to be aware of issues and to abstain from dialogue with each other or participation in group activities. There was an unwritten law stating that the more obedient a researcher was, the less s/he expressed herself and the more s/he hid herself within the bureaucracy, the more comfortable s/he would be. Every word or gesture was being misinterpreted and considered an opposition to the regime or to Islam. So, the researchers had decided to be quiet, to have less and less relationships and to behave in such a way as to demonstrate that they were not a danger to anyone. In an environment where the secret of survival was to be silent, it was obvious that there was no occasion to show creativity in research. That was why the quality of research was so low. The only valuable research was done outside of the research institutes, by individual's motivation and with encouragement from friends. There was also a sense of oppression and injustice at the Institute. I heard of researchers being dismissed for political reasons or conflict with the upper echelon, but never because of working less or being insufficiently knowledgeable. Researchers were not only alienated from the administration of the Institute, but also from each other (beneath the appearance of constant friendly causeries over tea and cookies.) This alienation stemmed from unhealthy competition, jealousy and self-centrism, narrow-mindedness and lack of solidarity. As a result, an unhealthy atmosphere prevailed in the Institute where peace of mind were needed. Another factor that had a negative impact on the researchers' productivity was the fact that their efforts remained without consequence. Most researchers had no hope that the result of their works would be noticed, or if noticed would be applied, and if applied would be efficient. In that institute and in many others, the results of many research projects were not even published. Consequently, researchers did their work without care or enthusiasm.
Researchers in the faculties other than the Faculty of Social Sciences, for instance those in the Faculty of Linguistics or Literature, who did purely theoretical work, were not tainted by conflicts and conspiracies over research funds or the "privilege" of directing research projects. In those faculties, researchers worked individually, which seemed to fit best the dominant mentality. In fact, some of the best linguists of Iran such as Dr. Zohreh Zarshenas and Dr. Katayoun Mazdapour were part of such faculties. The main conflict at the Faculty of Social Sciences was over the distribution of research funds provided by different branches of the UN, such as UNESCO and UNICEF, and by other organizations. Because of low salaries of the researchers, those among them who were inauthentic or desperate, used other people in order to gain access to the research funds. Using and manipulating other people for one's own end was not restricted to the rogue scholars in Tehran. I recall that during 1980's in Montreal, it was getting a Ph.D. degree or a position as a professor that made my inauthentic or desperate compatriots resort to using and abusing other people. A tall, handsome and misogynistic Mojtaba, ex-leader of a leftist organization, charmingly sashayed into academic cocktail parties, sexually seduced female professors and landed a teaching job in the political science department of a French-speaking university. A ferociously ambitious Minou who hated women (a spill-over from her aversion for a sister who was Daddy's favourite) was determined to pass as a feminist student because feminism / women's studies were the infallible first step to work her way up the ladder of academia. A staunch anti-Westerner, she used many Westerners and myself for writing papers for her doctorate courses and thesis on her way to getting a Ph.D. before finally gaining a teaching position in California.
Male dominance was predictably pervasive at the Institute. The Faculty of Social Sciences had twenty-three female researchers and only seven male researchers; but all the people in charge were male. Because of the "maleness" of the people in charge and sexual apartheid, it was mostly male researchers who would spend their time in the office of the individuals in charge and would create friendly relationships for the future division of projects and funds that came with them. The female counterpart of this Islamic male dominance was a fundamentalist Islamic women's group headed by Dr. Sorayya Maknoon that had occupied all the offices of the basement floor. Ms. Maknoon, who was in a full-time black chador, had a group of younger women in chador at her service and a vast private library full of all the English-language feminist books ever written, which represented the Western deviance in her view. I used to visit her once in a while and listen to her vision of a global Islam. She was in constant telephone and fax contact with the religious "scholars" in the city of Qom and on the way to create an organization called Muslim Women Researcher's Organization (MWRO). Tonekaboni, the hard-liner Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, was so misogynistic that he could not even tolerate a woman hard-liner like Ms. Maknoon having her own women's organization. He often ridiculed her and asked me if I did not miss her!
Obstacles to Doing Social Research
Doing field research that would be scientific was so difficult within the IHCS that it seemed impossible. Based on my two-year experience at this institute, there were two kinds of obstacles to doing scientific research: political and cultural. These obstacles were representative of the functioning of the Iranian society as a whole under the Islamic State.
Political obstacles to doing research covered the forbidden Western methodologies to the interrogation of the researchers by the Intelligence agents. The official Islamic ideology was omnipresent and could not be challenged. As a result, we were unable to adopt any theoretical perspective in our research that questioned the established Islamic values pertaining to the patriarchal family, the State, and the women's legal status and social conditions. Furthermore, as a result of the presence of the Islamic Republic's oppressive apparatuses, we could not mention, discuss or write down the repressive and exploitative roles of the governmental institutions and foundations in the lives of women labelled as "offenders." We had heard from numerous prisoners that during and after the Iran-Iraq War, the Martyrs Foundation of the Islamic Revolution that was vested with the responsibility of creating employment opportunities for the widows of the dead soldiers, had instead forced those among them who were young or beautiful into prostitution inside brothels it controlled. It was impossible for us to mention this fact without risking imprisonment.
Researchers were subjected to constant eavesdropping by Ms. Shahrestani and harassment by the front desk Security who forced us to pull our scarves further over our hair. We were also subjected to inquisition by the Iranian intelligence agency, VAVAK. After coming to power by usurping the anti-Shah Revolution of 1979, the Islamic regime did not purge SAVAK elements and employed many experienced SAVAK personnel in its new Ministry of Intelligence. To let the readers know how Intelligence agents did their inquisition on me and into my thoughts, I need to provide some background information. Hamid Tonekaboni had the habit of sending me students from different universities who needed assistance with their theses or paper works. Being an academic counsellor to students was not part of the job of being a researcher. A considerate or democratic person would have asked me if I wanted to help out those students. Instead, the head of the Faculty simply decided for me, or assumed, that I was going to spend time and energy with every single student he sent to me. Some of these students were obnoxious. For instance, there was a young Islamist with bushy beard who had brought his wife in total hijab and his four year-old son to my office. Although he needed my assistance for his thesis, he was disrespectful to me, ordering me to respond to this or that question immediately. I was sickened by his attitude; so I kept looking into his eyes, giving him vague, useless replies. Some of my replies were so abstract and far off from his universe that he simply didn't understand and left, his obedient family tiptoeing behind him.
One day, two men in their early thirties arrived in my office, stating that they were from the Ministry of Women's Affairs. That was odd, I thought. I had been in that Ministry twice and hadn't met any male within its thirty metres circumference. They said that they were writing a paper on women's conditions and needed my assistance. One of them had a scar on his face and looked exactly like a Savaki whom I had to confront at the Imperial Iranian Embassy in Ottawa in 1970. After a few minutes of conversation about the status of women in Iran, the men began making statements against Islam and the Qu'ran in regards to women. It was obvious that they were taking feminist positions and making feminist statements in order to make me nod or utter similar statements. By now I had developed a skill and therefore a liking for playing a survival game with the dreadful elements of the Islamic Republic of Iran, from its rogue scholars to its thought police. So I decided to reverse their game and make opposite statements that came from their Ayatollahs regarding Islam and women. When one of them criticized the Qu'ran and said, "We are told in the Qu'ran that a man can beat his wife if she doesn't obey him," I replied that according to a hadith of Prophet, a man can beat his wife only with something as light as a feather. The other Vavaki reacted to my response with a more radical feminist statement, "But the very idea of beating a woman is wrong." I was in trouble. I had a spate of thinking I should go overboard, be absurd and confusing in order to get out of that trap. So, I said, "First of all, Qu'ran was written 1400 years ago; you can't expect it to say things that are fashionable in our times. Secondly, what are you talking about? Are you saying that Iran should not be Islamic? Well, in my opinion, Iran is not Islamic enough. The Islamic State should apply, not some, but all the Quranic laws. For instance, telling lies should be banned and against the law. Let's imagine what will happen if they pass such a law in Parliament; probably all the Iranians will be put in jail." The two men were completely confused, as I had expected. They had no idea what to say. I had said something odd and unexpected; they were not trained for that. Finally, one of them said, "Would you have answered the same way if we had asked you our questions in Canada?" I replied, "Yes, of course. I would have said exactly the same things." So, they got up and left with their tail between their legs. It was obvious to me that this stunt was prepared by Mehdi Golshani who didn't want to have a secular feminist in his institute. I wondered how many other researchers were subjected to such stupid interrogation by the IHCS administration.
Cultural obstacles to doing research were anything from technical difficulties to conspiracies against researchers. Because of the Islamic State's economic mismanagement, we had to endure impairment of telephone lines and enormous wastes of time for contacting different governmental organisations, sudden breakdown of the telephone for three days and not knowing who was in charge of its repair. Coolers did not cool the air during the very ot summer months, and produced loud cacophonies instead. One day in the summer of 1994, two repairmen came to our shared office to look at our coolers. They said, "For now, we cannot do anything. The pipes are twenty-something years old and have become rusted. They should be replaced, but there is not enough budget for that. This means that this summer too, you have to endure the heat." The light in our shared office was insufficient because of the blackout of one of the large lights in the middle of the ceiling. Eventually three men showed up to check the lamp bulb and promised to replace it. But they disappeared and never came back. The Institute's transport vehicles were not ready on time for taking us to our field of research. The administrators who have been granted vehicles, came to work late, which disrupted or postponed our schedule.
It had taken my colleagues three months of constant effort in order to get permission to interview women prisoners and homeless women / runaway girls in re-training centres from several authorities: the head of the Supreme Judicial Council (Iran's highest judicial body), head of Judiciary Force, head of the State Prisons Organisation and Security and Corrective Measures, and head of the Anti-Narcotics Section of the Public Prosecutors Office. The condition of our research endeavors was chaotic. There was a lack of access to some of the officials of the State Welfare Organisation because of their successive and prolonged absenteeism. We also had to face lack of cooperation from governmental organisations officials with researchers. They gave us wrong information, refused to give information in the name of confidentiality, mistreated us, acted nervy and eavesdropped on our conversations.
The IHCS administration was negligent about the position of the researchers. After one and a half years of working at the Institute, having passed the academic competency test and received the promise of a permanent contract, I was still working with renewable contracts and not officially employed. I was paid 30,000 touman a month (about US$ 37.00) and not given any paying project under the pretext that I was not official and might leave the Institute without submitting my work as in the case of a couple of other researchers. To get an official contract, I had to write a few letters to a few administrators and push for my legitimatel right. I was not going to do that, as I was there only to experience the nature of the Islamic Republic first hand.
The function of the administrative system of the Institute was to limit and subordinate talents. By its nature, this system prevented encouragement and growth of creativity in the area of scientific research. Furthermore, this bureaucracy, unlike modern bureaucracies that are created in order to accelerate procedures and increase efficiency, was not capable of doing so. The Institute's administration neither had the efficiency of a modern bureaucracy nor provided the feeling of comfort that traditional systems delivered. The principle of rationality was absent from the Institute's bureaucracy. This principle requires that there be regulations and that procedures be based on them; but regulations were not observed. There was collusion, favoritism and personal influence. The distribution of rewards and privileges and admonitions happened, not following regulations, but personal tastes. Some researchers complained that, "When someone wants to do something positive, they are prevented from doing that." This statement meant that they were not treated according to the regulations. If someone was not part of a clique or not supported by an influential individual, either they didn't pay attention to their work or caused them difficulties; they prevented them from doing their work; or they didn't give them instruments for their work. The bureaucratic system of the Institute, which was so without standards, had become extremely rigid regarding, for instance, the conditions of promotion of the Scientific Board members, conditions of leave for study or conditions of checking presence and absence.
The low-ranking male employees of the Institute, from servants to secretaries, treated researchers, especially female researchers, rudely. They seemed to resent well-educated and well-dressed people, flaunting their ugly, unclean outfits and bad manners as proofs of their superiority and privileged citizenship under the Islamic Republic. Mehdi Golshani, hearing about the researchers' complaint in this regard, told us, during one of our general meetings, that we should put up with these people's coarse manners because "they are human beings after all." The only nice person among the low-ranking employees was an old butler in the pantry service (tea-room) whose mien and manners proved him to be a civil and wise man from the pre-Revolutionary era.
The last, but not the least, obstacle to doing research at the male-dominated IHCS was the bigotry and conspiracy against women in positions of responsibility. The former director of the Institute, Dr. Nasrin Hakami, had not been taken seriously by the men, from the Western-educated researchers to the servants. She was dismissed from her job following a conspiracy by the hard-liners. After returning to Tehran from Montreal and because of Mr. Mehrabi's departure, I became de facto research director of our project; and three months later, I received a "directorial decree" from the Institute's new director. As soon as I was officially appointed as "research director," conspiracy and rumours against insignificant me began. In the IHCS, conspiracy among colleagues was rampant. Heckler elements, motivated by any reason of psychological, social or financial nature, could affect any research team. And rumours such as "she is uneducated" or "she cannot direct the team" were standard reactions to a female research director and became factors of disorder and weakening of the supervision.
I asked members of our all-female research team for a meeting, during which time I suggested that they should value themselves more, do more reading for our project, be the thinking brains of our research, be in constant intellectual communication with me and with each other, and refuse to be used by mostly male departmental officials as obedient cheap labour. To my guidance, the team members responded by saying, "We have always worked like this and we intend to continue our many-years old way." And Ms. C added, "Who are you anyway to tell us these things?" The research team's resistance to any suggestion that did not correspond to their usual methods of work, their lack of curiosity for new perspectives, and the necessity of investing time and energy to convince them about new concepts and methodologies - without much outcome, were among obstacles to doing research at the IHCS.
Women in our research team accepted Mr. Mehrabi as their research director wholeheartedly and with great excitement, while they accepted me for the same role indecisively and refused to follow my direction. They perceived my democratic behaviours as proofs of my weakness and easily submitted to coercion by the male superiors. They were not familiar with the concepts of democracy and despotism, and like many other researchers at the Institute, were misogynous and male-centred. They did not feel comfortable having a female director and unconsciously wished for a male director to lean on and be covered by. An example of my being ignored as the director by the team members was the fact that after I had added, with the team's agreement, a new section to the questionnaire - which had to do with the prisoners' perception of the offence they have been accused or convicted of, they unilaterally avoided codifying the answers to the questions of this important section, without offering any reason or even consulting with me. I also realised that I could not express my real judgment during evaluation of the researchers that was demanded by the Faculty directors. When I wrote that Ms. C was not contributing to the analysis, she became angry and told me that my evaluation would jeopardise her career advancement. I asked her if she wanted me to lie about her performance. She did not respond. I told her that I had no intention of hurting anyone, but had to stick to my integrity.
I checked the issue of my research team being uncomfortable with a woman director, with another female sociologist, Dr. Nahid Moayyed-Hekmat, who like myself, was a member of the Scientific Board of the Institute. She said, "We women to this day have a male chauvinistic and androphilic attitude towards men. This means that even when we consider ourselves defenders of equal rights with men, we are the first to go against our female research director." She explained that "This is because when the research director is a male, as females we can influence him through our "feminine" ways; because in our non-civil society there is a sense of pity in men towards women. But when the research director is a woman, she does not have criteria other than the researchers' work and ethics; which causes a lot of problems." She added, "The female director has no choice but to expect the female researchers to do work, and in the eyes of most female researchers, a female research director has an unusual position, because they cannot influence her through their "feminine" ways." I found Ms. Hekmat's assumption of the people's inherent heterosexuality quite amusing; but her testimony confirmed that I was in the presence of a cultural phenomenon and not a conflict of personalities. Ms. Hekmat believed that there should be order and regard for director in a research team. She said, "We don't have a group work mind-set. Even in sports, we are better in weight-lifting than in soccer. In this institute, there are always slanders against female research directors. Most research teams are not harmonious because their members have not been chosen wisely and sometimes do not have academic credentials. When a female director asks researchers for work, they are elusive, because no one takes her seriously."
Conspiracy, death threat, and confiscation of personal belongings
Members of my research team easily fell into the traps laid by wretchedly ambitious men of the Faculty of Social Sciences. Besides Nouraei, there was another opportunistic researcher at the Department of Sociology, Dr. Seyyed Biuk Mohammadi, who liked to come to our office and detail his past adventures with his serial American girl-friends. Mohammadi and Nouraei did not like Majid, who was a self-proclaimed Marxist. Whenever Majid the Marxist came to our office for a visit, he launched into misogynistic rants against his ex-wife who had left him and their child; but he was sympathetic to me because of my anti-IRI stance. He did not befriend his male colleagues, was not part of any power struggle, and mostly kept to himself. On the other hand, Bahram Nouraei was an unstable character who trash-talked researchers behind their back. He sometimes walked in and had tea at my desk, and invited me for tea and chat to the office of Tonekaboni where and while he had his meals. He invariably spoke about his anxiety over the new condo he had bought or the repair and painting of the walls he had to do. Nouraei was interested in marrying one of the women researchers and asked me about the details of her life, which put me in a very difficult position. I didn't want to pass him information on other people's lives, and he was inconsiderately persistent. He was also trying to take hold of my position. I could not understand what was so appealing in directing our research project; there was no research fund involved in it. Although he had spread the rumour of being enticed by our project, whenever he came to our office and had tea at my desk, he completely ignored the French books on sociology of deviance I had brought with me from my trip to Montreal. His time was fully occupied with items other than work. Gradually, he expressed more and more interest in our project, always without asking any substantial questions or contributing to it in any way. I let him know, several times, that it would be illogical for anyone who is not involved in the interview and other processes of the project to direct it from outside. Soon, I realised that other research teams had refused to include him in their research because of his slackness. He spent his time chatting and having tea, reading magazines, being absent from the workplace, and taking frequent trips to France. As our research team was the only one consisting of women only, Nouraei began imposing himself on us, recognisant of the fact that most members of our team had an undeveloped feminist consciousness, were deferential to men and tended to follow them. It was clear that he was desperately pushing for being part of our project. So, I kept quiet and did not talk about his being an outsider from that point on.
Then, one afternoon, Nouraei walked to our shared office and asked my research team and I to follow him to his office. He had assumed an air of gravity that transpired as contrived. When we all sat, he began making bizarre statements. He first said, "I recite chapter Yaa-Seen of the Qur'an (Prayer for the dead) for all the dead ideologies including feminism." I could not understand why he was using the language of street people. He could have said that he didn't care about any ideology; reciting the prayer for the dead was an angry and disrespectful way of describing the same thing. Then he revealed to us what his reason for our meeting was. He pointed at me and told everyone that when he had asked to be part of the research team, I had told him that I didn't want him because I didn't want "a master above me" (Agha baalaa sar.) I was absolutely outraged and disgusted by this outright, malicious lie. I told him that he knew quite well that I never told him such a thing. I said I didn't mind if he recited the Quranic prayer for the dead on feminism or not, but to slander in my face was an abhorrent thing to do. I shouted at him, demanding that he immediately apologised for the sheer lie he had uttered. I said that "Master above me" was not even part of my vocabulary. When he refused to apologise, I got up, called him a despicable man and left the room. Unfortunately, other women researchers stayed with the sly man for another hour. I knew that Nouraei was manipulating them and putting false ideas into their heads. I knew that by the time they were out they would be completely brainwashed by that man. Lo and behold, they came out of Nouraei's office, all upset with me. This one-sided hostility continued for a week. I told them that Nouraei had used the traditional strategy of divide and conquer, that by being hostile to me they were proving that his little ruse had worked very well for him. But my female colleagues did not hear me. Not having succeeded in taking over the project, Nouraei had decided to disintegrate our small team and demolish my positive relationship with my team members. My colleagues and I used to go for hiking in Darband, see movies together and talk about our personal lives. All our closeness disappeared within an hour. I could not believe that in our times, women with Masters degrees in social sciences did not know about the obvious divide and rule strategy.
As I could not persuade my research team members that Nouraei was lying, I resigned as research director on the grounds of not having their trust. After my resignation, I told my colleagues that Nouraei had managed to break our friendship for the sake of inserting himself into the project as research director, that they now had the opportunity to bring him in if they wanted. But they said that they would want me to be re-elected director because I knew a lot about the research, that Nouraei did not seem to be genuinely interested in our project. They believed that he was rather interested in the title of "research director," because it would make him look as if he was doing something at the Institute.
There was going to be a consensus reached on the future research director. All the members of my research team continued to express the opinion that I should be re-elected; and Mr. Tonekaboni and Mohammadi too had repeatedly asked me to continue serving my position, which was an obvious way of not accepting my resignation. However, Tonekabobi, Nouraei and Mohammadi, three men of different political persuasions, an Islamic hard-liner, an Islamic reformist and a secular so-called intellectual respectively, joined together on the basis of their common misogyny, had a fifteen-minute meeting at Tonekaboni's office before showing up in my office, announcing that they had elected Mohammadi as research director. I felt a sudden pang of disgust. I contested their decision, asked them why they did not respect my team members' voices (I was alone in the office at that time) and why they had argued in my favour for a week and now were choosing someone who knew nothing about the project. They mumbled for a while and could not come up with any logical reason. So, I stood at the door of my office and showed them out, asking them to consult my team members for a final decision.
The next day, Tonekaboni called me to his office, where without performing his robotic gesture of standing up, he told me, "If you show up again at the Institute, my friend Nasser Takmil-Homayoon and I will take you to the desert and take care of you." Takmil-Homayoon was also a friend of Bani-Sadr and known to be a vulgar and violent man. Terrorised by Tonekaboni's death threat, I raced to my office and began packing my computer. I asked Majid the Marxist to take it for me to my home in his car. He put it in the back of his car and we were about to leave when two Security men from the Institute showed up and told Majid that they had been sent down by Mehdi Golshani to confiscate my computer. After consulting with Majid, I decided that I should let the two men take my computer to Golshani's office. When I went back to my office, my books and personal papers, as well as the library books I had borrowed and the piles of questionnaires and my translations were gone. I had no idea why Golshani had confiscated my computer and research material. I was being thrown to the hordes of predacious Islamists biting at my heels. Not having succeeded in throwing me in jail with the help of their Vavaki goons, Golshani and Tonekaboni were now trying to create a life of hell for me. I went home, called the Zanan Magazine offices and told Shahla Sherkat about the death threat by Tonekaboni. She said, "Don't be afraid. Tonekaboni wouldn't dare!" After the phone call, I felt much safer because now at least one journalist knew about the threat. The following days I went to the Institute, letting everyone know that I was there exclusively for getting my books and computer back.
I waited for two weeks and there was no news of my belongings. During this time, in February 1995, the UNICEF-Tehran sent me to a week-long trip to New York and Long Island to participate in a "Gender Training Workshop" organised by the women's section of the UNICEF. On my return to Tehran, the net was closing around me and I was waiting for the right moment to escape from that academic prison where I had been doing research on a different type of prison and in the context of the vast prison that my country had become. Finally, one day I went to Golshani's office and told him, "I need to know why you confiscated my computer and research material, and when you are going to give them back." He was with an old man, got very annoyed and asked me to leave. When I refused, he called the Security. But I walked back to my office before he finished his call. The next day, I was given back only my computer, which was glaringly dented. While I was trying to bring it down, two of my friends showed up and pointed at the huge dent. I told them to forget about the damage; I was not going to fuss about that or about my seized books or all the team's research materials, questionnaires and collected data. I was afraid for my life in that research institute. I wrote a note to the librarian, explaining that the books I had borrowed were in Mehdi Golshani's possession. Then, as I was leaving the Institute carrying the computer with the help of my friends, I heard the rumour mill (in the corridor and elevator) saying that I had confiscated all the research material. That was too evil, my friends and I thought. I soon got home and a week later, in April 1995, on the plane to Montreal, I lit up within and stretched out my invisible wings. Life outside of the Iran of the Islamic Republic was so delightful!
Since 1995, the Islamic reformist movement rose to its apex and fell, opposition figures were slaughtered, publications were banned, student uprisings were crushed and several innocent people were imprisoned, tortured and killed. And the Islamic Republic has remained in place thanks to the international politics, the politics of the multinational corporations and lack of unity among the Iranian people inside and outside of the country. The Institute of Humanities and Cultural Studies (IHCS) is still where it was before and its many rogue scholars are still spending their time maintaining the system and producing nothing worthwhile. All I can conclude from my experience in that backward institution is that the whole idea of doing social research and producing sound scholarship in a society where there is no freedom of expression, its "scholars" conspire against each other and threaten lives or don't know much about social theories and methodologies outside of the Islamic framework is simply farcical. Comment