From February 16th through March 11th, New Hall College, in collaboration with Cambridge City Council at the University of Cambridge, is hosting an exhibition of film and photography by Iranian women. The Film Guilaneh, which depicts the lives of Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war, was shown to an audience of 60, an equal mix of Iranians and Brits. Following the film, the director, Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, and a few Iranian students attended a private gathering where we continued to discuss the film. The heavy weight of the current U.S. agenda against Iran was on our minds, and the collective anger we felt culminated into a tension which weighed on the air in the auditorium.
Having been born in Iran and raised in the West, I always knew that the Iran-Iraq war was central to the formation of my political identity. The war prompted me to consistently attempt to protect my Iran from the intellectual intruders who surrounded me in academia, and this in turn strengthened my ability to relate to, and view as comrades, theostracized members of American society. In elementary school, I told my third grade class that their country supplied the bombs that killedmy people. In high school, I announced that American democracy is a sham for its systematic exclusion and incarceration of African-Americans, and as a college student, I proudly wore my We are all Palestinians shirt to classes taught by Zionist academics.
During my discussion with other Iranian women following the film, I realized the generation born into war share a similarly complex political identity. We exude a rage only embodied by those who have been on the receiving end of ammunition dispersion, and at the same time, a confidence enmeshed with humility.
One of the ramifications of the war was that it created a generation of politically active students who view intellectuals as the frontline protectors of Iranian sovereignty and having actually sensed the destructions of warfare, attempt to carve out a history of peace. We drew from our childhood memories to engender both domestic progress, and global solidarity against international aggression of all kinds. This generation, now in their early 30s, is the most active segment of Iranian society today, serving as artists, writers, scientists, activists, and most importantly, conscious citizens who, in the name of justice, defend their national boundaries no matter where they stand globally.
A student studying in London asked me if I had watched the documentary in which victims of Iraqi chemical attacks speak. I stated that I had not, and with tears gathering in her eyes, she told me, “you should.” She told me how alert sirens that had been used to announce attacks during the war still ring in her mind: “this was the worst part for me,” she said. Indeed, memories carry the ability to suffocate, or can serve as a force to approach old problems in new ways.
Another student who is currently studying in the UK stated that if Iran were to be attacked, she would take up arms. She told me that she went to an anti-war rally in the UK in which a British woman told her casually to get involved in the peace movement, for a war on Iran is imminent. The student was indignant about the woman’s passive rhetoric, as if war were simply an abstraction instead of being marked by the realities of orphaned children, separation, torture, and last good byes.
We stand up against the American empire each time we act collectively against Western foreign policy, and intellectual Iranian women are leading this struggle internationally. This can take the form of writing, art, lectures, blogs, and other venues for political expression. This resistance is in the face of attempts on behalf of many Western “activists” and organizations, which include illiterate Iranian émigrés posing as exiled intellectuals, to use the women of Iran as tools for an invasion.
And I am proud to stand in solidarity with young Iranian women who are working over-time to silence the warmongers masquerading as concerned Iranian nationals in search of “democracy.” It is important to bear in mind there are no systems more patriarchal than imperialistic wars, which as is commonly known, impact the lives of women in the most debilitating of ways. I recently watched a video showing the rape of an Iraqi man in an interrogation room, this is what democracy from the barrel of the gun looks like.
At the end of the film, a woman asked Bani-Etemad what she thought of the potential war against Iran. With chilling austerity, Mrs. Bani-Etemad stated that “the people of Iran do not make up a nation that succumbs to occupation; if our nation is under attack, we will all be there to defend it.”
The program ended with intransigent applause.
Shirin Saeidi is a Ph.D. student in the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge, UK.