FrontPage‘s Jamie Glazov‘s interview with Azar Majedi, the chair of Organization for Women’s Liberation-Iran. She has also been active in opposing the establishment of Sharia in Canada. She has recently published a book, Women’s Rights vs. Political Islam, a collection of political writings. She was nominated for the Emma Humphrey memorial prize in 2007.
FP: Tell us a bit about your background.
Majedi: I was born in Iran. My father was an atheist and left political activist, my mother a religious Muslim. I was influenced by my father a great deal and became an activist from my teen years, both against the dictatorship in Iran and for women’s rights. The Iranian revolution had a great impact on my life as on many others. I became more absorbed in political activities. I opposed the Islamic regime from the outset. I was working actively against the restriction the regime was imposing on women, and also working with a left political organization.
In 1982 the security forces were pursuing my husband and I, so we had to escape. In 1984 we moved to Europe. In Europe I have continued my activities uninterruptedly against the Islamic Republic, against political Islam, for women’s rights, for secularism and a more egalitarian and libertarian society.
I have published many articles, mostly in Persian, but also in English. I have participated in many international conferences around the issues of my work, been interviewed by international media. I have published journals, worked in alternative media. I have three children.
FP: Can you talk a bit about the regime in Iran? What is its totalitarian nature and who are the primary victims?
Majedi: The Islamic regime came to power in 1979. Contrary to common belief, the Islamic regime was not the outcome of the 1979 Revolution in Iran; it came to power as a result of the revolution’s failure. The 1979 revolution did not take place because people were anti-western and wanted a religious-cleric regime in Iran. The revolution’s main demands were about freedom, justice, and more economic, social and political equality. People were fed up with dictatorship, security police, torture and corruption under the Shah. Judging by this, it becomes clear that people did not aspire to an Islamic regime, they were duped to it.
Having said that, an Islamic regime came to power after the revolution with freedom and justice on its agenda, but it could only organize a very brutal suppression of the whole population, in order to establish the kind of regime that we witness today. First it cracked down on the left under the name of revolution. A very clever tactic. It played on the left’s anti-imperialist sentiments, thus the occupation of the American Embassy. It clamped down on the women’s movement. It silenced it for a good decade. It crushed any worker’s strike and protest.
In June 1981 it organized a bloody coup d’etat-like offensive on people, a similar situation to Indonesia in the 60s or Chile in 1973. Thousands of people were summarily executed all over the country, mainly the youth. Among the people who were killed, there were many children as young as 12-13. The murder balance sheet of this bloody regime will be exposed once it is toppled.
To make a long story short, the Islamic regime has suppressed every section of the society. Women were its first victims along with the left. Any opposition voice has been brutally crushed. However, in the past decade the balance of power has changed. Gradually, different social movements have become more and more active and raised their voices. Just recently we had a great show of force by the students in different universities around the country. The slogans were: freedom, equality, no to war, Women’s liberation is society’s liberation, universities are not army garrisons, free jailed students! The student’s movement is unified with women’s movement and workers’ movement, etc. Every day there is a workers’ strike in few factories. Teachers are protesting against poor wages and for more freedom, nurses are the same. Women’s rights movement is very strong and vibrant.
The Islamic regime is in very deep economic crisis. By the regime’s own conservative estimates, more than half of the population lives under the poverty line. It is not capable of acting as a state to run the economy and process of accumulation. There is no political or social confidence for investors, Iranian or foreign investment.
Politically, the regime is in crisis too. The great majority of people despise it. They want to get rid of it. They are trying to topple it. As a result the balance of power between the people and the regime has shifted considerably.
It is also in deep cultural-ideological crisis. People do not want a religious state. There is a strong secular movement in Iran. Women and the youth are particularly interested in a secular state. Religion is a subject of mockery among the public.
FP: So what is happening with women’s rights in Iran?
Majedi: A lot. Since the Islamic Republic came to power almost 29 years ago, women’s issues have been on the political agenda of both the state and women’s activists. The so-called woman question is a recurrent issue in the society. The Islamic regime made its mission to strip women of all their rights. At the time of the old regime, women were deprived and discriminated against, as well. However, the old regime had made some minor reforms regarding women’s rights in the family. Islamists were incredibly indignant by this act. Khomeini had strongly criticized the Shah (the king) for these reforms.
The new state’s first directive was to order women to wear the veil. It happened on 8 March 1979, one month after it came to power. This started a whole new women’s movement, a movement that has increasingly become more vibrant, dynamic, expressive and resilient. The women’s rights movement in Iran is very large and widespread. I believe it is at the moment the most active and strongest women’s movement in the world. It has deep roots in the society and not only among women but men as well. I am certain that this movement will have a great impact on the situation of women in the Middle East. Its fight against political Islam will cross the borders and influence women’s struggle in countries under the rule of Islam.
I have been saying that the treatment of women in the hands of the Islamic regime is the barometer of the general political situation in the country. Any time the regime is planning an assault on the people and the opposition, women are first in the line of attack. The questions of the veil and gender apartheid are two prominent socio-political issues. Almost every day we witness a conflict or clash between women and the morality police. Women are in the forefront of opposition against the Islamic regime.
FP: The Iranian regime recently increased its ban on Western music. Why do you think music represent such a threat to political Islam?
Majedi: Islam by nature is against music and happiness. This is a known fact. However, contrary to common belief that describes it as fundamentalist, the Islamic regime is a very pragmatist entity. In its life time it has made many principal shifts to save itself politically. At numerous times it has bent the dogma to achieve a political goal. Khomeini was the master of manipulation and pragmatism.
The emphasis here is on “western”. Its ideological grip on the society depends on a strong anti-western value system. Political Islam as a political movement is anti-western and plays on peoples’ real grievances in the region against American aggression in order to present itself as an „anti-imperialist‰ force. Unfortunately it has increasingly been successful since September 11 tragic event to portray itself as such. The military attack on Iraq and then Lebanon and the discrimination against Arabs and whoever is considered Muslim have helped political Islam considerably.
We should recognize these fundamental distinctions and try and expose the two poles. People in the region are frustrated and despise the existing international order which imposes injustices upon them. They are against US policies regarding its unconditional defense of Israel, for the misery it has inflicted on the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon and for its active support of the reactionary dictatorships in the region.
In the absence of any progressive, egalitarian, libertarian and secular force, due to brutal political suppression of these forces, people turn to the only existing alternative, i.e. political Islam. They choose between whoever seems to them to be the lesser evil. This is the outcome of the dictatorial regimes in the region which are actively supported by the US and the west.
FP: Well, my friend, our topic here today is the Iranian regime, so I do not really want to sidetrack us with debates on other matters. But suffice it to say that there is another perspective on U.S. foreign policy than the one you state. The US has a policy of unconditional defense of Israel because Israel has a right to exist and it is the victim of terrorism and it is the terrorists who should be denounced, not the U.S. for supporting the right of Israel to live free of terror. The U.S. liberated 50 million people in Iraq and Afghanistan from two vicious fascist regimes. It is Islamist terrorists who have caused the misery that has inflicted the people of those nations, not the U.S., which seeks to safeguard democracy and a civil society.
In Lebanon, it is the Islamists, Syrians and Hezbollah who have imposed suffering on the nation. And yes, the U.S. may have had to support some regimes in the region that might not be the reflection of pluralist democracies, but there is a difficult dilemma in that worse and more evil entities might come to power. Iran is a good example: the Shah was not an angel, but Khomeini, as you know, killed more people in a very short period than the Shah had in his entire regime. The Revolution brought much more misery and tyranny in the place of the Shah, under whom there was at least fertile soil for progress in terms of democracy, women’s rights and human rights.
Majedi: First and foremost I should clarify one important position; I respect the right of Israel to exist. If I am defending the rights of Palestinians, this does not contradict Israel’s right to existence. I actually believe this is one of the main obstacles in the way of a just peace. As soon as one defends Palestinian’s rights, as soon as one exposes the destitute and hardships inflicted on Palestinians and the injustice they have historically suffered, one is accused of wanting to throw Israelis in the sea. This approach creates stumbling blocks in the road to peace.
I believe the rightwing spectrums of both parties do not want peace and play on prejudices and mistrust to muddle the issues at stake. I am for a two state solution. I am for a just peace. The fact of the matter is the agreed points in Oslo agreement have not been respected. If the world wants to get read of political Islam, or Islamist’s terrorism, Palestinian issue must be solved, once and for all. Political Islam is cashing in on Palestinian’s grievances.
Absence of any progressive, secular force on both sides to give real momentum to the peace movement, has given rise to the right wings in both sides, forces that use religion and race to inflame the war. This political void has given rise to political Islam, which uses the old wound in the Middle East as an ideological justification. Islamists are not the representative of Palestinian’s grievances. To deprive political Islam of an important ideological facade, the Palestinian issue must be solved, not by force, not by building walls, not by building more settlements, not by invading Gaza, nor imposing brutal sanctions on already deprive people, but by striking a just peace. Whether we like it or not, this is the only way out.
On the situation of Afghanistan and Iraq: totally disagree with the political perspective stated in the question. It suffices to say, American weapons were used to destroy imaginary weapons of mass destruction piled up in Iraq. Four years later we are witnessing the ruin of a country, a society, more than a million deaths, millions misplaced, and no lights at the end of the tunnel. It is true that Islamic terrorism is tearing people’s lives, but the war on Iraq and Lebanon strengthened political Islam and reinforced their position. This is a vicious circle.
FP: I never accused you of wanting to throw Israelis into the sea. You stated that the people of the region are against US policies regarding its unconditional defense of Israel. This is synonymous with the moral equivalency you are applying to both sides in the conflict. I am simply responding by saying that there should be an unconditional defense of Israel. And if the people of the region are truly for peace and for a Palestinian homeland, then they should be protesting the Hamas Nazi government that the Palestinians have elected to represent them in Gaza, they should be protesting the terror that is victimizing Israelis for decades, and they should be protesting the perpetual Arab and Palestinian prioritization of destroying the Jewish state over the creation of a Palestinian one.
The Israelis have consistently made efforts to make life better for the Palestinian people and to offer them a state; the Arab world and Palestinian leadership, in return, have consistently used the suffering of the Palestinians themselves as cannon fodder against the Israelis. And so Israeli offers of Palestinian statehood, such as in Camp David in 2000, are consistently rejected. And now Hamas fires rockets into Israel from Gaza. That’s the thanks Israel gets for trying to give Palestinians self-determination. And now somehow both sides are to blame. All those interested should check out our video What Really Happened in the Middle East. In a future discussion, Azar Majedi, it would be great to have your own input on this video.
In terms of Iraq, Saddam did have WMDs and the evidence continues to substantiate that fact. There is much tragedy in war, but the bottom line is that Iraq is the front for the war on terror today and Bin Laden and the jihadis consistently state that in their correspondence. If we cut and run we will yield a blood bath in that region, Iraqis will fall under a Taliban-like vicious regime and the jihadis will be emboldened through the whole world.
It is crucial, of course, Ms. Majedi, that in your stated position you stress that there are ways of action that we may strengthen our enemy rather than weaken him. We have to keep this perpetually in mind as we calculate our strategy in our war against the jihadis, the legitimacy of which we both agree on.
Majedi: It seems one cannot talk about political Islam or Islamic regime without entering these topics. This only shows their actual linkage. I must say, I do not agree with the points you make. I believe that the right wing parties in Israel had an influential role in breaking the peace process. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin is a clear example of this, or Sharon’s provoking Palestinians by entering Al Aqsa Mosque. These are two significant assaults on peace process. I am very much against Hamas. But the only way to marginalize Hamas is to finalize the peace process. Attempts to wipe it out by force, or punish the Palestinian people will only make it stronger and breed more hatred, violence and rift.
FP:The assassination of Rabin was a tragedy but it in no way prevented Israelis from offering a state to the Palestinians, which is what Israel did in Camp David in 2000, with incredible accommodating offers. The Palestinians rejected the offer, and returned the gesture by igniting the Second Intifada that witnessed Palestinian parents sending their young children into Israeli cafes and markets to blow themselves up. There is no moral equivalency between someone walking into Al-Aqsa Mosque and someone else blowing themselves up in a crowd of innocent people. Approximately a million and half Arabs are citizens of Israel; 80% of them are Muslim. They have more rights in Israel than Arabs enjoy anywhere else in the Arab world. And a Jew walking into a mosque is somehow a crime morally equivalent with Palestinian terror? It all doesn’t add up. Finalizing the peace process by guaranteeing the existence of Hamistan in Gaza and then in the West Bank does not marginalize Hamas. Palestinians must liquidate Hamas and guarantee that they want a state more than they want to extreminate Jews. That is the first step to peace, a step that the Palestinians are yet to make. And again, I recommended our video What Really Happened in the Middle East to those interested in this issue. David Meir-Levi has also written a powerful work, The Big Lie.
Majedi: I sincerely believe that the main obstacle in fighting with political Islam is the Palestinian issue. Political Islam is cashing in on this issue ideologically and politically. Therefore we have to solve this issue, but not totally at the expense of the Palestinians. The hard handed policies of Israel and the US not only does not help, but actually damages this cause and helps the Islamists. I am on the side of the peace movement in Israel , not its state.
FP: Ok, our views and disagreement on this is on the record. You are of course correct that radical Islam cashes in on the Palestinian issue. Where we disagree is the way we correct the Palestinian issue. It would be ideal if the Palestinians accepted a homeland and abandoned their quest to destroy the Israeli homeland. But empirical reality and the historical record unfortunately reveals that this is not the desire of the Palestinians. The key issue here is how to create a Palestinian state that will not become a Hamistan that prioritizes the extermination of Israel and Israelis. It is on the Palestinians to rid themselves of their terror infrastructures and Jew-hate before any real progress and peace can be made. But let us move on. We can discuss this issue in another time and place my friend — perhaps further in another forum here at Frontpage. Let’s get back to Iran and political Islam. Tell us how political Islam threatens women.
Majedi: Political Islam is a reactionary and misogynist movement. Islam is well known for its anti-women teachings, and instructions and for its treatment of women. Political Islam is a modern political movement whose ideology is based on Islam. Veil and gender apartheid are the pillars of this movement. Anywhere political Islam has gained power, women have been under attack. Forced veiling and gender apartheid have become the rule. In fact the veil has become the banner of this movement. Women are the first victims of this movement’s brutality and oppression. There are many examples; Taliban is perhaps the most extreme and Saudi Arabia is the most traditional one.
In the past 20 years the situation of women has deteriorated considerably in the region under Islam. The trend in the region has been one towards more violence against women; antiquated brutal practices like stoning have become the rule in some countries and terrorizing women into observing Islamic rules is common place in the region. Iraq is the new scene of Islamists’ brutality against women. Islamic Republic has a long history of women’s oppression and violence against women. However the situation of women in Iran is different than other countries in the region. This difference is due to the existence of a very strong women’s movement which counter-attacks every assault from the regime. I believe that this movement will have a great impact on the situation of women in the whole region.
FP: Can you talk about your efforts to stop Sharia Law from coming to Canada?
Majedi: I have been working closely with Homa Arjomand, the coordinator of the against Sharia campaign in Toronto. Homa and I are long time friends and colleagues. Homa is a member of executive council of OWL. I have spoken against Sharia Law in conferences. (Time magazine reported on one with a quotation from me.) I have participated in rallies to oppose Sharia law, the last one was 8 September 2005 in Paris. I have written articles and been interviewed by international Media against the Sharia Law. OWL played an active role to prevent Sharia from becoming the law in Ontario.
FP: Can you expand for us on what Sharia is and what you think of it?
Majedi: Sharia is the Islamic system of family, social and legal code. It might mean different things to different sects, but it is essentially very reactionary, outmoded and misogynist. In Sharia concepts of sin and crime are one. Any religious sin is considered a crime and brutally punished. Therefore, in countries under Islamic rue there is no civil law, only Sharia.
According to Sharia women have no rights vis-à-vis men in the family. The right to divorce is men’s prerogative; men have the right to marry four wives and numerous so-called temporary wives (siqeh). The legal age of marriage for girls is at 8 and a half. Men are not only permitted to assault their wives, they are encouraged to do so to non-submissive wives. Drinking alcohol is a great sin and crime and punishable by lashes. Cutting limbs as a means of punishment is enshrined in Sharia. Stoning for sex outside marriage is another brutal treatment. The list is long. These were only some examples to clarify its reactionary and inhuman nature.
A debate seems to be among the so-called moderates and fundamentalists on different interpretation of Sharia. I find this debate totally irrelevant. We do not need to base our modern legislation on an antiquated, outmoded so-called legal system or code of behavior. Moderate or otherwise it is totally unacceptable for a modern and civil society. Religion is and must be recognized as a private affair. It should be pushed to the margins of the society and separated from the state, education and legislation.
Sharia is a banner raised by the Islamists to gain more power in the society. They found this as a new battle ground which is easy to conquer. The multi culturalism and cultural relativism based on post modernism have created a basis for this offensive by the Islamists. The so-called liberal media and academia have aided the Islamists a great deal. We have fought hard and long to marginalize this trend. One decade ago we were surrounded by cultural relativists, now they are a very marginal force. I believe we had a role to play in this course.
FP: Let’s get back to the women’s movement in Iran. If it succeeds, what impact may it have on Iran and on the region?
Majedi: The women’s movement in Iran is very large and strong. It is a mass movement. The young generation in Iran will not accept defeat. It is very much modern and for secularism. At present, despite all the restrictions imposed by the Islamic regime, women make up around 64% of university entrance. We should take into consideration that it is very difficult to acquire a university place in Iran; young people have to undergo a series of difficult entrance exams under very stressful conditions. The high number of women in higher education in Iran is so un-Islamic and considered a threat to the bases of the regime that the Islamic parliament have attempted in various occasions to limit the number of places available to women. This only shows the determination of the female young generation to resist the misogynist system.
The resistance against the veil, Islamic dress code and against gender apartheid is very deep and wide spread in the society. An interesting characteristic of the women’s movement in Iran is that men are involved as well. This is one of the reasons that I do not use the term women’s movement and always qualify it as women’s rights or women’s liberation movement.
As Islam is a very misogynist ideology and political Islam an anti-women movement, the women’s rights movement is a direct attack against Islam and political Islam. The Islamist offensive in the region has taken women as its first victims. The situation of women in the region under Islam has deteriorated considerably in recent years. The women’s rights movement in Iran is the forerunner of women’s liberation in the region. Its success will mean a great defeat for political Islam. Therefore, this movement must be supported by all international libertarian and egalitarian movements and organizations.
FP: Are you optimistic about your struggle for a free Iran?
Majedi: Yes. I believe in the conscious actions of people for change. I have fought against this regime for almost thirty years. I think we are now very close to regime’s overthrow. There is a very strong movement to topple the regime. However, I am worried about the threat of war on Iran. We should protest against this war and against the Islamic regime. I believe that the struggle of the people in Iran is the greatest threat to political Islam. By toppling the Islamic regime, we succeed in marginalizing political Islam as well.
FP: Well, no one wants to see war on Iran. But if regime change does not happen any other way, and the Iranians are unable to overthrow the tyranny, the ruling Mullahs might get their hands on nuclear weapons. If this happens, and it already might be the case, a strike to nullify Iran’s ability to use nuclear weapons might be the lesser of two evils.
Majedi: The lesser of two evils from whose point of view? People in Iran? People in the region? Or the American administration? This is not an open question to me. This war will only mean disaster. It will create a human tragedy, environmental tragedy and a political disaster. Bombing the nuclear facilities will create a nuclear hell in the region. Is this the price humanity willing to pay? I do not think so. Politically, the war will make it more difficult to overthrow the Islamic regime. Already the regime has escalated its clamp down on oppositions, women’s movement, student and workers’ movements have been attacked. Many activists are in jail. The sanctions have taken their toll on the people. Why should the world repeat the same mistake again? Look at Iraq, the situation in Iran, if the war goes ahead would be worse. People in Iran are fighting against the regime. If their struggle is supported, they would get rid of the Islamic regime. The war will not accomplish this.
FP: It is the lesser of two evils to get rid of an evil regime with some tragic and unavoidable loss of lives than to have a madman get his hands on nuclear weapons and to be begin using them — as Ahmadinejad has sworn to do, beginning with his promise to drop them on Israel. I did not say this hypothetical war would be a good thing and should be launched recklessly or prematurely. I simply stated that taking out the regime might become the only — and necessary — option if the Iranian people fail to overthrow their dictators, which we all hope they will succeed in doing. And we have no disagreement that it would be a wonderful and joyous thing for Iranians to remove the tyranny that victimizes them and that poses such a great threat to the world. And we admire your courage and nobility in this battle against the ruling Mullahs.
Majedi: I agree that a brutal regime like the Islamic regime would be even more monstrous with nuclear weapons. However, the war is not the way to do away with this threat. The war itself would create the situation we all like so much to avoid. We should fight for a world free of nuclear weapons. Allow me to make just one more point. We should not forget that the US is the only country that has used nuclear weapons so far. The tragedy of Hiroshima makes us all terrified of nuclear weapons and what it can do to the world. A progressive regime in Iran will stop Islamic regime’s nuclear project.
FP: Well, we are starting to go in circles. No one wants to see a war with Iran. But again, war might be the only option if the Mullahs are not overthrown because they are ready to use those weapons and they must be stopped from doing so. Fighting for a world without nuclear weapons is a fantasy, those weapons are here. The key now is to keep them out of the hands of those who will revel in using them because they venerate death over life. And yes, the U.S. used nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That act, while tragic, saved millions of lives on both sides because Japan was ready to fight to the last woman and child and refused to surrender and a landed U.S. invasion, which would have been inevitable, would have resulted in massive carnage on both sides. The greatest crime awaiting mankind at that terrible time was not inherent in the use of the atomic bomb, but in the more horrifying reality that would have followed its non-use. In any case, Azar Majedi, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview. Aside from some of our disagreements here today, we stand together against radical Islam and for a free Iran. And we hope you will return to Frontpage to discuss and debate some of the issues that were raised here today.
Majedi: Thanks so much for giving me this opportunity.