| Ideological tyranny in Iranian women’s studies
A response to Shahrzad Mojab
November 14, 2005
Feminist research or women’s studies is a methodological perspective that criticises societal inequalities, with an emphasis on gender disparities. As a secular feminist I initiated a re-debate over the crisis in Iranian women’s studies/activism (intertwined) so that our scholarship and activism embraces more lives inside Iran. I did not in any way offer a fixed agenda for achieving a gender-equal state in Iran. As someone who has spent most of her life outside Iran, it perplexes me still that some senior Iranian intellectuals deconstruct one’s arguments as if it was a clear-cut programme to overthrow a whole government and create a revolution >>> Full text document with notes
My major concern today is in gathering the scattered efforts, good-will and resources which we Iranians have an abundance of, and lend a helping hand to the women’s and progressive movements, the impoverished NGOs, the oppressed, the marginisalised, the hungry, the dispossessed, the prisoners, the censored intellectuals, the activists, and the students inside Iran (regardless of their religious and political convictions).
I would like to thank Dr Shahrzad Mojab, Associate Professor and Director of the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto, in Canada for her contribution in this debate (in Ideological Crisis in Iranian Women’s Studies: A Response to Golbarg Bashi, posted on 21 August, 2005). It has helped me strengthen and refine my own position. As one of our wonderful Iranian feminists, Elahe Amani (at Fullerton, USA) advised me: “Crises refine life. In them you discover what you are”. I am very grateful for her and other pacifist Iranian women and men’s support and wisdom (whether they are secular or religious).
It gives me as much hope in an egalitarian future for Iran in reading Sa’adi Shirazi’s poetry, Hojjat-ol-Eslam Mohsen Saidzadeh, Professor Ghari Seyyed Fatemi and Dr Mohsen Kadivar’s work as it does reading Mehrangiz Kar, Parvin Paidar, Zanaan Magazine, Simin Behbahani and young pacifist and anti-racist Iranian web bloggers’ writings. It is my privilege as a student to have access to the fruits of their hard-work, work which was/is often carried out under intense fear of prosecution, solitary confinement and ruthless avenge.
Yet, I do not see theirs or anyone’s work as providing all the answers to the ills of humanity, or being in any way sacrosanct and free from criticism (I may even have major objections to their framework). I do not think that any given text, declaration or political manifesto is the ‘Holy Grail’. The struggle goes on, and it is the responsibility of us all to utilise our limited knowledge and resources in places we deem indispensable, and without violating others’ human dignity (even those of scholars and students).
I believe that Professor Haideh Moghissi’s response to Mojab (in ‘About Ideological/Behavioural Crisis in Iranian Women’s Studies’, posted in August 2005) deals with the overall failings of the latter’s arguments. Below, I aim to propose questions to Shahrzad Mojab in response to her criticism of my approach.
Mojab starts her critique of my two essays by informing about her own work with women’s issues and discussions with women at “grassroots, ministerial, and professional levels” in “Jordan, Palestine, Turkey, and Iraq” (Mojab, 2005). By doing this she signifies that cooperating and working in these nations (even at ministerial level) does not automatically render one a criminal or accomplice with criminal regimes. I refer to Jordan, Palestine, Turkey, and Iraq’s abysmal human rights records here, and the label and vote of none-confidence given, by factions of the Iranian exiled groups (including Mojab) to Western-based Iranians who do similar research inside Iran and do not dismiss the positive contributions of reformists and Islamic feminists inside Iran under its present theocratic structure.
Having lived for one year in Jordan myself, while based at the University of Jordan in Amman, I know from first-hand observations that sitting around the same table with Jordanian male aristocratic ministers (several of whom I met in June 1999) and working with NGOs in Amman under the gaze of the Jordanian monarch requires much ‘negotiations’ and ‘considerations’. So, I applaud Mojab for trying to advise governments in the Middle East on how they could emancipate women in these societies. I hope Mojab’s tireless efforts can help end hundreds of honour killings alone that occur annually in the Jordanian Kingdom, as much as I hope Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Shahla Haeri, Nayereh Tohidi, Mehrangiz Kar and Shirin Ebadi’s work in Iran, can help end present-day’s abuse of innocent young girls and women.
It is wonderful to see academics working with “real people” in a “real world” rather than spending their time with abstract clichés. I see how these women are working inside nations they do not necessarily ‘represent’ or ‘back’. They are not ‘plotting’ or acting as its ‘secret agents’ for ‘negotiating’ with its ‘ministers and professionals’, they do this for the higher sake of saving and helping human lives. I see their work as a sincere effort to emancipate women from ‘patriarchal and feudal oppression’ (Mojab, 2005) under terrible regimes and circumstances, using the current available tools: negotiating, demanding democracy and rights. I have much respect for Mojab’s efforts in bringing forward the plight of Kurdish women onto to the international arena.
Mojab claims that my calls for ‘dialogue’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘re-negotiation’ in the Iranian women’s circles/meetings/conferences are “(neo-)liberal feminist politics which promotes local and global ‘sisterhood,’ ‘inclusion,’ ‘empowerment,’ and notions such as ‘authenticity of voice,’ ‘representation,’ ‘location,’ ‘positionality,’ and ‘identicalness’…[stating]…We are disciplined by “accented feminists” to believe that the systemic violence perpetrated against women, in the West and the East, in and out of state and home prisons, can come to an end through appropriate rules of behaviour and in the course of “negotiations” with the ancient patriarchal order” (Mojab, 2005).
It goes without saying that systematic violence perpetrated against women will (of course) not end through “appropriate rules of behaviour” and only through the course of “negotiations” with the ancient patriarchal order.
But I am still curious to know how Mojab defines “tolerance” and “negotiation” as she works within a liberal democracy (Canada) a state like all others that has not achieved women’s total emancipation, and she also works with national bodies and governments in Middle Eastern “ancient patriarchal capitalist orders” (Jordan, Palestine, Turkey, and Iraq). I would like to know how Mojab explains this inconsistency and contradiction in her arguments and practice?
If “negotiation” (aided with other strategies) is such a shameful and disgraceful act (with aristocrats, patriarchal ministers, Muslim veiled women in Kurdistan and Palestine etc), I would like to ask Mojab if she can show me cases of successful feminisms in successful socialist countries that have worked through a non-negotiated revolution? I would also like to know if “negotiation” does not work, which other avenues do work? I would be grateful if Mojab could give concrete examples of such avenues >>> Full text document with notes
Golbarg Bashi is a PhD student at University of Bristol, UK. Visit GolbargBashi.com.