We need to dismantle sexual apartheid in Iran
June 1, 2006
Speech in Cologne, Germany, 8th March 2006.
First of all I would like to congratulate everyone here on 8th March, International Women’s Day. However one can not help but feel so sad to see that in 21st century, in the year 2006 celebrating the International Women’s Day one has to hear these horrendous figures that Ayan Hirsi just told us. We read and hear them but tend to forget. I don’t think we forget because we don’t care. We forget because it is our self defence mechanism. How can we sleep every night to know that every year around 2 million women in the world are killed based on gender oppression, discrimination in one way or another?
Ayan compared it with Rwanda. I remember when Rwandan catastrophe happened. We were all so outraged. One million people were brutally killed in an ethnic genocide and we became outraged that world did not do enough to stop it. It happens all the time. Every year a Rwanda happens in the world and we don’t do anything about it and forget it! I don’t think we don’t care. We are conscious human beings otherwise we wouldn’t be here. It is difficult to bear such tragedies on our minds every single day knowing that we can’t do anything about it. But we COULD do something about it. This is what I am trying to talk about here today. What can we do about it?
Ayan talked about genocide, ethnic genocide, and racial genocide and now we know there is sexual or gender genocide as we have gender apartheid. There is gender apartheid in countries under the influence or the rule of Islam or Islamic ridden countries. I won’t call them Muslim countries. By Islamic countries I mean countries being under Islamic rule or groups or movements or political Islam.
Some of you may be too young to think that there was racial apartheid in South Africa. I am one of those who do remember. I fought against racial apartheid in the 70’s and 80’s. I was part of the movement against racial apartheid in South Africa and I still remember those days. I still remember when Nelson Mandela was freed and when apartheid was dismantled in South Africa. It was a nice day. Dismantling racial apartheid was one of the few good things that happened at the end of the 20th century. And I hope that one of these days I hear the same thing about gender apartheid. We need to dismantle sexual apartheid in Iran. So we have to build a movement as strong as the one built against racial apartheid in South Africa. I think that is one of the things we can do. And if we do that and become a member of such movement we can sleep better at night and we feel better about ourselves.
We are here today to talk about violence against women and against honour killings. What a strange name they have given it: “honour killing”! Or “crime of passion”! So romantic! We are talking about passion and all of a sudden someone gets killed, maimed and the killer walks away! Passion, isn’t it? Passion is nice. We see it in films. Or we call it honour killing. It is related to honour. “Honour?” Is this supposed to glorify the murder? Is it supposed to make it look acceptable?! Is it to dignify the murderer? All these names are used in order to mitigate the concept of murder. They are trying to say it does not matter if a woman is raped, if a woman is killed. They are killed for a good cause. They are killed so some “sacred” political and religious ideas and traditions are preserved. It boils down to this: It doesn’t matter, it is the culture, and it is the religion. It is crime of passion, it is honour killing.
Or think about this! Violence against women at home is called domestic violence. Automatically the word domestic softens the act. It makes it a personal matter. Domestic has these connotations: cosiness, privacy, warmth. So it cannot be that bad. It is not that outrageous. Can you see the trick the sexist and misogynist values play on us?
We have to name it as it really is. It is murder. It is first degree murder and has to be dealt with as first degree murder. No mitigation for in judging the crime, no leniency for those who commit it, be it the father, the husband, the brother or the cousin. No mitigation! It has to be dealt with as the most horrendous act, as act of terrorism. The culprits should be treated the same as terrorists who blow up a train, the underground, a bus. This is one of things we have to establish. We should make states and governments deal with those who kill women for “passion” or “honour” as first degree murder without any mitigation.
They say it is their culture and religion, we have to respect them, we should be tolerant! Let me tell you, we do not respect any values or ideology that does not respect human beings, women’s rights, children’s rights, liberty or equality. We do not respect religion, faith, ideology, political ideology that instigates murder and violence against women. How could we respect them? Humanity has fought for equality, secularism, freedom of expression, gender equality, and universality of human rights. What has happened to us at the end of the 20th century? Why are we talking about tolerance and respect for inhuman values and ideas at the beginning of the 21st century?!
I am not talking about Muslims. I really want to emphasize and clarify this point. I am not talking about Muslims. I am not disrespecting Muslims for believing in whatever they want to believe. And I do not believe that the mere force of believing in an ideology or religion make you commit such murders no matter how violent those values you believe in are. There has to be another organisation that takes these values, religion, and ideas and puts them into force and creates a sophisticated machinery of suppression.
That is why I am saying it is a political fight. We have to look more deeply and question the arguments that try to portray these serial killings as results of mere religious belief. In fact there is a political force that transforms these religious beliefs into such a force of suppression, terror, maiming, discrimination, and torture at the end of the 20th century, a force capable of intimidating the whole world. It is not a mere belief in Islam. There is a political movement and organisation behind it all. A mafia like organisation based on Islam, getting its ideas from Islam. It is a reactionary political movement that tries to gain power, share power in the region and also globally.
It is a modern, contemporary concept and movement, based on ancient, antiquated ideas and ideology. It has moved globally now. When it was nurtured with the help of the USA and the Western governments in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and in Iran by importing Khomeini and Islamic Republic into the country, at the time of 1979 Revolution, it worked in the region. However, now, it has assumed international significance. This organisation or industry is now fighting for power globally and September 11 was one of those tragic events that demonstrated this global trend.
Violence against women is not an isolated action especially when you talk about 2 million world-wide every year. It is organised. They are not all done by political Islam but a great deal of them are committed, incited, encouraged or supported by political Islam. I am talking about this orchestrated global religious machinery. I think this is important and we should talk about it. We have to talk about other political and religious movements as well. There are misogynous, sexist, chauvinist ideas that can create this situation against women.
When you talk about male chauvinism as an ideology, we are told that we can fight them by education and cultural transformation. Of course we need education and cultural transformation. But how are we going to do it? Are we going to just get those people and talk with them? Educate them and tell them it is bad to kill other people? Or are we going to the base and root of the problem? How is that these ideologies and values, male chauvinism, anti women values are maintained regardless of all the struggle carried out against them over centuries? How is it upheld? One needs to consider the role of the dominating values in the society carried out by states.
I have not got enough time to expand on the last point. Now I like to focus on political Islam as one of these main movements that creates and terrorises the world. It intimidates the world and tries to silence any criticism of its movement or its ideas. Islam, where it can, where in power it kills, tortures, maims people and stones them to death. Where it can NOT do blatantly kill, where it does NOT have the power it becomes clever and sassy and it uses terms like “respect”, “tolerance”, “Islamophobia” and “cultural relativism”.
So some very decent, freedom loving people, conscious people out of fear of being stamped as racists, do not dare to criticise them, do not dare to support the secularist. They look the other way, thinking if they criticise, if they stand against these values and actions, they might be racists, they have not respected other people’s culture or religion. The apologists of political Islam, the academia, the media, the Western governments come to their rescue. They ask for tolerance too. They demand respect for their outdated, backward, reactionary traditions, they demand respect for their culture. And they justify this with the help of concepts such as cultural relativism. These tactics are used to silence us. We are called racist, islamophobic, intolerant, if we do not comply. Nonsense!
I like to bring your attention to the fact that it is not only genocide, murder and submission that we are witnessing. We are also witnessing resistance. The film we saw tonight called Submission. But it was not only about submission, it was also about resistance. The heroine was not submitted. She had not submitted to the act of god. She was trying to resist it and protect herself. I believe there is a resistance movement against this genocide, backward and male chauvinist ideology in the world. My time is up. In Iran there exists a very strong a vibrant resistance movement by women against gender apartheid, against the veil, against women’s subordination. This movement needs your support.
I believe it is not just a question of women mobilizing against this genocide. I am calling upon everyone, every decent, conscious, freedom loving human being to mobilize against this genocide, murder, violence, and chauvinism. Political Islam is mobilized globally and internationally, we need to mobilize internationally as well. We need to fight against political Islam, for secularism, universality of women’s rights, and for women’s equality. This is one important way to stop violence committed against women. I don’t think we need to wait one century. We can’t afford it.
We need to bring about the transformation NOW. I think we are able to do it now if we mobilize against it. So I call upon all of you to support our movement and to fight for these goals and values. We should unite and organise for a better and more humane world, to safeguard freedom and bring about equality. We need a world free from religious superstition and terrorism. We need to stand against two poles of terrorism, Islamic and state terrorism led by US and the Western governments. We have to organise to fight Oppression.
Azar Majedi (www.azarmajedi.com) is Chairperson of the Organisation
of Women's Liberation. and producer-presenter of "No to Political Islam" an NCTV programme.