Not a cry for censorship, but an appeal for journalistic
By Choob Dosargohi
April 17, 2003
Please read the following and consider publishing
it. I prefer to remain anonymous, but if being "known"
is a condition for being published, I will give you a name.
A friend sent me a link from iranian.com, along with
a note that read, "have you seen this?" Eager to know
what was awaiting my curious eyes, I
clicked on the link, only to see an image of a headless naked
female body, holding a sign that read (in Farsi), "lesbians
going back to Iran to sell sex and do whatever we want to do."
Enraged by the message of this cartoon, I searched
the archives of the Iranian and found another
cartoon where the cartoonist, Hossein Hajiahga, materializes
his distorted fantasy about lesbians through his drawing: Two female
students lying to their parents, doing drugs, and having sex and
confessing that they learned to be "hamjensbaaz" in their
school. Hajiagha named this cartoon "The gift of the West to
As you can tell from my previous letter to iranian.com
("A Response to Responses to War"), I am dissapointed
by the way that the dialogue on this destructive war exerts violence
on female and queer bodies. This proliferation of homophobic language
and imagery in the pages of iranian.com compelled me to write about
what freedom of speech, as exercised by iranian.com, means to me.
I appreciate the fact that you are providing a forum
for dialogue among Iranian diaspora. As a doctoral student in anthropology,
I know how American nationalism has created a culture of fear that
silences us in academic circles where any dissent leads to threats
of being terminated or to loss of funding.
My letter to you is not a cry for censorship, but
an appeal for journalistic responsibility. As Iranians and displaced
people in the U.S., many of us can testify to the ways that violence
of censorship breaks our pens and sticks duct-tapes on our lips.
I understand your commitment to freedom of speech and am not asking
you to silence impassioned voices of those who may think differently
than you do.
On the contrary, I truly appreciate the Iranian, especially
when all we see and hear through mainstream media is the masquerade
of violence against Iraqi people under the guise of "liberation"
and "freedom". There are those who voice their opinions
in mainstream media without having to work hard to this end.
For these reasons, I value the fact that iranian.com
has been a forum for people to express their dissent when their
voices are lost in the drama of "public polls". I also
appreciate seeing voices that repeat the dominant rhetoric of war
on Iraq (albeit my disagreement with them). If nothing, these voices
show that there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of questions
to be asked.
Having said this, I hope that you do not take my
objection to Hajiagha's heterosexist cartoons as an advocacy for
leaving untouched, things deemed "sacred". If any thing,
I think heterosexuality has taken the place of the "sacred"
norm and needs to be questioned in cyber-pages of the Iranian. I
am concerned that cartoons such as Hajiagha's are informed by a
hegemonic knowledge that equates hamjensgarayee with drug addiction,
deception, and perversion.
Hajiagha's obsession with lesbianism says something
about his personal motivations and his deep hatred towards lesbians.
But, I do not want to single out this cartoonist for his homophobia,
for the problem is larger than him. What concerns me is that Hajiagha's
cartoons that may provide a comic relief in these agonizing times
of war, work along other texts within and without the Iranian to
inscribe violence on the lesbian body.
This way of representation, constructs the lesbian
Other as the "westoxified" abject without whom the existence
of the "normal" and "authentic" Iranian heterosexual
is impossible. This is where I think the freedom of speech reaches
its limits. Speech is no longer a neutral utterance (it never has
been), but an act of constituting subjects in accordance with complex
workings of power.
Thus, while I understand your commitment to an open
forum, I hope that you demonstrate your commitment to a critical
questioning of discourses that have material consequences. How many
more queers are going to be targets of hate crimes before we feel
a sense of responsibility to our readers?
Mr. Javid, I know that this would perhaps be preaching
to the converted if I told you that there is no necessary connection
between being a lesbian and drugs use, hatred towards men, and/or
being "westernized." This may not be news to you, if I
told you that lesbian teachers and parents do not make lesbian students
(As far as I recall, my parents and my teachers throughout my k-12
education in Iran were heterosexual. And look at me now! No, Mr.
Hajiagha, I did not learn to become a lesbian in the U.S.; my desire
for women extends to years back before my displacement).
But, dear Mr. Javid, you host a major on-line magazine
and that puts you in a critical position. I know you like personal
ways of writing, so here it goes: I expect you to be responsible
to me and other queers who continue to read your magazine. I expect
you to be responsible and create an alternative forum where not
stereotypes, but creative dialogues are produced. There is no shortage
of homophobic language out there in the world; no need for the Iranian
to join in and allow hateful language.
At the end, I would like to encourage you to keep
Iranian's committment to the questioning of the "sacred".
In the light of this committment, let's rethink the concept of "freedom"
as sacred. Let's think about how freedom for some entails material
violence against others. Let's think about "Operation Iraqi
Freedom" and let's think about "freedom of speech."
Isn't there an irony in the way words are resignified?
Isn't there an irony in the violence that hides behind
this "sacred" word, "freedom"? Yes, freedom
comes with a cost, but who pays for whose freedom? Let us in our
committment to write and speak against all that has suffocated us,
think about those who die and those who get hurt in empty quests
At the end, I hope that you post both of my letters
on your site... if nothing, in the spirit of "freedom of speech."
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