Note from the translators: Azadeh Forghani is one of the women’s rights activists who was arrested for peaceful protest on March 4th 2007 in front of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. The following open letter titled “Kindly Come and Do Us a Favor, Oh Lady” was addressed to Farah Pahlavi, the empress of Iran during the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Forghani critiques the cooptation of the Iranian women’s rights movement by Farah Pahlavi and opportunistic opposition groups. The original piece in Persian was published by roozonline.com on March 13.
— Niki Akhavan, Sima Shakhsari
After I was freed from temporary detention, I took part in two events commemorating International Women’s Day on March 8th, and it was during the last hours of that day, that instead of feeling in good spirits, a heavy tiredness befell me. It was during these hours that I became aware that the empress Farah Pahlavi—as she still wishes to be called—had sent a message for the women detained on March 5 and offered a message of congratulations on the occasion of March 8. As I was among those detained and have an on-going case before the Revolutionary Court, my attention was particularly drawn to this statement. But given that I have for a long time been closely following both the social and political issues in my own society as well as following humanistic issues worldwide, this symbolic gesture on the part of Mrs. empress, like similar ones carried out by foreign media and institutions, prompted my reflections in this regard. Of course, the reason for this is due to the importance I place in my work and that of my friends, and I will never claim any self-importance regarding all that has occurred.
I would like to inform all of my readers, especially the Mrs. Empress and all of her fans in Iran and abroad, that I was born in 1978. Providence and the fateful social situation and perhaps an unknown force inside have linked me to the destiny of the people of my country and fundamentally to that of the people of the world. It has long been the case that I am unable to remain alone in the room of my own self interests and pursue my own happiness or the material world and turn my back from those in need, especially when they are women. As a result, I have paid a heavy price and have lost many opportunities, which, of course, are negligible compared to the price paid and being paid by the men and women of this land and the world over who have worked for freedom, equality, and the general well being of all. It is not permissible to use my work or those of others in creating tumult and making personalities. What we did was our duty and nothing beyond it, the price paid was negligible compared to what I have learned from Iranian history, culture, politics, economy and global issues. To the best of my ability, I have approached social issues from seven to eight different perspectives both in thought and action. Now I know the similarities and differences, real or imagined, between the true world of our women of various social classes and the world exemplified by the empress. And I have pretty much learned the reasons and motivations behind various actions.
Let’s go to the real issue at hand. As far has her freedom of expression is concerned, the empress’ symbolic gesture is her own business and has nothing to do with me. Yet our judgment about the nature and reason for her actions does have to do with us. She or anyone else is free to issue statements, and this is their right. However, the empress’ baseless, untimely, ostentatious, and senseless act which was carried out without any consideration of its consequences for us, is an offense to human morals and political honor. The shallowness and pointlessness of her act is her business, but she has offended and transgressed on the domain of our freedom to act and collaborate towards gaining our rights. I will explain.
Mrs. empress! Examine your own conscience or take as witness the objective conscience of another and tell us what relation—any at all—have you had or do you have with the women activists of June 12 and March 4? Their commonality is in their years of struggles for true freedom, eliminating oppression, liberty, and reaching to the minimum of women’s human rights. They have been led to these paths by social forces and a feeling of responsibility for and co-existence with women who are disenfranchised, downtrodden, unemployed, poor, low-wage workers, honorable teachers, nurses, and office employees. What link can you claim with them, other than–in the most honest and best case scenario–a sense of empathy? But is this enough to justify suddenly jumping in the fray and grabbing the opportunity?
Have you spent a penny from your massive wealth on a women’s movement which has cast aside all aristocracy and class-based snobbery? Has any from your family, friends, or acquaintances experienced, even for a few hours, the danger of activism, forming organizations, collecting signatures for petitions, negotiations, arrest, twenty-four hour interrogations, jail, constant social insecurity, distress, job insecurity, etc.? During the last 28 years, 10 of which I have been following closely, has your lifestyle and activities even had a needle’s point of connection—never mind a lively and meaningful one—with the independent women’s movement in Iran? All of the answers to these questions are negative. I have occasionally watched you, your friends, and supporters on satellite television expressing your views. I, like all other activists who are part of this movement, noticed the pretentiousness, the deep chasm, and all of the resources that are unjustly available to aristocratic women on that side, and these factors have made us completely lose hope in you (And of course I want to emphasize that I do not speak here about the aware and clear-headed women on that side who know their place and who carry out political and cultural activities).
But you, empress, under the influence of or in collaboration with those around you, jump in the middle and opportunistically and ostentatiously issue statements, as if we are with your camp. And with your actions you place us, an independent movement that does not rely on any foreign support or on you, under suspicion and leave us to the hands of the interrogators and don’t give a damn when they say: “here is the proof that you get money and orders from abroad, your work does not reflect the needs and desires of women, so there!” Yes, these are all the familiar indicators of your being divorced from social reality and the will of people, being irresponsible and unpopular, and your opportunism in trying to reach your previous paradise.
It would be good if the empress knew that she and her children and those of royal birth have always been in all aspects of their life and with all their strength followers of the U.S. neo-liberal agenda. We are not breakable little saplings, we have grown and we completely know what your words and issues are all about. In any case, we are not that which you are. Under any conditions, we will work with all of our strength and continue to pay the price—only a fraction of which has reached your precious ears—to fight against regression, backwardness, despotism, discrimination, injustice, poverty, exploitation, governmental and non-government oppression, especially as they concern women. And this is all of what you have seen from us thus far. But our goals are unequivocally not neo-liberal democracy, U.S. aggression, conspiracy, threats and their wheeling and dealing with local authorities. We know that on the other side [of the world] the profits of multinational corporations, the wealthy, and unspoken nationalist aspirations to rule the world, have the upper hand. We know that we must avoid both sides, the global colonial and the local autarchy. We know that the global war is threatening us as much as evil negotiations and the authorization to kill angels. Is it not true that the last one hundred years of history, part of which concerns the empress, is saturated with the killings of freedom seekers and the absolute silence of human rights organizations that are connected to oppressive governments?
Many times when human rights in this land has been violated in the most intense and bloody way, pretenders such as the empress and the elitist women’s rights advocates on the other side have acted as if they were snoozing. The deadly silence among circles of power, the royalty, and sympathizers from the upper echelons, in response to the killings of the left forces, the socialist-communist, freedom seekers, dissidents, and others, has been experienced before. They sit under the shadow of the Pentagon and the US Department of State, or similar units in Western Europe, Israel, and Australia, and wait until the killings of the communists in Chile, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Iran (and perhaps later in Cuba, Venezuela, Iraq, and ..) are finished. And then those who pity women and children appear with their most superficial demands. It is true that they too are women and they have the right to send empty messages. But is this right accompanied with honesty, responsibility, and concern for the safety and lives of dissidents and activists? Of course not.
The state-sponsored media and our interrogators called us agents of foreigners and the implementers of their goals. Nothing that has or can happen to me is as unbearable as this accusation. In this climate, Mrs. empress, you descend like the interrogators’ angel from the Evin prison sky and send us a message. You make our work much harder and increase the pressure that we have to endure. Don’t you think about how young inexperienced girls feel when the interrogators put your message in front of them and make those accusations? Mrs. empress, be aware of the aftermath of your opportunism and your ostentation. Someone was saying that Mrs. empress may be taking revenge from the intellectuals who overthrew her crowned husband in February 1979: let all intellectuals, dissidents, and freedom seekers die; let us prevail and let the Iranian state become despicable, and at the same time we will rid our future of these dissidents.
I have critiques- some serious- of many past movements and struggles. But I will not forget the historical and social value, and their effect on the formation of current movements. In my objective and diverse study of history [I have learned], Mrs. empress, what your crowned husband has done to people like me. And don’t think that I mean to ignore what has since ensued, for if I did I would not be in this situation. Are Ashraf Dehghani, Roghiyeh Daaneshgari, Vida Haji Tabrizi, Marzieh Oskoui, Fatemeh Amini, Mastoureh Ahmadzadeh, Bijan Jazani (and his comrades), Golsorkhi, Daneshian and hundreds of others, the killing of Tudeh Party officers, nationalistic forces, the uprising of 15 Khordad, Fada’eeyan, Mojahedaan, Militant Muslims, the killings of 1978 and 1979 myths? Although, in a way they are myths and we will not forget later myths such as Saeed, Mokhtari, Pouyandeh, and Forouhars. Your crowned husband even betrayed his closest friends and servants. But in your book and interviews, you have lost a sense of justice and think that with these messages you can open a way into the hearts of women and men who in fact come from this same lineage. If by ignoring the savagery and insane injustices, others attempt to do the same (which they have), they will also be dismissed. Your way –and the way of contemporaries- should be the critique of the past, honesty in the present, and leaving the future to the children of this land and not to your own children.
In any case, lady, your right to disseminate messages is reserved. But, I for one will assure you that the essence of people’s movement and the belief to which I and hundreds of thousands of young independent people have reached with reading, thinking, and presence in the social realm, is grassroots, and seeks deeply for freedom and vastly for justice. Certainly, you don’t want such things when they come to haunt you and your friends. This is clear from your vestiges and your status. But kindly come and do us a favor, lady! Spare us your messages. Please advise others to do the same. What I say concerns the US Department of State, that “freedom room,” that newly transferred group under the auspices of Bush, and all official and unofficial foreign media. Obviously, in a world where news is blocked and killed, the value of healthy and unmediated news, critique, and analysis is very high and respectable. But do not represent us as being dependent on you; do not politicize us and do not drag us into your world. We are social activists. We don’t come from any other line and will not join your world.
Just yesterday, in a gathering of graduates, and hours after my release, I participated in the International Women’s Day event. They broadcast Akbar Ganji’s message and a message from a local organization (for whose founders I have great respect). Neither I, nor many guests liked this move and many left the event in protest. Yes, Mr. Ganji is completely different from Mrs. empress, the prince, and their friends. He has fought for freedom and suffered for exposing the truth. But with his inclinations and desires, he is most definitely not our leader and is not in a position to send us a message as such. We find these messages unacceptable. Or perhaps we have mistakenly pursued a path that has led us to a place where Ganji is now our leader. And by the way, that organization is not the only one in the country. So, why all this politicking and unjust actions in the gathering of justice-enthusiasts? I don’t know.
I have said all that I know about the negative effects of such interferences and ostentations. This is how almost all of my friends and acquaintances in the women’s rights movement feel. If anyone in the recent movements does not agree with my humble opinion, or finds your message to be positive and promising, here is the pen, the paper, and the internet (there is really no newspaper!), on the condition that they write with honesty and courage.