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It's reigning women
What a year for Iranian women

February 27, 2004

Trendy as it is to describe photographs without publishing them, here's a few snapshots related to 1382, dubbed the 'Year of Iranian women'.

Picture one
Samira Makhmalbaf picks up the Jury prize for her film At Five In the Afternoon (Panj-e Asr) in May.

Picture two
Sat next to a swimming pool, clad in a trendy rendition of hejab (but hejab nonetheless), she displays the inches of hair by which many gauge the success of reforms in Iran.

Her head-to-toe black contrasts with the sparkling blue of the pool. Jealous tentacles of the Islamic Republic trail its progeny, even to the spring idyll of the French Riviera. She is unaware she is heading a year in which more than any other, Iranian women will claim the world's attention.

Picture three
Not even Googoosh, a couple of years earlier, could compete with the proliferation of this image: Laleh and Ladan Bijani's two smiling faces girt by a single hejab. Never applied so tightly as to suggest it was their will to wear it, it raises the question why they should have to at all. No craniotomy, after all, is required to relieve this aspect of their suffering.

Here they are, discomfited by a roosari (toosari) at their final press conference in the Raffles hospital in Singapore, at the mercy of a man called Dr Goh.

Picture four
The pop goddess Googoosh walked straight out of Iran into costumes that confirmed her penchant for seventies' kitsch remained intact. Her high-profile exit led to speculation that the fortune of women in Iran was about to change. Some even claimed the singer breaking her silence would lead to regime fall in Iran.

Here she is in peacock-like majesty, the first people's royal to leave Persia, strutting, cutting a distinctly pre-Islamic figure, with an album called 'Zoroaster' to boot.

Googoosh as agent of social upheaval, however, did not materialize. We exiles get excited in our rare outpourings of unity. (Remember how France 98 football fanatics were convinced Iranian players would strike a goal for the young, against the mullahs.)

What was Googoosh if not an exile phenomenon? Thousands poured into her shows in Europe and North America and, by all accounts, wept of tears of catharsis. Jpegs shot from inbox to inbox, bearing images of what few thought we would ever see: Googoosh performing on our doorstep.

Picture five
A photographer is killed in prison in Iran. Zahra Kazemi's smile mars a summer's day in England. Her job was to produce images, not become one. Iran's Islamic Stone Age shows no respite. Cavemen still drag women around by the hair. The president still smiles.

Picture six
Autumn arrives, a woman is pictured sans hejab on the terrace of a Paris café supping a drink. Perhaps it is gin, Shirin Ebadi's secret, further rebuke to the mullahs.

So what if few of us know who she is and fewer still would have tipped her to win had they been asked six months ago - it is a sweet sight. In a year of war an Iranian woman wins the award for peace.

Picture seven
Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones watch a radical woman lawyer from the Islamic Republic attack US foreign policy in her Nobel prize acceptance speech, in Oslo. How paths cross amazes.

Picture eight
Larry King shakes hands with Shohreh Aghdashloo. She is on his show with Ben Kingsley to promote the film House Of Sand And Fog, which gained her an Oscar nomination for best actress in a supporting role. This image, even if she does not win, will please a generation. (Think how long millions of Americans had to wait for Halle Berry to win best actress.)

Picture nine (imagined)
Douglas and Zeta-Jones watch another Iranian woman pick up an award. Aghdashloo's talent - for so long denied its full expression - is finally rewarded. Not at the Fajr film festival from which she is excluded but at the Kodak theatre in LA. She got lucky, her detractors say, if that book had not been written she would have stayed in Persian language theatre.

Perhaps, and if Pulp Fiction had never been made, John Travolta would not now own a mini-airport in his backyard.

Aghdashloo stuck to acting despite the inhospitable terrain of Persian language theatre-in-exile, with all its ups and downs. In making the leap from the Persian-language stage to English-language film, she displays a resilience not dissimilar to that of the last Iranian woman to hit the headlines this year.

Picture ten
Shahrbanou Mazandarani surprised the world when she emerged, alive, nine days after the earthquake that destroyed Bam.

Comedy & Satire in San Jose, this Friday, February 27 >>> Details

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By Peyvand Khorsandi


Book of the day

Islam and Feminism
An Iranian Case-Study
By Haleh Afshar

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