Never do liberal Zionists feel more torn than when Israel is at war. Days after I’d filed my essay for The New York Review on Ari Shavit and his fellow liberal Zionists, the perennial tension between Israel and the Palestinians had flared into violent confrontation and, eventually, a war in Gaza—the third such military clash in five years. For liberal Zionists these are times when the dual nature of their position is tested, some would say to destruction. What the Israel Defense Forces called Operation Protective Edge—a large-scale mobilization that by the time a twelve-hour “humanitarian truce” was agreed on July 26 had reached its nineteenth day—was no different. Continue reading
by: Nada Elia
As Israel’s assault on the besieged Palestinian population in Gaza approaches its third week, we continue to hear about the “disproportionate number” of women and children victims. This expression begs the question: what is a proportionate number of women and children killed in a genocide?
As Jadaliyya’s Maya Mikdashi asks in her op-ed titled “Can Palestinian men be victims?”, if a significant majority of the killed were adult men, would Israel’s crimes be lesser?
A different analysis of gendered violence is necessary: one that recognizes that no “proportions” are acceptable because all deaths should be mourned, while providing the tools for a differential understanding of the manifestations of violence.
The feminist network INCITE! Women and Trans People of Color Against Violence has always understood that state violence is both racialized and gendered.
Zionism is a prime example of that; it is a racist ideology grounded in the privileging of one ethno-religious group over all others.
When a state views a population — its dispossessed, disenfranchised and occupied indigenous population — as a ”demographic threat,” that view is fundamentally both racist and gendered.
Racist population control relies specifically on violence against women. So it is not surprising that Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli military intelligence officer turned academic, would matter-of-factly suggest this week that “raping the wives and mothers of Palestinian combatants” would deter attacks by Hamas militants.
Similarly, Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked did not attempt to present the murder of Palestinian children and their mothers as unfortunate, disproportionate “collateral damage” — she openly called for it by asserting that Palestinian women must be killed too, because they give birth to “little snakes.”
This comment reflects an Israeli infrastructure designed to sustain high rates of miscarriages by blocking basic resources such as water and medical supplies, forcing women in labor to wait at military checkpoints on their way to a hospital, and generally creating inhumane and unlivable conditions for Palestinians.
This latest murderous attack on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip has not only taken the lives of hundreds of Palestinians, but it has also increased miscarriages, pre-term labor and stillbirths.
Ethiopian-Israeli women, most of them Jewish, have also been subject to mandatory contraceptive injections without their consent.
Ending Zionism is a feminist and a reproductive justice issue.
Of course, gendered violence as a tool for settler-colonialism is not a new strategy; settler-colonialism, patriarchy and official hypocrisy usually go hand in hand.
Nineteenth-century France claimed to be liberating Algerian women even as it torched entire villages and towns. The proverbial colonial white man would have us believe that he was acting on the selfless impulse to save brown women from brown men, even as the colonial power he served impoverished entire countries.
Algerian women were certainly no better off as result of French colonialism; in fact, their circumstances deteriorated significantly.
The George W. Bush administration gave itself a pat on the back for supposedly liberating women in Afghanistan from the Taliban. Yet we see throughout history, and not just in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Algeria or Palestine, that wars have never liberated women and gender nonconforming people of color.
New brand of hypocrisy
Today, Israel has developed a new brand of this hypocrisy, as it claims that it is more civilized than the Palestinian people because it is supposedly a more “gay-friendly” country. This is pinkwashing, Israel’s attempt to distract from its ongoing human rights violations by pointing to its supposedly better gay rights record.
But that record, once again, is racist.
Any Jewish citizen of Israel can and must serve in the Israeli occupation forces, but these are the murderous forces engaging in the genocide of the Palestinian people.
Does it make for a more moral army if some of its killer soldiers are openly gay? Stop to think of who the purveyor of the greater violence is. Who is denying Palestinian women, children, gays, lesbians, trans people and straight men their most basic rights — freedom of movement, safety, shelter, food, a home, life? One has to acknowledge that the guilty party is “civilized” Israel, not Palestinian heteropatriarchy.
War — militarism — is a hyper-masculinist activity that glorifies and rewards all violence, including gendered violence, and a soldier trained in violence cannot put that violence aside when he or she gets home.
All of Israeli society is trained in violence. And violence is not a pair of combat boots one can leave at the door; violence becomes second nature (unless it was first nature, in which case it is further aggravated) and the entire community that engages in warfare is a more violent community — not just at the war front.
This is what we are witnessing today, as we have observed it again and again every time Israel escalates its assault on the Palestinian people.
As for Palestinians, there are no battlefronts, no “war zones.” All of historic Palestine is the battlefront as mobs of Israelis take to the streets in violent rampages.
This realization has always been at the very core of INCITE’s analysis. We understand that in situations of settler-colonialism, indigenous women, trans people and gender non-conforming people bear the brunt of a nexus of racism and sexism. We are engaging in a joint struggle, from India to the Arab world to South West Asia, to Africaand the Americas, for the dignity and full sovereignty of indigenous people.
This is why INCITE! endorsed, in 2010, the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and remains committed to the grassroots struggle against state-sponsored violence against the entire Palestinian people.
Nada Elia served on the Steering Collective of INCITE! Women and Trans People of Color Against Violence when it endorsed boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and is currently serving on the organizing collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI).
by the ISM
The Israeli military just shot a Gazan man trying to reach his family, during an announced ceasefire. He was with a group of municipality workers and international human rights defenders who were attempting to retrieve injured people in the Shajiya neighbourhood.
“We all just watched a man murdered in front of us. He was trying to reach his family in Shajiya, he had not heard from them and was worried about them. They shot him, and then continued to fire as he was on the ground. We had no choice but to retreat. We couldn’t reach him due to the artillery fire and then he stopped moving.” Stated Joe Catron, U.S. International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist in Gaza. “Shajiya is a smoking wasteland. We just passed two bombed out ambulances.”
The Israel military has also shelled Red Crescent ambulances as they attempted to retrieve injured people in the Shajiya neighbourhood, east of Gaza City. A ceasefire was announced, during which injured and dead people, could be evacuated from the area, in which at least 60 people have been killed today.
“They said we would be able to evacuate the injured from the disaster zone, but they have been shelling ambulances,” stated Dr Khalil Abu Foul of the Palestinian Red Crescent, speaking from Shajiya.
Now, the international volunteers, including some from the U.S., the UK, and Sweden, are in a rescue centre on the outskirts of Shajiya.
by: Amira Hass
I’ve already raised the white flag. I’ve stopped searching the dictionary for the word to describe half of a boy’s missing head while his father screams “Wake up, wake up, I bought you a toy!” How did Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Greater Germany, put it? Israel’s right to defend itself.
I’m still struggling with the need to share details of the endless number of talks I’ve had with friends in Gaza, in order to document what it’s like to wait for your turn in the slaughterhouse. For example, the talk I had on Saturday morning with J. from al-Bureij refugee camp, while he was on his way to Dir al-Balah with his wife. They’re about 60-years-old. That morning, his aging mother got a phone call, and heard the recording instructing the residents of their refugee camp to leave for Dir al-Balah.
A book on Israeli military psychology should have an entire chapter devoted to this sadism, sanctimoniously disguising itself as mercy: A recorded message demanding hundreds of thousands of people leave their already targeted homes, for another place, equally dangerous, 10 kilometers away. What, I asked J., you’re leaving? “What, why?” He said, “We have a hut near the beach, with some land and cats. We’re going to feed the cats and come back. We’re going together. If the car gets blown up, we’ll die together.”
If I were wearing an analyst’s hat, I would write: In contrast to the common Israeli hasbara, Hamas isn’t forcing Gazans to remain in their homes, or to leave. It’s their decision. Where would they go? “If we’re going to die, it’s more dignified to die at home, instead of while running away,” says the downright secular J.
I’m still convinced that one sentence like this is worth a thousand analyses. But when it comes to Palestinians, most readers prefer the summaries.
I’m fed up with lying to myself – as if I could remotely, by phone, gather the information necessary to report on what the journalists located there are reporting on. Regardless, it’s information that is important to a small group of the Hebrew-speaking population. They’re looking for it on foreign news channels or websites. They do not depend on what is written here in order to hear, for example, about the short lives of Jihad (11) and Wasim (8) Shuhaibar, or their cousin Afnan (8) from the Sabra neighborhood in Gaza. Like me, they could read the reporting of Canadian journalist Jesse Rosenfeld on The Daily Beast.
“Issam Shuhaibar, the father of Jihad and Wasim, leaned on a grave next to where his children were buried, his eyes hollow, staring nowhere. His arm bore a hospital bandage applied after he gave blood to try to help save his family. His children’s blood still covered his shirt,” writes Rosenfeld. “‘They were just feeding chickens when the shell hit,’ he said. ‘I heard a big noise on the roof and I went to find them. They were just meat,’ he gasped, before breaking down in tears,” continued Rosenfeld’s article. We murdered them about two and a half hours after the humanitarian cease-fire ended last Thursday. Two other brothers, Oudeh (16) and Bassel (8) were wounded, Bassel seriously.
The father told Rosenfeld that there was a warning missile. Before the attack, they heard the humming of the UAVs, the kind that “knock on the roof.” So I asked Rosenfeld, “If the missile was one of our merciful ones, those that come along as a warning, was the house bombed afterward?” By chance, I found my answer in a CNN report. The network’s camera managed to catch the explosion that came after the warning: knock, fire, smoke and dust. But it was a different house that was bombed, not the Shuhaibar house. I rechecked with Rosenfeld and others. What killed the three children was not a Palestinian rocket that went astray. It was an Israeli warning missile. And Issam Shuhaibar himself is a Palestinian policeman on the payroll of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.
I’ve also given up on trying to get a direct answer from the Israel Defense Forces. Did you mistakenly warn the wrong home, thus murdering another three children? (Of the 84 that have been killed as of Sunday morning.)
I’m fed up with the failed efforts at competing with the abundance of orchestrated commentaries on Hamas’ goals and actions, from people who write as if they’ve sat down with Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh, and not just some IDF or Shin Bet security service source. Those who rejected Fatah and Yasser Arafat’s peace proposal for two states have now been given Haniyeh, Hamas and BDS. Those who turned Gaza into an internment and punishment camp for 1.8 million human beings should not be surprised that they tunnel underneath the earth. Those who sow strangling, siege and isolation reap rocket fire. Those who have, for 47 years, indiscriminately crossed the Green Line, expropriating land and constantly harming civilians in raids, shootings and settlements – what right do they have to roll their eyes and speak of Palestinian terror against civilians?
Hamas is cruelly and frighteningly destroying the traditional double standards mentality that Israel is a master at. All of those brilliant intelligence and Shin Bet brains really don’t understand that we ourselves have created the perfect recipe for our very own version of Somalia? You want to prevent escalation? Now is the time: Open up the Gaza Strip, let the people return to the world, the West Bank, and to their families and families in Israel. Let them breathe, and they will find out that life is more beautiful than death.
Us women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are the ones who will lead this society towards change. While we failed to deliver through our voices, we will not fail to deliver through our actions. We have been silent and under the mercy of our guardian (muhram) or foreign driver for too long. Some of us barely make ends meet and cannot even afford cab fare. Some of us are the heads of households yet have no source of income except for a few hard-earned [Saudi] Riyals that are used to pay drivers. Then there are those of us who do not have a muhram to look after our affairs and are forced to ask strangers for help. We are even deprived of public transportation, our only salvation from being under the mercy of others. We are your daughters, wives, sisters, and mothers. We are half of society and give birth to [the other] half, yet we have been made invisible and our demands have been marginalized. We have been deliberately excluded from your plans! Therefore, the time has come to take the initiative. We will deliver a letter of complaint to our father the King of Humanity and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques calling on him to support the Women of June 17.
We have searched for laws that prohibit women in Saudi Arabia from exercising their right to drive their own vehicle but have not found anything that points to such [a prohibition] in Saudi traffic laws. Therefore, what we will do cannot be considered a violation of the law. We therefore have decided that beginning on Friday the 15th of Rajab, 1432, which corresponds to the 17th of June, 2011:
- Every women in possession of an international driver’s license or one from another country will begin driving her car herself whether to reach her place of work, drop her children off at school, or attend to her daily needs.
- We will take photographs and videotapes of ourselves driving our cars and post them to our Facebook page in order to support our cause: I will drive starting June 17
- We will adhere to the dress code (hijab) while driving.
- We will obey the traffic laws and will not challenge the authorities if we are stopped for questioning.
- If we are pulled over we will firmly demand to be informed of which laws have been violated. Until now there is not one traffic law that prohibits a woman from driving her own vehicle herself.
- We do not have destructive goals and will not congregate or protest, nor will we raise slogans. We have no leaders or foreign conspirators. We are patriots and we love this country and will not accept that which encroaches on its security and safety. All that is involved [in this matter] is that we will begin to exercise our legitimate right.
- We will not stop exercising this right until you find us a solution. We have spoken out on too many occasions and no one has listened to us. The time for solutions has come. We want women’s driving schools. We want Saudi drivers’ licenses [for women] like all other countries in the world. We want to live a complete form of citizenship without the humiliation and degradation that we are [currently] subjected to everyday because of our dependence on a driver.
- We will launch volunteer campaigns to offer free driving lessons for women beginning on the date that this announcement is issued and we wish for everyone to support us.
To review the traffic law in Saudi Arabia: http://bit.ly/lj60Od
Section Four: Driving License, page 47
List 1-4 of Driving Violations: pages 117-121
نحن النساء في المملكة العربية السعودية من سيقود هذا المجتمع نحو التغيير. وحين فشلنا في ايصال صوتنا، لن نفشل في ايصال أفعالنا. كفانا سكوتاً ومذلة لكل رجل من محرم أو أجنبي عنا. منا من لاتملك أجرة تاكسي وتعيش على الكفاف. ومنا من تعول أسرتها وليس لها عائل غير ريالات بسيطة دفعت فيها جهدها وعرقها لتكون لقمة سائغة للسائقين. ومنا من ليس لها من يقوم بأمرها فتلظت بنار السؤال لكل غريب. محرومين حتى من مواصلات عامة تكفينا شرهم. نحن بناتكم ونساؤكم وأخواتكم وأمهاتكم. نحن نصف المجتمع ونلد نصفه. لكن تم تغييبنا وتهميش مطالبنا. سقطنا من خططكم عمداً! لذلك حان وقت أخذ زمام المبادرة. وسنقوم برفع خطاب تظلم لوالدنا ملك الانسانية خادم الحرمين الشريفين لمسانده نساء ١٧ يونيو
تم البحث عن أي قانون يمنع المرأة في السعودية من ممارسة حقها في قيادة مركبتها بنفسها ولم نجد أي شيء يشير لذلك في نظام المرور السعودي*. لذلك لايعتبر ما سنفعله خرقاً للقانون. لذلك قررنا أنه وبدأً من الجمعه 15 رجب 1432 الموافق 17 يونيو 2011 التالي
كل امرأه تملك رخصة قيادة دولية أو من دولة أخرى ستبدأ بقيادة سيارتها بنفسها لتقضية أي مشوار لها سواء للوصول لمكان عملها، ايصال أطفالها للمدرسة، أو قضاء حوائجها اليومية
on.fb.me/mbWaHq :سنوثق قيادتنا لسياراتنا بأنفسنا بالصوت والصورة ونشرها على صفحتنا بالفيسبوك لدعم قضيتنا
سنلتزم بحشمتنا وحجابنا حين قيادة سياراتنا
سنلتزم بقوانين المرور ولن نتحدى السلطات إذا تم ايقافنا للمساءلة
إذا تم ايقافنا للمساءلة نتمسك بحق المطالبة أن نعرف أي القوانين تم خرقها. لحد الآن لايوجد اي قانون في نظام المرور يمنع المرأة من قيادة مركبتها بنفسها
ليس لدينا أهداف تخريبية. ولن نتجمهر أو نتظاهر أو نرفع شعارات وليس لدينا قادة أو جهات أجنبيه نحن وطنيات ونحب هذا الوطن ولن نرض بما يمس أمنه أو سلامته. كل مافي الأمر أننا سنبدأ بممارسة حق مشروع
لن نتوقف عن ممارسة هذا الحق حتى تجدوا لنا حلاً. تكلمنا كثيراً ولم يسمعنا أحد، جاء وقت الحلول. نريد مدارس نسائيه لتعليم القيادة. نريد رخص قيادة سعودية أسوة بكل دول العالم. نريد أن نعيش مواطنة كاملة بدون الذل والمهانة التي نتعرض لها كل يوم لأننا مربوطين برقبة سائق
سنبدأ باقامة حملات تطوعية لتعليم النساء القيادة مجاناً بدأ من تاريخ نشر هذا الإعلان ونرجو مساندة الجميع
:لمراجعة نظام المرور في السعودية
الباب الرابع: رخص القيادة صفحة 47
جداول المخالفات 1-4 صفحة 117 -121
Exclusive interview with Leila Khaled
Recorded on Thursday 3rd of April 2014
First published here.
Frank Barat for Le Mur A Des Oreilles (LMADO): How are you Leila? What are you doing nowadays in Amman?
Leila Khaled: I am fine as long as I am a part of the struggle for freedom, for our right of return and for an independent State with Jerusalem as capital. I know it is not going to happen in the near future, but I am fighting nevertheless. Here in Amman, I am the chief of the department of refugees and Right of Return in thePopular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (P.F.L.P).
LMADO: You are a Palestinian refugee, one of six million. Do you still think that you will return one day? And what do you make of the conditions of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, who are denied their most basic rights and yet, are sometimes criticized for trying to improve their lives in Lebanon as this might affect their right of return to Palestine?
LK: The Palestinians were distributed to different countries. Each country has had an impact on the people living there. Those in Lebanon, in the 70s and 80s, until 1982, were the ones that helped the armed struggle, that helped defend the revolution. Israel was attacking and invading all the time and occupying parts of the country as well. After 1982, the main mission of the Palestinians was to achieve their rights, their civil and social rights, which they are deprived o in Lebanon. This will enable them to be involved in the struggle for the right of return. The Palestinians in general take the Right of Return as a concept and as a culture. Any Palestinian will tell you that he fights for his social and civil rights, but this means that he is preparing himself for his return. The two are inseparable.
LMADO: The question of the refugees, in the negotiations, has, in the last decade, become more and more obsolete, something that is no longer an inalienable right but something that can be negotiated. The same applies to the last round, the “Kerry negotiations”. What do you make of this? And what do you think is going to happen after April 29th when the negotiations are supposed to end?
LK: The PFLP and myself personally have been against the negotiations since 1991. The problem is that the two parties are sticking to their guns. The Israelis think that Palestine is the land for the Jews all over the world. The Palestinians are sure that the land belongs to them and that they were forced out in 1947/1948. When this conflict moves from one stage to the next the two sides are considered as even in their power but the fact is that we are not (this is just an illusion). The leadership chose to go for the Oslo accords, thinking that this was a step forward in achieving the main rights of the Palestinians. Some people believed this, but they discovered, after twenty years, that it was nonsense. It brought catastrophe on us. There are more settlements than ever, twice more than before Oslo, the number of settlers has doubled, more land is being confiscated, and, of course, the Wall has been built. The apartheid wall. Israel is an apartheid state. These negotiations, now, are meant to help Israel and not the Palestinians. We have already experienced what Israel means by negotiate. Israel never respects its promises, its obligations, and simply continues its project of making Palestinians’ lives hell. My party and I are against this last round of negotiations too, of course. Especially now. The Americans are supporting an Israeli project that will only help Israel. There was an agreement, sponsored by the Americans, which said that you had to stop settlements in the West Bank and that 104 prisoners should be released on three different dates. Now, the Israelis have said no, we will not abide by this agreement and we will not release the last batch of prisoners. By the way, those people who are released, are often put back in jail shortly after anyway. This is what the Israelis refer to as the rotating door policy. The politicians say that the prisoners should be released but they are then rearrested. Many of them are already back in jail. It is very clear from this that the Israelis are not ready to make peace with the Palestinians. They are also taking advantage of the fact that the Arabs are occupied with many other issues, and do not support the Palestinians. Nobody is therefore going to condemn Israel when they flout the agreements they sign.
Also, what does Kerry want? What is his plan? Nobody knows. It’s all verbal. Nothing is written. The leadership should refuse what Kerry offers. By the way, Kerry did not go back to Ramallah with another offer. Which means that the Palestinian Authority (is going to use its second option and go back to the U.N Then, today, in the news, the US has again said that it will object to such a move. What does this all mean?
I do think that we need first to consider the nature of the State of Israel. Secondly, we have to understand more about their projects and plans. Thirdly, we know that the Israelis are much more powerful than us in some respects. But we are also powerful. It all depends on our people. We have the will to face the challenges that the Israelis are putting in front of us. There is an English saying that says: “When there is a will, there is a way”. We still believe that this is our right and that we have to struggle for it. We have struggled, we are struggling, and we will struggle. From one generation to another. Freedom needs strong people to go and fight for their dreams. That is why I do not think that there will be a settlement now. The Americans always want to prolong the negotiations. This will not help.
LMADO: If negotiations do not bring peace to the Palestinians, what will? What should the leadership do?
LK: Resist! That’s how you achieve your rights as a People. History has shown us that. No People achieved their freedom without a struggle. Where there is occupation, there is resistance. It is not a Palestinian invention. We are actually going to call for a conference to be held under the auspices of the U.N, just to implement the resolutions taken by this body on the Palestinian question. Resolution 194 calls on Israel to accept the return of the refugees. Fine, let’s put the U.N on the spot. Let’s have a conference reminding people of this. The problem is that the references to any negotiations that have taken place were drafted by the Americans, which we know are biased towards Israel.
LMADO: P.L.O stands for Palestine Liberation Organization. Do you think it has lost its true meaning? Bassam Shaka in 2008 told me that the P.L.O, before anything, needed to go back to its roots as a liberation movement.
LK: No liberation is achieved without resistance. My party has not changed. It has stuck to its original program. We are calling to escalate the resistance. People talk about popular resistance. It does not only mean demonstrations. Using arms is also popular. We have people who are ready to fight.
LMADO: What does peaceful and non-violent resistance means for someone like yourself, who chose armed resistance as a mean for liberation?
LK: Resistance takes more than one face. It can be all kinds of resistance. Non violent and violent. I am ok with those who choose non-violence. We are not going to liberate our country by armed struggle only. Other kinds of resistance are necessary. The political one, diplomatic one, the non violent one. We need to use whatever we have got. For more than 10 years now, people have been demonstrating in Bil’in, in Nabi Saleh….protesting the wall and the annexation of the land. How is Israel dealing with it? Violence, tear gas, bombs… Do you think it is acceptable to have an army with a huge arsenal, against people holding banners? I am ok with using all means of resistance. We cannot say that non-violent resistance alone will achieve our rights. We are facing an apartheid State, Zionism as a movement, the Americans, and in general, the West, which supports Israel. When the balance of forces changes, then we can start thinking about negotiating.
LMADO: It is always easier to advocate for armed resistance when the general public knows who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed. Your actions in 69 and 70 were about that, correct? To put Palestine on the map. Do you think the educational process of showing another face of Palestine, showing that the Palestinians have legitimacy and are in the right, has been done enough since the 70s?
LK: Let’s take the example of Vietnam. Or of Algeria and South Africa. People needed time to convince the whole world of the just cause of their struggle. It took time. In the end, the world realized that those who are oppressed have the right to resist the way they want to. Nobody can impose a form of resistance on us. We chose armed struggle. We did not achieve our goals. Then the intifada broke out and the whole world took us seriously. We gained the support of people all over the world. Still, we did not reach our goals because the leadership was not brave enough at that time to escalate the intifada, to take it to another level. Israel was ready to accept to withdraw from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But our leadership failed us. The intifada was the choice of the people. If you go back to the beginning of the resistance and holding arms. It was a necessity for the Palestinians after 1967. We depended on the Arab countries to restore our homeland. But they failed us too. Israel occupied more of Palestine. So we decided to take our destiny into our hands. By waging an armed struggle. Nowadays people are waiting but they realize that these negotiations will get us nowhere. Our past experiences with Israel have shown us that they cannot be trusted. They do not respect their words. Threaten us all the time. Abu Mazen is not a partner for peace? Who is? Sharon? Netanyahu? This right-wing government? This is not a government, it is a gang, essentially, which represents the settlers, the fascists, the racists. The lie began last century. That this was the land of the Jews. The bible gave it to them. Is this democratic? The world in 1948 accepted this lie. God promised us the land! As if God was an estate agent. This is a colonial project. This is the main issue of the conflict.
LMADO: The struggle is about ending Israel’s settler colonial project, then, ending apartheid. What will happen, in your opinion, the day after? The day after victory? An Algerian like solution, or a South African one?
LK: We have always offered the more human solution. A place where everybody lives on an equal basis. Jewish, Muslims, I do not care about the religion of the person. I believe in the human being itself. Human beings can sit together and can decide together the future of this land. But I cannot accept that I do not have the right, now, to go back to my city. Like six million Palestinians. We are not allowed to go there. We are offering a human and democratic solution. Nobody can tell me that we cannot decide the fate of our country because we are refugees. What happened to us is a first in history, as far as I know. People being chased away from their homes and another people, coming from very far away, taking their places. The Israelis were citizens of other countries. Israel, thanks to various organizations, before 1948, built an army, Okay, but there was no society. They brought people from outside. Even now, there are huge contradictions in this country and this society. People come from different cultures, some do not even speak Hebrew. We do not want more blood, but are obliged to resist. We have the right to live in our homeland. When the Israelis realize that as long as they do not budge this conflict will be endless, they should accept our solution. Some Israelis have already understood that. That you cannot go on fighting forever. What for?
LMADO: Can you talk to us about the role of women in the resistance. And do you think your actions, the hijackings in 69 and 70, did more for Palestine, or for women around the world, or both?
LK: The hijackings were a tactic only. We wanted to release our prisoners and were obliged to make a very strong statement. We also had to ring a bell, for the whole world, that we the Palestinians are not only refugees. We are a people that has a political and a human goal. The world gave us tents, used- clothes and food. They built camps for us. But we were more than that. Nowadays there are plans to end the camps, because they are a witness of 1948. Women, are part of our people, they feel the same injustices. So they get involved. Women give life. So they feel the danger even more than men. When they are involved, they are more faithful to the revolution because they defend the lives of their children too. When I gave birth to two children, I became more and more convinced that I had to do my best to defend them and build a better future for them. I felt for women who had lost their children. So I think my actions had an impact on both, to answer your question. The popular front slogan was: “Men and Women together in the struggle for the liberation of our homeland”. The P.F.L.P implemented that by giving a place to women in the military. At the same time, women also played a big role in defending the interior front, the families. Thousands of Palestinian women are now responsible for their families. After all the wars, the massacres, the arrests, the killings by Israel, these women protected their families from being dispersed. Also, women are now educated, they work, they travel, go to university and so on. Before the revolution, it was not like that. Now it is. And it is a must. You can see that women are involved in many aspects of the struggle and society. Whether it is inside or outside Palestine.
LMADO: Lina Makboul who directed the film “Leila Khaled; Hijacker” implies in her last question in the film that your actions did more harm than anything to the Palestinian people. The film stops right after the question. What did you answer?
LK: She told me she did this for cinematic purposes. But I did not like that. The fact that people could not hear my answer. My answer was no, of course! My actions were my contribution to my people, to the struggle. We did not hurt anyone. We declared to the whole world that we are a people, living through an injustice, and that the world had to help us to reach our goal. I sat with Lina for hours and hours you know, telling her the whole story. She told me afterwards that Swedish TV only wanted the question.
LMADO: Do you sometimes reflect on the past? What was done, what could have been done, what could have been done differently, when you see the current state of affairs? What went wrong?
LK: Recently my party has held its seventh conference and reviewed its positions. We then made a program to widen our relations with the progressive forces around the world, especially on the Arab level. We also decided to strengthen our interior structure. I also learned that I had to review my own positions, my own thinking. Every year, around December, I look back at the past year and then decide to do something for the coming year. This year, I decided to quit smoking, so I did.
LK: I made this decision and it was easy for me to implement it.
LMADO: Why has Palestine, in your opinion, become such a symbol for the solidarity movement?
LK: Palestine for me is Paradise. Religions talk about paradise. For me, Palestine is paradise. It deserv
es our sacrifices.
by Anand Gopal
Abu Malek was pacing back and forth in the hospital parking lot, muttering to himself and firing off phone calls. “Don’t say ‘How are you’ to me,” he told one caller, “because I am not fine, I am very, very, very, very bad.” The hospital was in the Turkish town of Antakya, and the staff was treating several rebels who had been wounded in the fighting across the border in Syria, about ten miles away. The Syrian army was in the midst of a major offensive, sweeping through one northern town after another with tanks and heavy artillery, trying to kill as many rebel fighters as possible before April 12, when a ceasefire brokered by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan would go into effect. The revolution had been grinding on for more than a year, and as many as 10,000 people had died already.
From Turkey, Malek had followed events closely and stayed in contact with his family in the northern town of Taftanaz. (Malek’s name and those of some of the people mentioned in this article have been changed.) Soon after he learned that the army had surrounded Taftanaz, phone lines were cut, so he sent a friend to retrieve his family. The friend returned with the news that Malek’s mother was missing, his cousins were missing, and his house had been razed.
The government had lost control of Taftanaz near the start of the revolution, and an intricate system of popularly elected councils called tansiqiyyat had been created over the past year—“like miniparliaments, a government for us,” as Malek put it. He had been chosen to represent Taftanaz in Turkey, where he raised funds and cultivated contacts with the international community. He was proud of the rebel councils—they were proof that Syria did not need President Bashar al-Assad—but he worried that the other council members had been captured or killed.
Malek agreed to help me get to Taftanaz, but he demanded information in return: “I want to know if my family survived—and I want to know if my revolution survived.”
Traveling with me from the Turkish border to Taftanaz was Wassim Omar, an acquaintance of Malek’s whom I would see several times during the week I spent in Syria. He had access to a network of revolutionaries along the way, almost all of them friends he had made during the uprising. Our driver avoided the highway and hopscotched from village to village along back roads; with the mobile-phone system disabled, it was impossible to know about troop movements and the location of army checkpoints.
Omar had been studying Arabic literature at Aleppo University before the revolution began. Now he traveled between Turkey and Syria often, smuggling rebel propaganda and supplies. This was his first trip back over the border since reports of the army’s campaign in Taftanaz had reached Antakya.
The roads were empty, and in the tiny mountain towns the shops stood shuttered and padlocked. The rebels once maintained checkpoints openly in daylight, but now they confined their activity to the nighttime. “If you could have seen this place before the fighting,” Omar told me. “It was alive.”
We had yet to come across any villages touched by violence. But then, as we pulled into the town of Killi, about ten miles south of the border, we saw a multistory granite house with a collapsed roof, yawning holes in its façade, and rubble everywhere. Omar gasped.
According to locals, Syrian aircraft had circled overhead for days, taking reconnaissance photos as almost all civilians and rebels fled the village. Then, on April 6—four days before we arrived—tanks came and fired from close range at this house and more than a dozen others. Soldiers had a list of those who had gone to protests or were involved in the rebel movement, and they went from house to house hunting them. Because most of the townspeople had left, however, there were very few arrests or casualties.
On the outskirts of Killi, I found one of those who had stayed behind. Nizar Abdo lived in a housing complex built around a central courtyard. When the soldiers arrived, Abdo hid in a neighbor’s house. He watched through the shutters as a tank wheeled in front of his property, took aim, and fired. Afterward soldiers bulldozed the remains.
Standing where his house had once been, Abdo admitted that he had attended a few protests during the start of the revolution. He said he had never been political; more basic frustrations drove him: “You have to pay money to get a job, otherwise the government won’t help. . . . You have to pay bribes.”
Now homeless, he was unsure where he would go. But, embittered as he was, he still tried to see an upside. “At least,” he said, “we aren’t Taftanaz.”
The 15,000 residents of Taftanaz are mostly farmers and traders: rows of olive trees stretch outward in every direction, although in recent years drought has browned patches of them. The town is typical of northern Syria; there are dozens like it nearby, an archipelago of villages known for their Babylonian cuneiform tablets and preserved sections of Roman road. Life there is slow, conservative, and pious.
Since Hafez al-Assad took power in 1970, Syria has been ruled by an alliance between Assad’s mainly Alawite military and wealthy Sunni businessmen from the cities. The government provides food subsidies, jobs programs, and funds for rural development for the people of places like Taftanaz, but in return demands absolute fealty. Businesses favored by the regime win no-bid and below-market contracts, creating what Syria scholar Bassam Haddad called “a crony capitalist state par excellence.”
When Bashar al-Assad became president after his father’s death in 2000, he tried to liberalize the country’s economy. The government eased price controls on basic goods like fertilizer and animal feed. It reduced subsidies to the oil sector, leading to a 42 percent jump in the price of fuel. Meanwhile, a vicious drought dried up the countryside, prompting thousands to flee to provincial towns like Homs and Idlib, or to smaller communities like Taftanaz, which did not have the capacity to absorb the influx.
“There were no jobs, and if you found one, you had to see the mukhabarat,” the secret police, for permission to work, Omar said. “If you wanted to buy a house or travel outside the country, you needed to see them.” Office workers moonlighted as cab drivers. Farmers doubled as scrap dealers. In every corner of society, but especially in the countryside, the social contract holding the Assad regime together was failing.
On March 6, 2011, a group of adolescent boys, inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, painted antigovernment graffiti on walls in the desert town of Daraa. After word spread that the boys had been arrested, Daraa’s streets filled with protesters. In Binnish, a few miles down the highway from Taftanaz, Omar and his friends watched the news in amazement. Later that week, fifteen of them gathered late at night at a mosque to plan a protest, making signs with anti-regime slogans.
The following day, they stepped into the town’s main square for the first protest of their lives. Omar was terrified: he knew the price of his actions would be imprisonment, and that the regime could target his family. But, to his surprise, the people of Binnish joined in. They came from all over town, shouting, “Daraa, we are with you! We in Binnish are with you!”
By April 2011, demonstrations were popping up all across the country. The Syrian army tried to cut them down, firing on and killing scores of civilians, only to inspire further protests. The mukhabarat, meanwhile, targeted the core activists in each town. One afternoon, agents showed up at Omar’s door. “They treated me like a toy, throwing me here and there,” he recalled. He said he was kept in captivity for two months, frequently strapped to a gurney, electrocuted, and beaten. A general finally released Omar after he promised to stay away from politics. When he left prison, he went straight to a demonstration.
Unlike in Egypt and Tunisia, the Syrian elite remained glued together in the face of the protests. But the conscript army started to buckle, and some soldiers found they could not fire on their countrymen. I had met one of them in Turkey, a twenty-seven-year-old named Abdullah Awdeh. He was serving in the elite 11th Armored Division, which put down protests around the country, when one day he was directed to confront demonstrators near Homs. Their commander said that the protesters were armed terrorists, but when Awdeh arrived he saw only men and women with their families: boys perched atop their fathers’ shoulders, girls with their faces painted in the colors of the Syrian flag, mothers waving banners. He decided to desert.
By June 2011, there were hundreds like him; nearly every day, another uniformed soldier faced a camera, held up his military identity card, and professed support for the revolution for the entire world to see on YouTube. These deserters joined what came to be known as the Free Syrian Army. (When I met some of them just after I crossed the border, they told me, “Welcome to Free Syria.”) Awdeh, with his aviator sunglasses and Dolce & Gabbana jeans, assumed command of a group of nearly a hundred fighters.
Many activists worried about the militarization of the conflict, which pulled peaceful protesters into a confrontation with a powerful army that they could not defeat. But in small towns like Taftanaz, where government soldiers had repeatedly put down demonstrations with gunfire and thrown activists in prison, desperation trumped long-term strategy. Abu Malek likened the actions of the rebels to those of a mother: “She may seem innocent, but try to take away her children and how will she act? Like a criminal animal. That’s what we are being reduced to, in order to defend our families and our villages.”
In Taftanaz, fighters from the FSA started protecting demonstrations, quietly standing in the back and watching for mukhabarat. For the first time, the balance of power shifted in favor of the revolution, so much so that government forces could no longer operate openly. Party officials and secret agents vanished, leaving the town to govern itself.
This created new problems: courts stopped working, trash piled high on the streets, and the police stayed home. To fill the vacuum, citizens came together to elect councils—farmers formed their own, as did merchants, laborers, teachers, students, health-care workers, judges, engineers, and the unemployed. In some cases, the councils merged with pre-existing activist networks called local coordinating committees. They in turn chose delegates to sit on a citywide council, which in Taftanaz and surrounding towns was the only form of government the citizenry recognized.
Syrian authorities repeatedly sent tanks in to Taftanaz and neighboring villages, targeting the new council members. After every intrusion, the rebels would reassemble. But on April 3, the Syrian forces returned to Taftanaz, this time to end the insurgency there once and for all.
When I reached Taftanaz on April 9, the air in the town stank of manure, hay, and gunpowder. The smell of smoke grew more powerful near houses, and once inside you found your eyes watering and your throat burning. Many of the locals who were left had taken to wearing surgical masks.
Every fourth or fifth house was completely destroyed; many of those still standing had black streaks climbing outward from the window frames. Boys were scrubbing graffiti off the walls: ASSAD, OR THE COUNTRY BURNS, signed by THE ASSAD DEATH BRIGADE 76.
For three days I explored the gutted town, speaking to everyone I could about the battle. I spent my nights in a neighboring village—government soldiers conducted raids in the evening—but each day I returned to learn more.
On the first day, I sought out Abu Malek’s relatives—almost everyone knew him—and found Abdullah Rami, a young man with sunken cheeks and a hard stare. He had been a university student, but “the revolution makes choices for you,” he said, and now he was a rebel sniper. He described for me what had happened on April 3.
It began early in the morning, when helicopters appeared above Taftanaz and fired into the town center. Then, around 7:00 A.M., the mortars started. (A farmer named Muhammad Abdul Haseeb was at home at the time. “I got all the children and women together and ran out,” he told me later. “One of the shells dropped really close by, but I couldn’t see where it hit. Later I learned that it killed my brother.”)
Most of the residents escaped. By around 9:00 A.M., tanks had arrived at the outskirts of town, and they shot at anything that moved. A plump forty-six-year-old man named Massous had loaded dozens of relatives into his truck and was about to turn onto the main highway when he saw a tank about a thousand feet away. It fired and hit his truck, killing his father and mother and injuring his ten-year-old daughter.
Around the same time, nearly a hundred men gathered inside a house near the town’s center to decide whether to retreat, as rebels elsewhere had done, or stay and fight. A few dozen chose the former, but most stayed. “We didn’t want to end up like other cities, crawling back after the army leaves,” Rami said. “Our neighbors needed something to believe in.”
As the army shelled the town, the men spread throughout the warren of low-slung concrete buildings, onto rooftops, into homes, and through alleyways. Rami went to the main road through town and helped bury I.E.D.’s, most of them assembled in Turkey and smuggled into the country, and rebels hid nearby with the detonators.
Around noon, a tank approached the building where Rami was hiding. A second pulled up alongside it and swung its turret slowly around. Then Rami heard a deafening boom and saw the tank pop up in the air—an I.E.D. explosion, which he had captured on video and later showed off proudly. After a few minutes, the second tank was also struck as it tried to retreat.
Across town, another rebel group was in a firefight, and Rami could hear the reports from their Kalashnikovs. The rebels used civilian houses as cover and, at one point, trapped soldiers in an alleyway and shot them all.
By late afternoon, though, the advantage had shifted to the army. Soldiers left their tanks to circumvent the I.E.D.’s and fought their way to the center of town. They surrounded a house full of rebels, a few of whom climbed to the roof to signal surrender. The troops responded with heavy fire, killing almost everyone inside and out.
By sunset, soldiers returned to their tanks or were billeted in homes (both sides, lacking night-vision goggles, avoided fighting after dark). The rebels regrouped in a house on the town’s edge. There Rami learned that his brother had been killed.
A short while later, his mother sent word to him that soldiers had found the shelter where Taftanaz’s women were hiding. They threatened to take revenge on the women if the fight continued. Dejected and cornered, the men voted to retreat. By sunrise, there were no rebels left.
Saleh Ghazal, a member of Taftanaz’s large Ghazal clan, was a stubborn man. After a sniper’s bullet struck his grandson Muhammad, a medical volunteer who had tended to wounded fighters, his family decided to flee. But the old man insisted on staying behind. He would mourn in his own way, he said, in the home he had grown old in, in the town his grandson had died for. And besides, he figured, the army would have no interest in an eighty-two-year-old.
On the morning of April 4, soldiers from the 76th Armored Brigade returned to town. They came with officials from the Military Intelligence Directorate and armed Alawite civilians referred to as shabeeha. When soldiers burst through Saleh Ghazal’s front door, he hid upstairs in his bedroom. They raced from room to room, shouting out the names of his family members, loudly enough for neighbors to hear. When they found Ghazal, they shot him, then lit his corpse on fire. As it burned, they went downstairs and wrote a message on the wall in silver paint: NOBODY CONTROLS SYRIA EXCEPT BASHAR. Then they doused the floors with gasoline and set the place ablaze.
The soldiers visited every house in the neighborhood. As they neared Mustafa Ahmed Ahad’s place, he went into the bathroom and locked the door. Soldiers ransacked the house and set it on fire. A few days later, Mustafa’s eighty-seven-year-old father, Ahmed, returned to find his house a pile of blackened rubble and his son missing. Eventually he found Mustafa’s charred remains buried under slabs of fallen concrete. “He was poor, he was a worker,” the elder Ahad said. “He was a grandfather, he didn’t go to demonstrations.”
A large number of women, the elderly, and aid workers had taken refuge in the basement of Rahim Ghazal’s centrally located home. “They broke into the house and found the door to the basement,” one of the women told me. “The gunmen ordered everyone upstairs and took the men with them for questioning. They ordered us to go back downstairs, and then we heard gunfire.”
Government forces dragged nine men and boys outside, lined them up against a wall, and executed them. The soldiers came back to the basement and selected five additional men, then took them to a nearby shop, where they were lined up and executed. Two volunteers for the Red Crescent were shot in the yard outside Ghazal’s house. By the time Syrian troops left that evening, there was not much left of Taftanaz. In each house, the story was the same: any male who was found was summarily executed, and his house was burned.
At least forty-nine civilians were killed in the massacre, and nearly 500 houses were destroyed. On my second day in town, I saw a crowd of wailing women surrounding a pickup truck. In the back, flies swarmed around a tar-black decomposing body. The missing flesh above the mandibles exposed what looked to be a set of gold teeth. A group of men pushed a teenage girl toward the truck; upon seeing the teeth, she crumpled with a shriek of recognition. It was Jamil Setoot, an office worker who had been heading to his job in Aleppo on the morning of April 3. As he waited by the highway for a taxi, soldiers were moving into Taftanaz. They shot him and tossed him into a field, then killed the cows and sheep in the area for good measure. When the property’s owner returned days later he found Setoot’s body lying among the animal carcasses.
I went to Abu Malek’s home and found that it, too, had been burned to the ground. After relatives cleared the rubble, they found a body too badly disfigured to identify. They added it and about thirty others to a mass grave on the town’s edge. Many of the tombstones there mark the remains of Malek’s relatives. At some point during the killing, locals watched as a Syrian soldier refused to carry out an order and was executed. They retrieved his body later and interred him in the mass grave, marking his tombstone simply as SOLDIER.
A second mass grave sat on the opposite side of town, where more corpses are buried, rebels alongside civilians. Next to it, a large hole had been dug. A little boy was playing nearby, and when he saw me peering into the hole, he pointed to it and said, “For when they come back.”
Ibrahim Matar served in the army unit that put down the early protests in Daraa. He didn’t believe the government’s assertions that the protests were organized by Al Qaeda, but he felt it was too dangerous to desert. When he finished his service, in November 2011, he came home to a transformed Taftanaz: ordinary people were running the town. “It was like a renaissance,” he said, “a new look at life.”
During the massacre, he fought alongside the rebels and then abandoned the town at night. When he returned to his scorched home, he headed straight for his prized library. “I saw the burned paper,” he told me, “and tears came to my eyes.” He had been studying for a master’s degree in English translation and had maintained the library for years, collecting books by Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett. “Some say Godot is God,” he said, “but I say he is hope. Our revolution is now waiting for Godot.”
Matar brought me to a mosque that sits next to one of the mass graves. Inside, there were heaps of clothes, boxes of Turkish biscuits, and crates of bottled water. An old bald man with a walrus mustache studied a ledger with intensity while a group of old men around him argued about how much charity they could demand from Taftanaz’s rich to rebuild the town. This was the public-affairs committee, one of the village’s revolutionary councils. The mustached man slammed his hands on the floor and shouted, “This is a revolution of the poor! The rich will have to accept that.” He turned to me and explained, “We’ve gone to every house in town and determined what they need”—he pointed at the ledger—“and compared it with what donations come in. Everything gets recorded and can be seen by the public.”
All around Taftanaz, amid the destruction, rebel councils like this were meeting—twenty-seven in all, and each of them had elected a delegate to sit on the citywide council. They were a sign of a deeper transformation that the revolution had wrought in Syria: Bashar al-Assad once subdued small towns like these with an impressive apparatus of secret police, party hacks, and yes-men; now such control was impossible without an occupation. The Syrian army, however, lacked the numbers to control the hinterlands—it entered, fought, and moved on to the next target. There could be no return to the status quo, it seemed, even if the way forward was unclear.
In the neighboring town of Binnish, I visited the farmers’ council, a body of about a thousand members that set grain prices and adjudicated land disputes. Its leader, an old man I’ll call Abdul Hakim, explained to me that before the revolution, farmers were forced to sell grain to the government at a price that barely covered the cost of production. Following the uprising, the farmers tried to sell directly to the town at almost double the former rates. But locals balked and complained to the citywide council, which then mandated a return to the old prices—which has the farmers disgruntled, but Hakim acknowledged that in this revolution, “we have to give to each as he needs.”
It was a phrase I heard many times, even from landowners and merchants who might otherwise bristle at the revolution’s egalitarian rhetoric—they cannot ignore that many on the front lines come from society’s bottom rungs. At one point in March, the citywide council enforced price controls on rice and heating oil, undoing, locally, the most unpopular economic reforms of the previous decade.
“We have to take from the rich in our village and give to the poor,” Matar told me. He had joined the Taftanaz student committee, the council that plans protests and distributes propaganda, and before April 3 he had helped produce the town’s newspaper, Revolutionary Words. Each week, council members laid out the text and photos on old laptops, sneaked the files into Turkey for printing, and smuggled the finished bundles back into Syria. The newspaper featured everything from frontline reporting to disquisitions on revolutionary morality to histories of the French Revolution. (“This is not an intellectual’s revolution,” Matar said. “This is a popular revolution. We need to give people ideas, theory.”)
Most opposition towns elect a delegate to one of the fifty or so district-wide councils across the country. At the next level up is the Syrian Revolution General Command, the closest thing to a nationwide revolutionary institution. It claims to represent 70 percent of the district-wide councils. The SRGC coordinates protests and occasionally gives the movement political direction: activists in Taftanaz told me that they sometimes followed its suggestions concerning their publications.
The SRGC sends representatives to the Syrian National Council, the expatriate body based in Turkey that has been Washington’s main interlocutor, but the relationship between the two organizations is complicated, and many in Taftanaz expressed their disdain for the SNC. “Who are they?” Omar asked me. “What have they done? They are busy talking to foreigners but they don’t know the situation inside Syria.”
I asked Elizabeth O’Bagy, an analyst who studies the Syrian opposition at the Institute for the Study of War, about the U.S. approach to these two different rebel organizations. She said she doubted the usefulness of “supporting a group like the SNC, which on paper pays tribute to all the Western ideals we hold dear but has absolutely no legitimacy on the ground.”
Washington officials, however, have said they prefer to deal with known quantities like the SNC rather than the grassroots opposition, which operates deep inside the country and whose leaders usually stay anonymous to stay alive. To complicate matters, some towns have competing councils. The various bodies have only recently begun to formalize their vision of a post-Assad society, even if their constituent elements are already carrying this vision out in practice.
The village of al-Fua runs right up against Binnish. The two look almost indistinguishable—the same shabby buildings, the same patches of drying olive groves. But whereas Binnish is a town mobilized from top to bottom in support of the revolution, al-Fua is a Shia village, a rarity in the swath of Sunni countryside around Taftanaz, and its residents support Assad’s government.
Many Sunnis see the Shia and Shia Alawites as inseparable from the regime; the Shia and Alawites, for their part, fear Sunni reprisals. Revolutionaries in Binnish told me that their town had escaped the army’s northern offensive because they promised to massacre al-Fua if they were touched. Even Matar, with his talk of the French Revolution and equality, told me, “I have relations with everyone, with Christians, with Druze, with all kinds of people—but not with Shia.”
Liberal activists from Syria’s cities are dismayed at this divide, but theirs is a revolt so different from that of the conservative countryside that they seem, at times, like two different uprisings stitched together. The revolutionaries have failed to make significant headway in Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s two largest cities, where, despite a few recent bombings, the alliance of the industrialist aristocracy and the Assad security apparatus remains firmly in place, and where the well-heeled see the countryside awash in chaos (a Bloomberg headline from April read: “Syria Elite Dance to Dawn as Risk of Assad Collapse Fades”).
Rebels in rural communities have been pulled deep into asymmetric warfare, which has opened the uprising to more radical influences. Omar told me that Salafis, ultraconservative Islamists who have operated underground for years, have openly joined the revolt in Binnish, although “they keep to themselves.”
On the way back to the border, our driver celebrated the Sunni fighters and sang songs poking fun at the Shia, Iran, and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Omar had arranged for his comrades to take me back to Turkey while he stayed on in Binnish to prepare the next issue of Revolutionary Words. Darkness had fallen, the army offensive had given way to a shaky ceasefire, and rebels thought they had the roads to themselves. But when we approached a checkpoint, it wasn’t clear whether it was controlled by rebels, by the army, or by the Alawite shabeeha. The driver swerved abruptly onto the shoulder and sent one of the passengers into a nearby village to fetch another vehicle, which carried me onward via side roads while the first car headed through the checkpoint as a decoy.
We reached the border just after dawn. I ran across a field with a Syrian refugee family at my side, heading toward a barbed-wire fence. We found a gap and crawled through to Turkey.
When I handed Abu Malek my notebook filled with the names of the Taftanaz dead, he fell silent. After a while, he said, “I feel like I am about to burst.” He pointed to the names: “He was just a teacher; he had a small piece of land, that’s all; I had spoken to him just last week.” Nineteen members of Malek’s family had been killed.
Later that day, another relative from Taftanaz made it across the border to report that seven more bodies had been found, some of them apparently executed in a lineup. “Before, I just wanted to kill Bashar al-Assad,” Malek said. “But now I must kill all of his family.”
Had it been wise for the guerrillas to try to defend Taftanaz rather than retreat, as they had in other towns? It was a question that Malek said Riad al-Asaad, leader of the Free Syrian Army, had put to him at their headquarters in a Turkish border camp. “I shouted at him, ‘Who are you to ask me anything?’ ” Malek recalled. “ ‘You sit here and eat and sleep and talk to the media! We’re inside, we aren’t cowards like you.’ ”
Malek called the Free Syrian Army a “fiction” meant to give Western governments an impression of unity. When I asked Ibrahim Matar’s commander in Taftanaz about the FSA leadership, he answered, “If I ever see those dogs here I’ll shoot them myself.” The Turkey-based commanders exert no control over armed rebel groups on the inside; each of the hundreds of insurgent battalions operate autonomously, although they often coordinate their activities.
The ceasefire barely held up for a day, and in June a U.N. official described the conflict as a civil war. In Turkey, Malek continued to raise funds and buy weapons for the Taftanaz rebels. Once, I went with him to a tiny office in a working-class section of Antakya, where he haggled with a man over the price of roadside-bomb detonators, the use of which Malek said he had learned from “a friend in another country.”
Some of the rebel groups had contacts with the United States, which was helping to coordinate the flow of money from the governments of the Gulf states. Others were developing their own patrons, a sort of privatization of the armed movement similar to what took place in Libya. Malek received a steady stream of visitors, mostly wealthy businessmen, from the Gulf. He knew that such pacts were dangerous, but he believed the exigencies of war demanded them.
Still, in Taftanaz the revolt felt intensely local. On my last afternoon there, as the muezzin’s noon call to prayer sounded, I walked through the town’s central square. It was Friday, the traditional day of protest in the Muslim world. You could feel everywhere the heavy atmosphere of defeat: the town had been reduced to heaps of rotting trash and broken concrete, and not much else. And yet after the prayers were over, men and boys left the mosques and headed toward the square. Waving the old pre-Assad Syrian flag, they chanted, “God loves the martyr! God is the greatest!”
The Syrian army’s helicopters buzzed overhead, watching. Protesters climbed atop the ruined buildings surrounding the square and waved their banners. This was the first demonstration since the massacre. Here and there in the melee men burst into tears as they saw friends and relatives for the first time. The protest was a ritual of survival, part of a revolution that seemingly can’t be won yet somehow refuses to be extinguished. On a mound of twisted metal and concrete shards that had once been a house, a group unfurled a banner that read, EVEN FROM THE RUBBLE, WE WILL FIGHT THE REGIME.
by Anand Gopal
(originally published in Harper’s)
Last month, video emerged from the Syrian town of Tremseh showing scores of blood-sodden bodies of children and adults, some with cracked skulls and slit throats, all of them purported victims of the Syrian army. As the camera panned across the grisly tableau, an anguished commentator read out the names of the dead and cried, “God is greater!” The Syrian National Council, an umbrella rebel group, announced that 305 people had been killed, making Tremseh the gravest massacre of the fifteen-month-long uprising. Hillary Clinton decried this “indisputable evidence that the regime murdered innocent civilians,” and the United Nations issued its strongest condemnation of Syria to date.
Anand Gopal writes frequently about the Middle East and South Asia. He is the author of “Welcome to Free Syria,” in the August 2012 issue of Harper’s Magazine. His book about the war in Afghanistan is forthcoming from Henry Holt.
But there was a problem—no one had actually visited the town. The New York Times,for instance, reported the story from Beirut and New York, relying solely on statements and video from anti-Assad activists and the testimony of a man from “a nearby village” who visited the scene afterward. When the first U.N. investigators arrived two days later, they uncovered a very different story. Instead of an unprovoked massacre of civilians, the evidence pointed to a pitched battle between resistance forces and the Syrian army. Despite rebel claims that there had been no opposition fighters in Tremseh, it turned out that guerrillas had bivouacked in the town, and that most of the dead were in fact rebels. Observers also downgraded the death toll to anywhere from forty to a hundred.
The battles of the Syrian revolution are, among other things, battles of narrative. As I recount in “Welcome to Free Syria,” the regime has indeed committed grievous massacres, including one I saw evidence of in the northern town of Taftanaz. The Assad government also puts forth a narrative—the country is under siege from an alliance of criminal gangs, Al Qaeda, and the CIA—that is quite removed from reality. Yet there is also a powerful pull in the West to order a messy reality into a simple and self-serving narrative. The media, which largely favors the revolution, has at times uncritically accepted rebel statements and videos—which themselves often originate from groups based outside the country—as the whole story. This in turn provides an incentive for revolutionaries to exaggerate. A Damascus-based activist told me that he had inflated casualty numbers to foreign media during the initial protests last year in Daraa, because “otherwise, no one would care about us.”
Some in the West are equally uncritical in their skepticism toward the revolutionaries. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, recently declared that as many as a quarter of Syrian rebel groups may be inspired by Al Qaeda—which, according to those who have been inside and met the resistance, is simply not the case. Al Qaeda–style groups can be found among the revolutionaries, but they remain rare. Moreover, radical Islam is far more complex than Washington tends to appreciate. I’ve met beer-guzzling Syrian rebels who carried the black Al Qaeda flag, but for whom this was no contradiction: Islamist stylings in Syria are typically part performance vocabulary, part unifying norm in a riven society, part symbolic invocation of guerrilla struggle in a post–Iraq War world, and part expression of pure faith.
How do we pick through the signaling? There’s still no substitute for on-the-ground reporting (another recent New York Times article that was reported entirely outside Syria sounded alarm at Al Qaeda taking “a deadly new role in the conflict”). But we also need to examine our epistemic framework for the revolution. Syrians are fighting for complex reasons that often do not conform to the way Western leaders have ordered their knowledge of the world: “moderate” versus “extremist” or Western-style democracy versus dictatorship. As my feature illustrates, some of the revolutionaries have established councils that look unlike our institutions, but that are deeply democratic in their own way. Others adore Western-style social liberalism but scoff at the West’s free-market ethos. Others seek some variety of religious law. And most probably don’t know yet what they want, except to live in dignity, free from political and economic repression.
But the complexity doesn’t end there, because, as I realized during my visit, the revolutionaries themselves face a powerful need to order facts in certain ways. The rebels I met in Idlib Governorate spoke of every defeat they suffered as a tactical retreat. Or they insisted that their uprising was supported by all minorities, even as it was becoming unmistakably sectarian. Such claims are designed in part, to be sure, for foreign consumption, but they also serve the rebels themselves. They create value and meaning in what might otherwise be a state of anomie, cohering people around a just and fruitful cause even as families are slaughtered and the regime stands unbroken. Following a devastating series of defeats in northern Syria this spring, I asked a rebel commander there whether he thought Assad would ever fall. “Of course,” he replied. “I know we will win—otherwise, why would we still fight?”
Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini is a legal anthropologist specializing in Islamic law, gender, and development. She is currently Professorial Research Associate at the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Law, University of London. In this lecture, Dr. Mir-Hosseini explores the Islamic feminist movement’s potential for changing the terms of debates over Islam and gender, arguing that the real battle is between patriarchy and despotism on the one hand, and gender equality and democracy on the other.
- On The Social Construction of Gender (ucsc.uloop.com)
For each woman that is imprisoned, another will take her place and swell the ranks of the women’s movement. –Shrine Ebadi, Iranian Noble Peace Prize winner, 2004.
The stories of sweeping reform across the Middle East has captured the attention of many of us. In this week’s Weekly Rights Podcast, Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch, talks to the Campaign about the effect that Arab Spring has had, and will have, on women. She talks about her new book, The Unfinished Revolution, which is a collection of women’s stories of struggle and defiance from around the world. Her book includes essays from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and women’s rights activist and member of the One Million Signatures Campaign Sussan Tahmasebi, who discuss the status of women in Iran. Minky also discusses the role of women in the protests and uprisings in Iran, and how they have affected women in the Arab Spring.
- Women’s Rights and the Dilemma of Arab Spring (psawomenpolitics.wordpress.com)
Originally from Lebanon, As’ad AbuKhalil is professor of political science at California State University, a well known commentator on Arabic TV stations such as Al-Jazeera, and runs a popular blog, which he writes in English, called The Angry Arab News Service.
He is known for his radical leftist political stances and, in particular, his emphatic support for the Palestinian struggle. However, he has recently received criticism from readers and former fans for his stance on Syria (he is against both the Assad regime and the opposition’s Syrian National Council).
In January, AbuKhalil was in the UK for a speaking tour of university Palestine societies titled “The Case Against Israel”. The day before his first talk at Goldsmiths University, I sat down with the professor in an Edgware Road cafe to discuss his thoughts on the Palestine solidarity movement, the historical significance of the boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, the uprising in Syria, as well as other regional developments. I started off by asking him about his speaking tour.
As`ad AbuKhalil: I am going around to speak on making the case against Israel. I’m not going to be making any qualifications, or any disclaimers. I think I am of a generation who have seen too many Arab intellectuals, particularly in the United States, who used to get awkward and nervous whenever, after giving a long talk about the Palestinians, they are faced with a Zionist in the audience who would ask them: “But do you accept the existence of Israel?” And I’ve seen so many famous names dance around that question… I have become influenced by it in a way to be very categorical about it. When I started speaking publicly about Palestine in the United States, in the first few cases I was confronted by these same people who would stand up and say “But do you recognise the state of Israel?” And to that I would answer “Of course I wouldn’t!”
Asa Winstanley: So they don’t bother now?
AA: That never comes [up] anymore! And I felt like: that was so easy, why didn’t they all do that before? Since Oslo there is a trend in the pro-Palestinian community, particularly those with links to the PLO, to make the case for Palestine palatable with a case for Zionism. And that’s why I am here to oppose it.
AW: Why do you think Israel seems to be so sensitive to the boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement?
AA: Since I left Lebanon in 1983, I have seen an erosion in the standing of Israel, especially in the eyes of Western liberals. When I left, these were the hardcore supporters… Public opinion in Europe has markedly changed over the last few decades. So much so that in almost all countries, even Germany, there is more support for Palestinians than for Israelis.
In Russia, after the rise of the supposed Islamic fundamentalist threat over there, there has been in fact a rise in the support for Israel, but if you talk about Scandinavian countries, or England, or France, and so on. I mean the public opinion is now, in England, more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli when they are asked that question. But now of course that does not translate into the political parties of the House of Commons or places like that.
In America, it has remained the same. It’s still 63 percent for Israel, versus [about] 12 or 13 percent for Palestinians. But what has changed even in America is that the bedrock of support for Israel has shifted from American liberals to hardcore Southern Baptists, Republicans, conservatives. So Israel is aware that they have an image problem, that they did not used to have a few decades ago, and they are particularly sensitive about college campuses… Why? Because they know this is their future generation of leaders, and if this bug gets to spread all around, it’s going to be hurting Israel in the long term. Assuming Israel’s going to be around by the time they reach power. In America, of course, there is such a big gap between college campus activism on Palestine (or any matter) and the very closed, conservative nature of Congress, that Israelis have less to worry about – and yet they seem to be worried.
AW: Why do you think BDS has taken off so much in the last five to six years?
AA: Israel does not do the just thing in the new world after the Cold War. Zionists still operate the way it did back in the 1880s, when they arrived in Palestine. They still use the same brazen and blatant racist resort to war crimes and massacres that they used all along, and I think they realise that it is much more shocking and horrific by the standards of today, and as a result there is an avalanche of reaction against Israel that has been generated in Western countries.
AW: What are the differences between the BDS movement in its modern form, and the more historical Arab boycott of Israel?
AA: The Arab boycott of Israel was much more strict… On the popular level it is [still] extremely strict: refusal of travel to Israel for any purposes – tourism of any form… There are disagreements about the visits, for example, some believe that if you go to Palestinian areas for activism and you can stay in Palestinian areas, spend money there and it’s fine, as long as you boycott any companies who trade with Israel.
The Arab boycott has been extremely effective – the loosening of it has been at the official level. When I was growing up, there was this simultaneous double boycott of Israel. There was the popular level that did not need any instruction, and then there was the official level, which was bad… So the BDS movement is a continuation, I think, of an Arab League official plan.
AW: What is your opinion of activists, quite often from Europe and America, who go to occupied Palestine?
AA: I have no problems with that whatsoever. I have a distinction made about Arabs who go there – those who have Arab citizenship, even if they have a passport from elsewhere. I am not against Palestinians who hold citizenship in America to go to Palestine, because that’s their home. But as long as Israel is occupying the land, and to abide by the Arab League boycott of Israel, I still believe we should adhere, and that all Arab citizens should not pass through Israeli soldiers’ checkpoints to enter into Palestine. If you do, it’s in areas where you do not have to go through them.
AW: So what’s the material difference there?
AA: That we have an Arab League boycott. The Arab League never did anything good! But they did [make] this plan of boycott of Israel, which I believe is something we should support.
AW: Many activists who go to Palestine are actually from Sweden, Norway, Scandinavian countries.
AA: Amazing. Those countries, when you go there, sometimes if you will stay for a week you will see a demonstration about Palestine somewhere – posters about Palestine everywhere – it’s amazing. Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands – it’s advanced. Over there, being pro-Palestinian is becoming part of the definition of being a leftist. I mean it’s easy to be a leftist against war in general – the John Lennon version. The challenge is to be a leftist in a way that puts real challenge to the powers of government and the super powers around the world, because you can really expose the hypocrisy on the question on Palestine. This is why Palestine becomes more symbolic for many activists. It’s not only about Palestine, it’s about the hypocrisy of the Western world.
AW: I think I read in one interview a Scandinavian activist saying that Palestine had become the Vietnam of our time.
AA: Yes, absolutely. And I’m glad that Jane Fonda is not on our side. Who wants her?
AW: Western activists who go to Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank will quite often come into contact with Israeli activists, some of whom are anti-Zionist. You’ve said on your blog that you’re against any contact with Israelis, basically. Is that a fair understanding of your position?
AA: This is not an easy position, but that is my position. I have taken that position for a while. [Once] I was giving a talk at SOAS here in London and my hosts were sitting with me, and one of them was a graduate student and it was clear that she is one of the activists on Palestine. So suddenly it occurred to me to ask her, based on her accent, I said: “Are you Israeli?” and she said “Yeah, I am”. I said “have you served in the army?” and then she told me yes, that she was an instructor in the Israeli army. And then I had to tell her, “Well, let me tell you my position: I cannot talk to you.” Everyone around her, even her teacher (and one of her teachers is a good friend of mine) are telling me that she’s a wonderful person, that she has made a radical transformation, and I said “But that’s my position.”
And it’s not because of ideological dogmatism that I take this position, at all. It’s really, like, emotional. I mean, I get bothered – I just get bothered. To be sitting and chatting with somebody, and then thinking that this person may have killed a brother or sister… You know, I just can’t do that. Even with Ilan Pappe – I was telling [my wife] Farah – I was with him on a panel once, I didn’t ask that question. He’s done great work, but he served, right?
AW: I read in his memoirs that he did.
AA: Yeah, and as a result I remember I made a conscious effort not to shake his hand. So it bothers me. There is one known Arab here, who has been an adviser to Yasser Arafat and I told him, I said: “Don’t you have a psychological barrier?” Because it’s huge in my case and I don’t want to cross it and he told me “I do, but I feel like I have to cross it for another purpose”… I mean it’s psychological and personal… and for me, I am not for the categorical rejection of anyone. I have elaborated a position which [laughs] which basically…
AW: You wrote on your blog you’re opposed to contact with any Israeli, except where they’ve taken armed resistance against Israel.
AA: … they are resistant against Israel, or if they leave the land. There’s this socialist, anarchist Israeli who keeps sending me email, and he wrote an open letter to me one time. I never responded to him, I couldn’t.
AW: So do you think Westerners who make contact with Israelis are breaking a boycott?
AA: Not necessarily. I’m not dogmatic about that. They have a different experience, and I know their motives are very good, and I’m sure [the activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer] Rachel Corrie, who paid with her life for the cause, had dealt with Israelis, and I’m not in any way going to to delegitimise what she does for that… But this is for me – I’m not in any way saying that this is national or international policy, you know, this is suitable for me, it may not be suitable for someone else. I know many Arabs who disagree with me. Farah disagrees with me on this…
AW: There is a difference between a personal opinion and a general boycott strategy.
AA: Yea, yea, of course. This is the suitable position for me. There are Arabs I know who are activists, who deal with Israelis and I don’t reject them in any way, I’m not judgemental like that. But for me, I cannot.
Farah Rowaysati: The BDS [movement] does not call for boycotts against Israelis as persons, it calls for the boycott of institutions.
AA: But I am for super-BDS.
FR: I’m against dealing with Israelis who are Zionists…
AA: One time I gave a talk in Berkley, and this guy came up to me and said, “I’m an Israeli and I really agree with everything you say, I’m going to go back and work for human rights after I finish my law degree for the Palestinians” and I was like “Well, you know I don’t speak to Israelis” and he said “Yeah I know, I understand: I just wanted you to know” [laughs].
I’m happier like this, you know what I’m saying? I have a huge psychological block… We come from South Lebanon, both of us, which is so directly affected. We both grew up in homes that are within a few miles from Palestinian refugee camps.
FR:We’ve experienced several wars.
AW: What do you make of Gilad Atzmon? He is an Israeli saxophonist – a jazz musician who expresses support for Palestinians.
AA: I have declared him an anti-Semitic person based on things I’ve read. And that upset many Western supporters of this guy, and Arabs. I have refused any contact with this guy and, you know me: I’m strict about many things… and one of them is refusing any association with anybody who has the slightest tinge of anti-Semitism. And he has more than a tinge of anti-Semitism – he basically, writes against –
AW: ‘Jewishness’ is what he calls it… He’s a strange character because he keeps cropping up every few years and there keeps being controversy about him. He lives here [in London] by the way.
AA: Oh really? Call me paranoid – I mean that, please do, call me conspiratorial – I know there are genuine anti-Semites who creep into our movement, but I do worry that there are some infiltrators who pose as anti-Semites to stigmatise the movement. I’m not sure which group he belongs to, but either way I don’t want him [around]. It would be funny if he was sitting here in the cafe, right now.
AW: [Laughs] With all this news about Israeli organisations that want to sabotage the “delegitimization” movement [like the Reut Institute], people are getting justifiably paranoid about spies or infiltrators. Especially in London.
AA: It’s legitimate to be paranoid. I have heard enough by people in the United States about their experiences in the 1960s and 70, and many of them tell me that the loudest big-mouths during the 60s and 70s were the ones who turned out to be turncoats, the ones who would say during meetings, you know: “Let’s go and bomb that building!”
AW: You recently commented on your blog about Hamas being “for sale”. What did you mean?
AA: Al-Quds al Arabi had this story on the front page in which [Hamas leader] Khalid Maashal was cited – he was under pressure by the Saudis, that they would not have any dealing with Hamas unless he cuts all ties with Iran. And he was quoted as saying something to the effect that “I would accept that, if Saudi Arabia was providing the same support that I’ve been getting from Iran.”
So to me that indicated that Hamas is up for sale. I have always been suspicious of this guy, and never liked him (I’ve always felt that he is leading the movement on the footsteps of Fatah)… Look how [Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza] Ismail Haniyeh, when he went for his tour recently, asked to stop in Saudi Arabia.
AW: So how do you think those comments are related to the wave of Arab uprising the previous year, and the rise to prominence of the Muslim Brotherhood?
AA: [Many Palestinians] are worried that the Arab uprisings are marginalising the coverage of the Palestinians, and I share that kind of worry. Ismail Haniyeh strikes me as much more sincere than Khalid Maashal despite my opposition to the ideology of the movement and its practices. On the other hand, I think they also want to take advantage of the rise of the horrible Muslim Brotherhood, and I think the lousy Muslim Brotherhood is one of the reasons why I find Hamas to be very problematic.
It is a by-product of the Muslim Brotherhood which has contributed really nothing to the struggle for Palestinians… Look at Rashid Ghanuchi [leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda party], who flies all the way to Washington DC to prostrate and speak before Zionist groups and offer to not include in the new [Tunisian] constitution an article that will ban normalisation with Israel — which tells you that they buy and sell.
AW: I put on Twitter that I was going to interview you, and I got several Syrians angrily Tweeting questions.
AA: On Facebook, if you read Arabic… both sides are very unhappy with me, and the Syrian regime side, they have a lot of supporters. And both sides are unhappy. What can I say? I have nothing to apologise for. If anything, I think the positions taken by the Syrian National Council have reinforced every single suspicion and doubt that I have harboured against them all along. I do believe there is a real conspiracy, and I believe there is an attempt to hijack a legitimate uprising against a repressive regime.
AW: One question on Twitter was: “How does it feel to be called a regime apologist?”
AA: If some intellectual goons of the Syrian National Council think that they can intimidate me or delegitimize what I do, by calling me a “regime stooge” or something like that, of course that’s not going to bother me, because I know myself. I mean, as long as I get a daily barrage of criticisms, and sometimes insults – not as obscene as the ones I get from the other side, but still from the side of the regime – I know where I stand.
When I was opposed to the Syrian regime in 1976 when they invaded Lebanon, to crush a great leftist movement at the time, these people who are criticising me now were not even born. So I don’t need any sermons about the stance against the Syrian regime. Their intellectual method is very clear. It’s quite funny, in fact – you may be opposed to the Syrian regime, you may call for its overthrow, you may support armed rebellion against the Syrian regime. But – if you don’t support the Syrian National Council, you are for the regime. What the fuck is that? It’s absurd. In other words, I want to reassure my enemies that their attacks on me and name-calling do not bother me in the least, and the more they come, the better. I want to make the life of my enemies miserable…
I don’t support the Free Syrian Army. Now I have received information that the Free Syrian Army of Riad al-Assad comes from the background of Hizb ut-Tahrir [a political-religious movement]. No, I don’t support that. I don’t support pawns of Turkish, Islamist intelligence. But the principle: I am in favour of the right of every Arab population to raise arms against its government. Absolutely, and I make no apologies about that.
AW: The Tunisian government as well?
AW: One of your criticisms of Al-Jazeera [the popular Arabic satellite TV channel owned by the royal family of Qatar] is that they now rely on anonymous sources a lot. Someone on Twitter wanted me to ask: “why then do you use anonymous sources on your blog?”
AA: I am not a newspaper. I am not a TV station. I am a blogger who is doing a very personal thing. I share whatever information I have, and even rumours. Sometimes I receive rumours and I share them with people. Sometimes they are true, sometimes they are not – and whenever I am given evidence that something I have put is wrong, I always say that I’m correcting it, and I don’t change it. I have a policy of never re-editing things I have posted after I’ve posted them.
On Al-Jazeera [Arabic], when they used to air Bin Laden’s tapes, they used to put the disclaimer every time: “We have not yet authenticated this statement” — even when it was very clear it’s Bin Laden! [But now] whenever they put various clips from YouTube, they never have any disclaimers…
AW: So don’t you think journalists might have reason to be using anonymous sources in Syria?
AA: I did not in any way oppose the use of anonymous sources in journalism. I was making the point about how Al-Jazeera is now comical. This is like a caricature of propaganda TV in the Arab world…
AW: What accounts for the shift? Is it purely [Qatari] reconciliation with Saudi Arabia?
AA: Absolutely… Basically, Al-Jazeera have become to me much more malleable, much more obedient in its service for the shifts in Qatari foreign policy than I’d expected. But it has become a campaign by Qatar and whatever Qatar represents… It has become so feverish, the campaign is so comical, it’s so lacking in credibility, and therefore lending an undeniable, unwitting hand to the Syrian regime.
AW: A final question on Palestine and Palestinian solidarity: what do you think is the main thing to focus on, strategically?
AA: Non-compromise on the total rejection of Israel. I believe the total rejection of Zionism in Palestine should be in the platform and the plan of every movement. I think all these attempts to reconcile Palestine and Israel, and “let’s live together as Israelis and Palestinians in two separate states” – all that is going to be at the expense of the lives and the cause of the Palestinians. And for me, any movement that does not reject – categorically – Zionism, is akin to a movement against apartheid South Africa that basically wants a reconciliation with apartheid, and there should be no doubt about that part. You know, we should insist on that part.
AW: Thanks for your time.
Eugenio Dacrema (ED): A Few days ago a new session of the National Dialogue council started in Beirut, hosted by the president Souliman. The list of issue which will be discussed is officially very long, but obviously the main issues are related to the recent events occurred especially in Tripoli, but also in Beirut. Why is Syria so important for the political stability of Lebanon? Can you draw for us a picture of what is happening? Continue reading
by: Ali Akbar Mahdi
The emergence of a women’s movement in Iran goes back to the nineteenth century when Iran was experiencing some major socio- economic changes. It was in the midst of the Constitutional Revolution that Iranian society experienced an organized attempt by women to change their social conditions. The penetration of European forces into Iran and the influence of European capitalism hastened the disintegration of the feudal social structures in Iran. With the European advisors, diplomats, and goods, there also came European ideas and life styles. The increasing contact with Europe awakened many educated men and women to the repressive conditions of Iranian women and led them to view these conditions as problematic and in need of change. It was in a spirit of change that Constitutionalists such as Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani, Shaykh Ahmad Ruhi, Mirza Malkum Khan and Mirza Fath Ali Akhundzadeh wrote about women’s right to education and the evils of polygamy and seclusion — ideas also raised by Qurrat al-Ain (Tahereh) in the context of the spread of the Babi movement in the mid-nineteenth century. Early criticisms of the plight of women in the country were also echoed in efforts and writings by Taj Saltaneh, Naser al-Din Shah’s daughter, and Bibi Khanoum Fatema Astarabadi.1
The Constitutional Period
The first episodes of the organized involvement of Iranian women in political activities are found in the food riots of the late nineteenth century: the opposition to the Reuter concession of 1872, and the Tobacco Protest (1891–1892).2 The Tobacco Protest was the first organized political opposition by Iranian merchants, intellectuals, and ulama (clergy) to the Qajar dynasty and foreign domination of the Iranian economy. It was the first of a series of collective efforts that culminated in the Constitutional Revolution of 1905 –1911.3
During the revolution, women organized street riots, participated in some fights, joined underground activities against foreign forces, boycotted the import of foreign goods, participated in the demolition of a Russian bank,4 and raised funds for the establishment of the National Bank.5 In the course of this national struggle, some enlightened women realized the potential of women for organized political activities and used the momentum provided by the revolution as a venue for bringing women’s causes into the open.6 Becoming increasingly conscious of the oppressive conditions of women, these pioneering feminists established secret societies (anjomans and dowrehs), commonly held by Constitutionalists at the time in order to discuss the situation of women by sharing their personal problems, experiences, and feelings. Two of the most important such early secret societies were Anjoman- e Azaadi-ye Zanaan (the Women’s Freedom Society) and Anjoman-e Zanaan-e Neqaabpush (the Society of Masked Women).7 The argument to give women the right to vote was made in numerous writings in papers
such as Sur-e Esraafil, Habl al-Matin, Mosaavaat, Iran-e Nu. In 1911, the representative from Hamedan, Vakil ul-Ruaayaa, proposed a bill in Majles that would grant women the right to vote and establish their own associations. These efforts were often countered by religious leaders who saw such suggestions as contrary to the laws of Islam. Two major figures opposing women’s liberation at this time were religious figures Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri and Seyyed Ali Shushtari, who both saw schooling for girls as detrimental to women’s status and against religious principles.8 Since Qurrat al-Ain had converted to the Babi religion, Muslim female activists were often accused of being affiliated with Babis and of being subservient to foreign interests and cultures.
In 1906, the nationalist movement succeeded in establishing a constitution demanding the “equality of all citizens in law.” However, women were not included in the definition of “citizen.” They were instead put in the same classification as criminals, minors, and the insane. Religious leaders involved in the movement did not think of women as being capable of political and legal insight — a view shared by many male constitutionalists, as well. With the later setbacks in the constitutional movement and the suppression of activists, most associations and societies formed during the revolution fell apart; the majority of the women involved in the movement went back to their homes. The task of carrying the struggle was left to a few educated women who dedicated themselves to the development of an independent women’s movement concerned with improving the social status of women in the country. Finding themselves in an uphill battle, female constitutional activists targeted education as their primary battleground for improving women’s status. Despite the ulama’s opposition (and even harassment), efforts for establishing schools for girls succeeded in major cities such as Tehran, Tabriz, Mashhad, Rasht, Hamadan and others. In 1913, Tehran had 63 schools for girls and 9 women’s societies.9
The emergence of the women’s movement in Iran can be seen in the formation and growth of women’s associations and publications over a period of twenty years, from roughly 1910 to 1932. During this period, women established a number of organizations and published many weekly or monthly magazines dealing specifically with issues related to the conditions of women’s lives. Some of these publications included Daanesh, Jahaan-e Zanaan, Shekoufeh, Zabaan-e Zanaan, Zanaan-e Iran, and Naameh Baanouvaan. In the mid-1930s, there were 14 women’s magazines discussing women’s rights, education and veiling.10 Throughout these early developments, the movement remained dependent on the supportive efforts of influential male intellectuals such as Mirzadeh Eshqi, Iraj Mirza, Malak ol-Shuara Bahar, Yahya Daulatabadi, Abolqasem Lahooti, Ali Akbar Dehkhuda, Vakil ul-Ruaayaa, Ahmad Kasravi, Seyed Hassan Taghizadeh, and later personalities such as Saeed Nafissi, Ebrahim Khajehnouri, Rezazadeh Shafaq and Khalili. Using their writings and offices, these intellectuals advocated education for girls, freedom of women from seclusion, and the abolition of polygamy. The most influential women in the movement of this period included Mariam Amid Mozayyen ol-Saltaneh, Mah Sultan Khaanom, Sediqeh Daulatabadi, Khaanum Azmodeh, Rushanak Nudoost, Shahnaz Azad, Muhtaram Eskandari, Shams ol-Muluk Javahir Kalam, Huma Mahmoudi Afaaq Parsa, and Zandokht Shirazi.11
Among the most important factors contributing to the development of women’s organizations and the increase in their activities, in addition to the devotion of the early Iranian “feminists,” are (a) the emergence and spread of the Baha’i religion, which emphasized women’s freedom, (b) the influence of Western liberal thought on Iranian intellectuals, (c) the existence of Europeans in and their increased contact with Iran both before and after the First World War, (d) the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its influence on some Iranian intellectuals, (e) the emergence of the women’s movement in neighboring Turkey and Egypt, and finally (f ) the American and British women’s victories in achieving the right to vote in the late 1910’s.12
Reza Shah’s Period (1925–1941)
With the rise of Reza Shah to power in the 1920’s, the movement began to suffer the constraints of a newly emerging dictatorship. Being another patrimonial despot, Reza Shah had no tolerance for any independent and non-conforming organizations, let alone anti-patriarchal women’s groups.
Although he favored some changes in women’s status, as will be discussed later, he gradually pressured women’s organizations to withdraw their political demands and concentrate on their welfare and educational activities. The continual opposition to women’s activities by the ulama and the government forced many women’s organizations into closing to the point that in 1932, Reza Shah banned the last independent women organization, Jamiat-e Nesvaan-e Vatankhaah-e Iran (The Patriotic Women’s League of Iran).
In 1928, the parliament (Majles) passed a new dress code requiring all males working in government institutions to dress like Europeans, except the ulama. In 1931, the government introduced a number of changes in marriage and divorce laws. A bill was passed in the Majles that gave women the right to ask for divorce under certain conditions and set the minimum marriage age for girls at 15 and for boys at 18. This legislation, according to Amin, proved to be far more important than any other changes introduced by Reza Shah’s government in later periods.13 Efforts to support women’s participation in public affairs were expanded. The government invested a great deal of money and resources in the expansion of schools for girls.14 In 1932, Tehran was the site of the Congress of Oriental Women. A year later some Iranian women submitted Congress’ recommendations for electoral rights to the Iranian parliament. The Majles rejected this demand but the government began a series of reforms encouraging more protection for women in various social arenas. In 1934, Reza Shah initiated the development of a government- controlled women’s organization called Kaanoon-e Baanovaan (The Ladies Center), headed by his daughter Ashraf Pahlavi. This organization began a series of welfare activities designed to both depoliticize the women’s movement and create an image of women’s involvement and participation in society as a sign of modernity — the latter being a major concern of the new king.15
In 1936, Reza Shah forcefully ordered women to unveil — a decree that had serious negative effects on the movement. On the one hand, the ulama used the decree as proof that the women’s movement had no other aim than “making women naked” and “showing their bodies in public” — acts contrary to Islamic ethics. On the other hand, the state’s determination in issuing the decree and implementing it vigorously, despite widespread opposition by public and religious leaders, convinced many early “feminists” to support the decree as a “progressive” measure necessary for confronting clerical misogynistic approaches to women’s concerns. The success of the state in winning the support of women activists and some intellectuals resulted in further alienating clerics and a larger segment of secular intellectuals and activists from Reza Shah’s modernization program.
Mohammad Reza Shah’s Period (1942–1978)
World War II opened another page in the history of the women’s movement in Iran. The occupation of the country by the Allied Forces and the forceful abdication of Reza Shah from the throne weakened government control over the opposition and created an opportunity for the development of political parties and organizations. Again, several new women’s organizations emerged, of which the following were the most influential: Tashkilaat-e Zanaan- e Iran (The Organization of Iranian Women), Hezb-e Zanaan (Women’s Party), and Jamiat-e Zanaan (Women’s League).16 To these should be added women’s organizations affiliated with political parties: the Sazmaane Demokraatike Zanaan (Women’s Democratic Organization) of Tudeh Party, Nehzate Zanaane Pishro (Women’s Progressive Movement) of Society of Iranian Socialists, and Komiteh-ye Zanaan (Women’s Committee) of Nation’s Party of Iran (Hezbe Mellat). Women’s calls for freedom, education, the abolition of polygamy and the veil received enthusiastic support from intellectual men such as Mohammad Hejazi, Sadeq Hedayat, Ali Dashti, Mahmood Beh-Azin, Ahmad Sadeq, and Bozorg Alavi.17
The most important feature of women’s organizations in this period, in addition to their independence from government, as Sanasarian mentions, was “their close and inalienable association with various political parties.”18 Affiliated with the communist Tudeh Party, the Women’s League was the most organized with branches in many major cities. Women again became active in the national struggle against foreign forces and were even involved in the political events of 1945 in Azarbaijan. A new development in this period was the participation of younger females in the student movement in universities. Many women joined student organizations and took part in repeated demonstrations associated with political events in this period.
In 1951, two influential women, Mehrangiz Daulatshahi and Safeyeh Firouz, met Mohammad Reza Shah and appealed to him for electoral rights. In 1952, various women’s organizations again sent petitions to Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq, the Majles, and the United Nations demanding equal political and economic rights, especially enfranchisement. In all cases, these demands were met with silence in fear of opposition by the ulama.
After the CIA-engineered coup d’etat of 1953, the young Shah began to assert his power more aggressively. He eliminated all oppositional and independent political parties and organizations. Since most of the women’s organizations in the 1940s were attached to various political parties, they became subject to elimination by default. However, women’s organizations controlled by the central government continued to live and influence the nature and direction of women’s activities in the following three decades.
During this period, the government centralized women’s organizations, unified their leadership, and de-politicized their demands. According to Sanasarian, this was the “co-optation and legitimation” period of the women’s movement:
Henceforth, the women’s rights movement entered an institutionalized and legitimate sphere of activity in which demands were still made upon the authorities, but in this instance the changes asked for were in accordance with the ones received. In other words, women’s organizations did not make demands that could not or would not
be met; their activities were quite compatible with the government’s stand.19
In 1959, fourteen women’s organizations were brought under the umbrella of the Federation of Women’s Organizations — a federation later transformed into a new and more centralized organization: Shoraa-ye Ali-ye Jamiat-e Zanaan-e Iran (The High Council of Iranian Women). In 1966, the latter was again replaced by a new organization called Saazemaan-e Zanaan-e Iran (Women’s Organization of Iran) — an organization that lasted until the end of the Pahlavi regime in 1978. The organization developed branches in major cities with numerous smaller health and charity offices under its supervision. In the three decades of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, all women’s activities were channeled through these government-controlled organizations. These organizations were incorporated into the government bureaucracy and were basically involved in charity, health, and educational activities. The only political demand these organizations made was that of women’s enfranchisement — a right granted to women by the government in 1962 in the face of opposition by the ulama. Women’s political activities, like those of men, were banned and violators were punished with harassment, imprisonment, and even execution (the latter practice started in 1975).
From 1966 to 1977, women’s organizations and associations, as they were officially acknowledged and openly in existence, became apolitical, charitable, educational, and professional units under the surveillance of the state.20 However, the state remained the major source for change in the status of women — a policy supported by the belief that “. . . without the support of the modernizing state and its political organs, which were controlled by men, women’s rights are unattainable in an Islamic society. The law as the expression of the will of the state was indispensable to the securing of women’s rights in Iran.”21 Thus, access to education and work outside of the home was made easier for women, despite the lack of any serious efforts to create job opportunities for them. In 1967, the Shah expanded his White Revolution programs allowing female graduates to serve in education and health corps. A Family Protection Law was passed that set tougher conditions for polygamy, raised the age of marriage for girls to 18, put divorce under the authority of family courts, and created more safeguards against male vagary in divorce.22 The state continued to increase the number of women in executive positions, enhance their opportunities in the public arena, and appoint women as judges — a practice condemned by Shia theologians. A woman was appointed as the Minister of Education. In 1975, family laws were further modified to give women custody rights, ease earlier penalties against abortion, and offer free abortion on demand. In the same year, women’s affairs gained ministerial status and a woman was appointed to the position.
While important, these appointments were symbolic and minuscule in their scope. In the last 20 years of the Pahlavi reign, the number of women in managerial positions in the government never passed 2.8 percent (the same has been the case in the past two decades in the Islamic Republic).23 All these developments took place in an atmosphere of contradictions between women’s freedom and patrimonial repression. Women were appointed to executive positions in male-dominated environments with strong male cultures and structures. Imperial bureaucracy was a male institution intolerant of independent decision-making by women. Opposition to male decisions was not tolerated, especially on political issues. Opportunities came with limitations, social freedom with political docility. While at the end of the Pahlavi era (1978), 333 women were in local councils and 24 in two houses of the parliament,24 there were 323 female political prisoners serving time in Iranian prisons! In the last 7 years of the Pahlavi reign, 42 female guerrillas lost their lives in street fighting with military forces.25
The Revolutionary Period (1978–1981)
During 1977–78, when the movement against the Shah was formed, women again became a major force for change. To mobilize a strong force against the Shah, religious activists working closely with Ayatollah Khomeini, a formidable opposition leader against the Shah, tapped into the reservoir of religious women who had always supported them but remained secluded in their homes.26 Using religious themes and rituals glorifying women, especially those revolving around Fatima Zahra and Zaynab Kobra as symbols of resistance to unjust rule, the ulama were able to bring these women out to open demonstrations against the Shah.27 Seeing this massive outpouring of women against the Shah, some younger, secular, unveiled women resorted to the chador (veil) in a symbolic defiance of the Shah’s Westernized dictatorship and in solidarity with the massive women’s participation.28 Women of all classes and ideological persuasions participated in these anti-government demonstrations.29 Where some young women engaged in armed confrontations with police and military forces, older women offered them support and protection against police chase.30 The latter were mostly members of various underground political organizations such as the Organization of Iranian People’s Fedayee Guerrillas and the Iranian People’s Mujahedin Organization, both formed in the early 1970s. During the years 1978–79, the Women’s Organization of Iran was abolished, several new ones were established, and some old ones re-emerged. These included the National Union of Women, the Committee for Solidarity of Women, the Organization of Iranian Women, the Women’s Populace of Iran, women’s branch of National Democratic Front, the Association of Women Lawyers, the Women’s Society of Islamic Revolution, and the Muslim Women’s Movement. The latter two, along with a number of small but influential other associations affiliated with the Islamic Republic Party and other Islamic charities, represented Muslim women loyal to the Islamic revolution and the newly established Islamic Republic.
Once the ulama managed to establish their leadership of the revolution, they began laying the groundwork for the establishment of an Islamic Republic. Their first move in that direction was to condition the presence of women in the public sphere by demanding observance of religious laws and new ordinances issued by the clerics. Soon after the establishment of the Provisional Government of Mehdi Bazargan, Ayatollah Khomeini demanded the abolition of the Family Protection Act, ordered the implementation Sharia laws in the country, and issued a decree demanding women dress “properly.” A female vigilante group (dokhtar”an-e Zaynab) was organized to maintain state codes of female appearances in public (and even some private) arenas. Numerous boundaries separating men and women in society were erected: “males and females were separated in higher education classes that were once coed, females students were barred from 69 different fields of study, women were banned from some professions such as the judiciary and singing groups, and female students were barred from certain disciplines in the universities, such as engineering and agriculture. A decree dismissed all women judges and barred female students from law schools. Women were forbidden to participate in some sports and not allowed to watch men in sports fields.”31 The universal Mother’s Day was replaced with Fatima Zahra’s birthday (Prophet Mohammad’s daughter). The new Sharia laws gave men an absolute right to divorce their wives without having to produce any justification. Child custody laws were also changed in favor of men: after divorce, women are entitled to keep their boys only up to the age of two and girls until seven. After these ages, fathers have the right to full custody. Women’s judgment as evidence in court was declared to be worth half a man’s. Blood money for a murdered woman was set to be half that of a man. If a murdered woman’s family demands retribution in kind (qesaas), her relatives would be obliged to pay the killer’s family the full blood money in compensation.
Understanding the implications of these laws and what Ayatollah Khomeini meant by “proper dress,” i.e., “forced veil,” women responded massively and angrily: thousands of women poured into the streets and demonstrated against the forced hejaab (veiling) and the abolition of the Family Protection Act. Their protests were often met by club-wielding, plain-clothed supporters of the revolution known as Hezbollahis. On March 8, International Women’s Day, women staged another protest against the newly imposed restrictions. Again, mobs attacked their protest and government officials accused participants of being tools of Western imperialism and a symbol of Western decadence. In the course of a year and a half after the revolution, women’s organizations pressed for equal wages, the right to choose their own dress, the revival of protective measures in the previous Family Protection Act, and the right to work in legal professions. The regime opposed all these demands and developed counter-strategies to divide the women’s movement and neutralize their struggle. Thereafter, the regime moved quickly to suppress the women’s movement, eliminate all women’s organizations, force women into the chador, segregate women in public places such as universities, schools, and government offices, and reduce women’s presence in public life by firing and retiring practices (nearly 24,000 women lost their jobs).32 While secular women opposed to the veil or the Islamic Republic were fired from their jobs, active participation of religious women in supportive and “female” occupations was encouraged.33 The new religious laws and government policies resulted in the retirement of large segments of defiant secular women from the labor force, the arrest of women who openly challenged the regime, and the migration of a large number of women who could not adjust to the new policies out of the country. Female marriage age was reduced to 13 and professional secular women were encouraged to retire from their public occupations in order to support male employment.34
For the third time in the history of the Iranian women’s movement, Iranian women participated and contributed to the process of political change. This time, however, their participation resulted in divisions among women and mixed results for women of different ideology, social class, and religious backgrounds. In what follows, I will explain some of the reasons for these developments.
Sociological Reasons for the Failure of the Women’s Movement in the Revolution
The participation of women in the Iranian revolution of 1979 was historically unparalleled, both in terms of the depth and breadth of their commitment. Yet, their achievements were hardly close to the expectations that made such a participation possible. The reasons for this gap between women’s expectations and achievements in the revolution are to be found in both the nature of the revolution and the sociological characteristics of women’s movements in the pre-revolutionary era.
Although the Iranian Revolution was a popular revolution based on the aspirations and participation of various social classes for overthrow of a dictatorship, it was the clerical leadership that could successfully mobilize even the most conservative and traditional sectors of the society against the Shah. In the past century and a half of social movements in Iranian history, no secular political party has ever been able to mobilize traditional women as extensively as religious leaders have. Religious leaders mobilized the largest demonstrations against the Shah — demonstrations that included not only secular female activists, who had been in forefront of opposition to the Shah all along, but also large number of religious women who often avoided participation in the public sphere. Ayatollah Khomeini was able to successfully unite various segments of Iranian society against the Shah.
However, these diverse cultural, ideological, class, ethnic, and religious segments participated in the revolution, each with a different vision of post- revolutionary Iran. Islamicist women participated in the revolution for bringing about the establishment of an Islamic state based on Sharia. Secular women participated in the revolution in opposition to the Shah’s dictatorship. Women associated with Marxist organizations hoped for the end to the Shah’s regime as a puppet of Western imperialist powers and the establishment of a socialist state. The majority of women, not devoted to any ideology or political orientation, joined the movement against the Pahlavi regime in the hope that their country would be free of dictatorship, foreign domination, and alienating cultural attitudes adopted by the Pahlavi regime.35 Given this diversity of expectations and orientations and the strength of religious leadership and organization, it is obvious that the strongest party in the coalition would take the lead in imposing its own agenda on the revolution. That is exactly what Ayatollah Khomeini did, despite his earlier promises of working for a future democratic Iran.36
The most important division contributing to conflicting expectations from and outcome of the revolution is the division between secular and religious women. Secular women, mostly of middle and upper classes, were the major losers of this revolution. The religious policies of the new government restricted their access to the public sphere, forced them to comply with Islamic dress codes, limited their occupational and educational activities, and were harassed or arrested if they opposed the emerging Islamic ruling ideology. The same can be said of religious minorities whose cultural traditions and religious beliefs contradicted the imposed Islamic codes of dress, social interaction, and public appearance. While the Islamic Republic suppressed religious, traditional, and mostly poorer, women found the new opportunities offered by the Islamic Republic empowering. Traditional women, who were often banned in the past by their parents or religious authorities from having a presence in the public sphere, now found the dominant Islamic atmosphere in society less socially intimidating and more religiously acceptable. Furthermore, once sanctioned by the religious authorities, these women’s husbands or parents had one less excuse for not allowing their daughters or wives to participate in the public arena.
The failure of the women’s movement to gain what it had fought for was also due to its sociological characters. Despite my later argument in this article, the classical sociological models of social movement are not good explanatory theories for explaining the developments in women’s movements in the 1990s and after, I find these theories helpful for explaining the failure of the movement until 1980. In its pre-revolutionary stage, the Iranian women’s movement never developed the sociological characteristics necessary for a successful social movement — characteristics such as a well-defined set of objectives, planned regular activities, adequate organizational structures and networks, a stable and/or organized cadre of activists, a leadership, a widespread membership with a “we-consciousness,” a set of cohesive guiding values or ideology (identity), and clear normative expectations for social change.37 The overall historical atmosphere of social change at the time, everywhere and not just in Iran, was in conformity with the classical models. The women’s movement that emerged in early 20th century Iran and moved through various stages in the next seven decades can best be characterized as urban, elitist, and often ideological organizations and were structurally dependent on larger political parties run by males.
The movement was started by urban educated women and continued to target women in urban centers. The closer the movement was to the center, the more ideological and intellectual its activities were. The farther it went to the peripheral areas, the more charitable and health-oriented its activities became. Most female activists were urban women of upper or upper-middle class origin. The majority of these women came from families in which men were active participants in social, political, and cultural affairs. The urban and “high culture” lifestyle of these women continued to diverge sharply from those of women of lower and traditional classes, thus making it harder to create a critical mass in support of the movement. The strategies adopted by the movement also had an urban bias. Women activists often published pamphlets and magazines that were not accessible to the large number of illiterate women in rural areas. Most women’s organizations were so ill defined that they could hardly command the political resources necessary for their existence. While some were mere “paper” bodies, a few established relative wide communication networks covering several districts, towns, or cities. Given its dependence on political parties and the government, the movement lacked the autonomy and independent energy to act as a pressure group.
In the face of widespread illiteracy and lack of adequate communication resources, publication and consciousness raising were appropriate means of dissemination but could not reach the majority of women in traditional households. Although certain values and normative expectations were developed by some of the better-organized associations, they did not crystallize into a unified force capable of countering the prevailing religious ideology. The issues important to the activists in the movement often differed from those advocated by the state or desired by women of lower classes. By and large, upper and upper-middle class women saw the religious ordinances as obstacles to the improvement of women’s status. Middle class women demanded mostly educational opportunities and the right to participate in social activities, while for lower class women, health, sanitation, and welfare needs were the real “women’s issues.”
One cannot underestimate the role of the state and the religious institutions in weakening the independent women’s movement in Iran. The state and religion have historically remained two sources of “value- legitimation” in Iran, each struggling to maintain a monopoly on the legitimation process. The state countered the emergence of an independent women’s movement in two ways: on the one hand, it did not tolerate any independent movement and continued to suppress autonomous activities capable of challenging its monopoly of power. Women’s demands for independent action were perceived as a political challenge to the state and a provocative issue evoking religious opposition. On the other hand, the state saw itself as the “champion” of women’s rights and was a major source of social change in the status of women in the country.38 While it engineered desired changes in lives of women, it extended state power over women’s bodies and could not tolerate changes arising outside of its own control. This, in fact, complicated the task of most “feminists” and opposition forces supporting women’s rights during the Pahlavi era. If these supporters of women’s rights opposed changes proposed by the state, they were accused of siding with religious obscurantism. If they agreed with the state policies, they would find themselves on the side of a repressive state. As much as this political impasse was a reality, it was also a strategy actively used by both the state and clerics to discredit their oppositions. To change the status of women, opposition forces often find themselves forced to rely either on the state (during the Pahlavi era) or religious authorities (the Islamic feminists in the past decade in the Islamic Republic).
Another major difficulty for the supporters of the Iranian women’s movement in confronting patriarchal culture and structures has been its inability to openly criticize religious values supporting patriarchy — a general problem confronting most Iranian intellectuals and politicians even today. The strength of religious sentiment in the country, especially among the rural and traditional segments of the society, along with the existence of a large number of Muslim intellectuals who believe that “genuine” Islam is supportive of women’s rights, have compounded the task of open cultural debates on major national issues. Often, various organizations and feminist reformers employed religious edicts, albeit with a new interpretation favorable to their desired position, for demanding a change in the status of women. This non-confrontational strategy improved the chances of the movement for public acceptability and social legitimation. However, it also reduced its effectiveness in achieving its long run goal of equality of the sexes. By accepting the general framework of society, the movement put itself in the position of working within the very institutional framework laid down by the dominant patriarchal culture and, thus, became incapacitated in its effort to pose itself as a viable alternative.
Finally, the most paralyzing feature of the women’s movement in Iran up until the revolution was its dependency on the larger movements in society. Even the early women organizations during 1890–1930 period, which maintained their autonomy from political parties and the government, still remained dependent on the general conditions created by the national struggle against foreign domination or native despotism. The movement never attained the structural allowances necessary for full realization of its potential. Dependence on the government or general political movements prevented the movement from developing its own unique identity, especially during the 1940s and 1978–81 periods.39 In both of these periods, which were characterized by an increase in the number and activities of women’s organizations, women’s activities were organizationally too dependent on various political parties dominated by male politicians — a condition that put women in supporting roles in those organizations or as the “field hands” of the movement. As Tabari mentions, many of the women’s organizations during the early years of the revolution acted as fronts for recruiting female members for the parent organizations.40 It is only in post revolutionary Iran that we begin to see the re-birth of the movement with a new identity and higher degree of autonomy.41
The Rise of Islamic Feminism and the Re-birth of the
In the first decade of the revolution, the state continued to take away the rights women had previously achieved. Women were on the defensive and the state on the offensive. In the second decade, Iranian women went on the offensive and began to put tremendous pressure on the state to retreat. During the first decade of the revolution, the state used the war with Iraq (1980–1988) as justification for suppressing dissent and crushing active opposition. All oppositional and secular organizations, including women’s, were banned. Many activists opposed to the state, both men and women, were arrested, imprisoned, and executed. Those who could manage to leave the country migrated abroad. Those who could not or did not wish to leave the country chose to either remain silent or go underground. A number of secular women activists started underground classes and consciousness-raising meetings in a very hostile anti-secular, anti-liberal, anti-Marxist environment of religious fervor.42 The majority of activists concluded that organized activity was very dangerous and thus had to be used as the last resort, and only with extreme caution and adequate safeguards. A more realistic approach, more attune with the global changes taking place around the world, especially in the environmentalist movement, was generating individualistic defiance to state rules impinging on women’s personal lives — a very effective strategy in a non-democratic, misogynistic state where any challenge to the legal definition of citizenship rights endangers life and property of the individual. These forms of resistance included non-confrontational strategies for undermining the state’s power and diluting state dress codes and public appearance requirements.
With the end of the Iran-Iraq war and the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, new alliances emerged and groups pressed the state for changes in social and legal policies affecting women. These efforts became more pronounced after the presidential election of 1997 when Mohammad Khatami, with massive support from women and youth, was elected as the president. Many Muslim women who had participated in the war activities and had cooperated closely with the state came to the realization that the ruling clerics’ promises of equality at the beginning of the revolution had not come true. A group of liberal Muslim female activists were able to see for themselves that the policies advocated by the Islamic Republic represented “patriarchy in Islamic clothing.”43 They, along with secular women, began to problematize the equalitarian verses of Qur’an and hadiths (statements by prophets and imams) and question the monopoly of interpretation of these texts by male jurisprudents44 — an argument developed by Islamic feminists in other continents as well.45 These women, working in different arenas and with varied voices and tactics, cleverly used the conflict between various political factions within the clerical establishment to their advantage by pitting one set of religious interpretation of texts against the other, one faction of ulama against the other, and lay intellectuals against the clerics. They questioned prevailing gender segregation, unequal division of labor, widespread domestic violence, and the organizational and exploitative biases within the Iranian Islamic family. Becoming visible and demanding across the social and political spectrum, especially in media and politics, these women focused on the tensions, conflicts, and inequalities hidden within relationships in Islamic society. To look for opportunities within a misogynistic state, women focused on “their basic rights, security against the unyielding forces of fanaticism, and dignity in face of two decades of assaults on their identity and status.”46
While there has not been a homogeneous women’s movement in the classical definition of the term, in the Islamic Republic, there has been a rise in women’s activities in various sectors of society. What has happened in Iran can be described as a creeping change, much like what happened to women seeking the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the United States. The ERA failed but women’s penetration into the labor market, educational arena, entertainment industry, and politics brought them gains much greater in scope than those hoped for by the drafters of the ERA. In Iran too, despite the institutional barriers put in place by the Islamic Republic in cultural and interactional domains, women have pushed the imposed boundaries further out and made concerted efforts to penetrate various professions in the public arena, especially in the film industry, literary works, and mass media.
Although women’s participation in the labor force has not made much progress from that of the past decade (12.1 percent during 1987–1997), the female occupational profile has changed dramatically. Women are now found in commercial, industrial, educational, agricultural, cultural, political, and entertainment sectors. Given that electoral rights have been achieved, women are focused on equal opportunities in and access to leadership and executive positions, both in government and industry. In 2001, the same year, there were 500,000 employed women who either managed their own businesses or supervised other employees.47 Women’s achievements in education have surpassed men’s on many levels and in many positions. In the first decade of the revolution, enrollment in girl’s primary schools had a 50 percent increase. Today, 60 percent of girls of 15–18 years age are attending high schools. In 1998, 51 percent, and in 1999, 57 percent of students entering universities were females (only 25 percent prior to the revolution).48 The literacy rate among women is up to 80 percent. In 1945, only 1.0 percent of employed men and women had graduate degrees. In 2001, this number increased to 22 percent for women, and only to 7 percent for men. In the political sphere, women have opened more space for themselves. In local council elections in 1998, 297 women were elected to city councils and 484 to rural councils. In the social arena, women have had the biggest gains by becoming active in the entertainment industry, journalism, and literary fields. There are 13 women’s magazines publishing at the national level (Neda, Payam-e Zan, Payam-e Haajar, Zane Rooz, Farzaneh, Nameh-ye Zan, Nesa, Shahed-e Baanovaan, Al-Mahjoobeh, Al-Tahereh, Hoqooqe Zanaan, Jense Dovom, and Zanan) and numerous smaller ones in small towns and local areas. There are four student magazines published by university students (Zanaane Daaneshjoo, Morghe Sahar, Sahar, and Rastaaraan). There are three feminist magazines published on the internet (Zanaan dar Iran, Zanaan, Bad Jens).
All groups of women, Islamicist or secular, skilled or unskilled, educated or uneducated, and old or young have begun to show a higher level of awareness to their conditions and to demand more control over the processes of their daily living, their relations with their parents, husbands, children, and men outside of their kin. This awareness, and its subsequent activism, are aimed at ameliorating women’s social conditions, denouncing violence against women, resisting repressive policies of the state, and opposing discriminatory laws affecting women’s lives.49
While the strategy of women’s groups in pre-revolutionary periods was based on participation in a general social movement against the state, as expressed in anti-government demonstrations in the late 1970s and early 80s, the strategy adopted by women activists in the post-Khomeini period involves accommodation, negotiation, and resistance. These strategies are gradual, incremental, and penetrative. Women activists “move in diffused directions, focus on incremental gains, empower local groups, and aim for smaller but sustainable changes. They are concerned with tangible issues affecting their lives, such as the right of divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Suspicious of the ‘vanguardism’ and ‘practical rigidity’ of leftist and nationalist movements of earlier periods,50 post-revolutionary women’s activism has a ‘self-reflective’ dimension through which women become active agents in their own lives by recurring and reinterpreting the imposed structures and relationships.51 Women are less committed to totalizing ideologies, grand theories, and broad organizations. Instead, they devote more of their political energies to the localization of global values that remove parochial obstacles to their growth, preserve their identities and dignity against the assaults by the restrictive gender policies of the state, and prepare a taller stand from which they will make their next move.”52 For instance, ceaseless complaints by women against the custody laws have not changed the religious laws governing custody. However, it has forced the state to make enough room for women to reduce the negative effects of these laws. In 1985, the parliament passed a bill giving the right of fostership of a minor to the mother, if the mother is deemed competent by the court. Recently, women parliamentarians were able to convince their male colleagues to pass a bill equalizing the pension for male and female retirees.53 Currently, a major effort is underway by women activists, both inside and outside of the state, to have the Islamic Republic join the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
There is greater individualism in the current women’s activism than has existed anytime before in the past century — an attitude grounded in and fostered by the globalizing forces of modernity. The state’s efforts for imposing a collectivist identity on Iranian women backfired and gave rise to a desire to find a balance between the extremes of Western individualism and Islamic collectivism. More and more women are trying to de-couple their identity from group affiliations (i.e., religion, family, and ethnicity) to individual definitions based on their own achievements. A more pronounced aspect of this attitude has shown itself in less interest in totalistic ideologies, political power, and revolution among women activists. Liberal Muslim women, even those with Islamic revolutionary credentials, are very pragmatic about changes in Islamic laws regarding women’s status. While some of them avoid the label “feminist” for the stated reason that Islam offers them their full rights and no external ideology is needed for restoration of their God-given rights, some others do so due to political expediency.54
Secular women have become concerned about control over the definition of their identities and their bodies as ideological battlegrounds in the Islamic Republic, and the structures conditioning their lives. In response to the government’s rules for hiding their physical and social identities, secular women have creatively devised strategies for peeling off the layers of physical and ideological covers imposed on them. As one Iranian woman has observed, “Lipstick is not just lipstick in Iran. It transmits a political message. It is a weapon.”55 In a study of divorce in Iran, Zib Mir-Hossein shows how women manipulate the law, the court, and their facts in order to reduce the negative effects of religious laws on themselves at the time of divorce.56
Issues and interests energizing the new Iranian women’s movement are nuanced and varied. They include a greater awareness of human rights, individual rights, individual autonomy within marriage, family independence within the kinship network, and a form of national consciousness against the global diffusion of modern values. The movement can be best characterized as “collective action without actors.”57 It has gained the capacity to retransmit the domination of the state’s own contradictions by reversing its imposed codes of meanings, subject imposed boundaries to pressures and
inevitably contraction, and expose the restrictive nature of state laws by personal declaration of their cruelty through various mediums available to women.
As a new social movement, the current movement lacks the necessary ingredients of the classical social movements, such as clearly defined goals and direction, strong leadership, and necessary organizations. However, despite the lack of coordination between different forms of women’s activism in different sectors of society, thus little predictability associated with them, the gradual and evolutionary effects of these activities on both women and the Islamic state are undeniable. On the government’s part, this social activism has increased the cost of its social control, requiring higher energy and social investment at a time of declining effectiveness in policy and lower compliance by women. By effectively de-legitimizing state gender ideology, the movement has reduced state control mechanisms to the use of violence. Many legitimization tools used by the state in the 1980s have become ineffective. On women’s parts, their higher self-consciousness and self-activity has resulted in a penetrating change in the public’s attitudes towards women, especially within the government and media. Women’s activism, empowered by a higher level of awareness and access to education and modern technology, has put tremendous pressure on the Islamic state to ease up on its control and restrictions.
The past dependency of women’s activism on male organization has been replaced by a highly confident attitude and determination to fight this battle for women’s rights mostly by women themselves. Despite efforts by dominant religious intellectuals in Iran and Islamic feminists,58 women activists rely on women for fighting male domination and patriarchal structure rather than on men.59 The past experiences of depending on men, political parties, and the prior success of national struggles against dictatorship and imperialism have proven to be ineffective for achieving women’s emancipation. Change through executive order has been precarious and often undesired. Women are fighting hard through NGOs and civil society organizations to build steps necessary for climbing to the height of their strength and demands. Now, women are forming their own organizations, forums, and groups, away and separate from men’s organizations. “These organizations, groupings, and collective endeavors allow them to discuss universal and national issues from their own particularistic perspective so that their specific concerns receive focused attention. Working in all-women organizations may reinforce the separatist policies of the IRI, but is an effective strategy in a traditional society with sensitivity to male-female interactions. First, it makes it much easier for women activists to establish communication and interact with traditional women, who are less comfortable mixing with secular women. Second, it provides a shield against the government’s suspicion against women’s participation in organized activities outside of the home. Third, it helps to gain the support and cooperation of religious female activists who do not wish to cross the prescribed religious interactional boundaries.
Finally, it needs to be mentioned that the current movement is broad but uncoordinated. It is broad because it includes activities of women all over the country and in almost all sectors of society: secular, religious, modern, and traditional.60 Some women have discovered the potential power of traditional formations for achieving modern objectives.61 Religious circles, gatherings for holidays, athletic and sports gatherings, musical concerts, and mountain-climbing get-togethers have all been used as venues for exchanging ideas and meeting with other activists.
In the public sphere, women are pushing for space in city councils, parliament, ministries, and mid-ranking to executive positions in economic organizations. Moreover, the politicization of women’s positions in Iran, by both the Islamic government and its opposition, transforms every action taken for or against women into a new social energy for further change. Given the wide spectrum of women’s activities and focused demands on the state, the interaction between the state and women has become a major source of change in the country. However, despite the broad spectrum of women’s activism, the movement is diffuse and uncoordinated. Different sectors of the movement pave the way for the activities of the other sectors without any direct coordination. For instance, cultural and legal activities of secular women, such as those of Shirian Ebadi, Mehrangiz Kar, Shahla Lahiji and Simin Behbahani, created grass root demands that in turn gave direction to the political agenda of religious women working within the system. Many of the issues targeted for legislative change by female parliamentarians had been debated in the publications and forums of secular and Islamic feminists. These uncoordinated activities have a high rate of iteration, multiplying each other’s effect across a wide spectrum of the social scene.
Endnotes 1. See Nateq, Homa, “Negaahi be Barkhi Neveshteh-haa va Mobaarezaate Zanaan
dar Duraane Mashrootiyat,” Ketaabe Jom”eh, No. 30, 1979: 45–54. 2. Bayat-Philipp, Mangol, “Women and Revolution in Iran, 1905–1911,” in Lois Beck
and Nikki Keddie (eds.), Women in the Muslim World, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978).
3. Browne, Edward G., The Persian Revolution of 1905 –1909, (New York: Barnes and Noble Inc., 1910).
4. Kasravi, Ahmad. Taarikh-e Mashroteh-ye Iran (The History of Iranian Constitutionalism), (Tehran: Amir Kabir, Vol. 1, 13th edition, 1356).
5. Bayat-Philipp, Ibid.; Sanasarian, Eliz, The Women’s Rights Movement in Iran: Mutiny, Appeasement, and Repression from 1910 to Khomeini, (New York: Praeger, 1982), 19 –24.
6. For an excellent account of the rise of feminism in Iran, see Afary, Janet, The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906 –1911; Grassroots Democracy, Social Democracy, and the Origin of Feminism, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).
7. Sheikholeslami, Pari, Zanaan-e Rooznaameh-negar va Andishmand-e Iran (The Women Journalists and Thinkers of Iran), (Tehran: Muzgrafic, 1972), 143–52.
8. Bayat-Philipp in Keddie, 1978.
9. Quoted in Price, Massoume. “Women’s movement; A brief history 1850–2000,” The Iranian (www.Iranian.com). March 7, 2000.
10. Yaukacheva, M., “The Feminist Movement in Persia,” Central Asian Review, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1959; Sheikholeslami, 1972; Browne, Edwards G., The Press and Poetry in Modern Persia, (Cambridge: The University Press, 1914).
11. Bamdad, Badr al-Moluk, Zan-e Irani az Enqelaab-e Mashrootiyat taa Enqelaab-e Sefid (Iranian Women from the Constitutional Revolution to the White Revolution), (Tehran: Ibn Sinaa Publications, 1968), ii.
12. Sanasarian, 1982: 36–38.
13. Amin, Camron Michael, The making of the modern Iranian woman: gender, state policy, and popular culture, 1865–1946, (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida), 2002.
14. Arasteh, Reza, “The Struggle for Equality in Iran,” Middle East Journal, Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring, 1964.
15. See Mahdi, Ali Akbar, Women, Religion, and the State: Legal Developments in Twentieth Century Iran, Working Paper No. 38, Women in International Development, Michigan State University, 1983.
16. Woodsmall, Frances, Women and the New East, (Washington, D.C.: Middle East Institute, 1960), 80–83.
17. Yaukacheva, 1959. 18. Sanasarian, 1982: 73. 19. Sanasarian, 1982: 79. 20. Sanasarian, 1982: 79 –105. 21. Afkhami, Mahnaz, “Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran: A Feminist Perspective,” in
M. Afkhami and Erika Friedl (eds.), In the Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran, (London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1994), 14.
22. Paidar, Parvin, Women and the Political Process in Twentieth-Century Iran, (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 118–147.
23. Jahani, Maryam, “Jaayegaahe Zanaan dar Bakhshe Eqtesaadiye Keshvar,” (Women’s Status in the Economic Sector), Hoqooqe Zanan, Mehr and Aban, 1379.
24. Price, 2000.
25. Hajabi Tabrizi, Vida. “Tajrobe-haaye Zendaan-e Zanaan-e Siyaasi,” (The Prison Experiences of Political Women), Jense Dovvom, Vol. 10, Abaan, 1380.
26. Kar, Mehrangiz, Hoqooqe Siyaasi-ye Zanaane Iran (Political Rights of Iranian Women), (Tehran: Roshangaran & Women Studies Publishing), 1376.
27. Afkhami, 1994.
28. Azari, Farah, “Islam’s Appeal to Women in Iran: Illusions and Reality. The Post-Revolutionary Women’s Movement in Iran,” in Farah Azari (ed.), Women of Iran. The Conflict with the Fundamentalist Islam, (London: Ithaca Press, 1983).
29. For a discussion of leftist women see Shahidian, Hamed, “Zanaan va Mashye Siyaasiye Makhfi dar Iran, 1970–1985,” (Women and Secret Political Activism in Iran), Avaye Zan, No. 30, Autumn, 1997. Also, Higgins, Patricia J., “Women in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Legal, Social, and Ideological Changes,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 10, No. 31: 477–494.
30. For rural women supporting guerrilla women, see Hegland, M.E., “Women and the Iranian Revolution: A Village Case Study,” Dialectical Anthropology, No. 15: 183–192.
31. See Mahdi, Ali Akbar. “Reconstructing Gender in Post-Revolutionary Iran: Transcending the Revolution?” Middle East Insight, Vol. XI, No. 5, July-August 1995.
32. A look at employment data shows that in 1335 there were 573,000 employed women in the country. This increased to 1,212,000 (14 percent of labor force) in 1355 (two years before the revolution). After the revolution, this number first declined to 975,000 (8.9 percent) in 1365, and then picked up to 1, 765,000 (12.1 percent) in 1375. See, Jahani, Maryam, 1379. In a different table, Behnaz Movahedi reports these numbers as follows: 12.5 percent in 1345, 12.9 percent in 1355, 8.2 percent in 1365, 8.7 percent 1370, 9.1 percent 1375, 11.7 percent 1378. See Behnaz Movahedi, “Chaalesh-haaye Eshteqaale
Zanaan No. 21, 33.
dar Iran,” (The challenges of Women’s Employment in Iran), Hoqooqe Zanan, Farvardin, 1381.
See Sh. Saidi, “Daanesh Aamokhteghaane Zan va Baazaare Kar,” (Educated and the Labor Market), Hamshahri, No. 1394, 7 Aban 1376.
See Mahdi, 1995.
For a list of unfulfilled promises made by Khomeini, and reported by one of his revolutionary supporters, look at Ganji, Akbar, Maanifest-e Jomhuri-khaahi, 2002. Published on Internet at http://news.gooya.com/2002/09/10/1009-ganji-00.php.
37. Blumer, Herbert, “Collective Behavior,” in Alfred McClung Lee (ed.), Principles of Sociology, (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1951), 202.
38. Amin, Camron Michael, 2002.
39. For an analysis of women in Marxist organizations in the 1970s, see Haideh Moghissi, Populism and Feminism in Iran; Women’s Struggle in a Male-Defined Revolutionary Movement, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994).
40. Tabari, Azar, “Islam and the Struggle for Emancipation of Women,” in Azar Tabari and Nahid Yeganeh, In the Shadow of Islam; The Women’s Movement in Iran, (London: Zed Press, 1982), 16.
41. In this paper, I have characterized this movement as a “new social movement.” There are those who use the classical model of social movement and do not see a women’s movement in Iran today. See Shaditalab, Jaleh, “Ba-id ast keh dar Aayandeh-ye Nazdik Shaahede Jonbeshe Zanaan Baashim,” Zanan, No. 89, Tir, 1381 and Moghadam, Valentine, “The Two Faces of Iran: Women’s Activism, the Reform Movement, and the Islamic Republic,” in Betsy Reed (ed.), Nothing Sacred: Women Respond to Religious Fundamentalism and Terror, (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002), 91–104.
42. For the latest report on these kinds of underground educational groups, see recent reports about Azar Nafici’s secret teaching of Western literature in her home. Salamon, Julie, “Teaching Western Books in Iran, and in U.S., Too,” New York Times, March 30, 2003.
43. I am borrowing a term from Homa Hoodfar, “Bargaining with Fundamentalism: Women and the Politics of Population Control in Iran.” The article is found at http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/rt21/globalism/hoodfar.html.
44. Kian, Azadeh. “Iranian Women Take on the Mullahs,” Le Monde Diplomatique, Internet Edition, November 1996.
45. Mernissi, Fatima, Can we women head a Muslim, (Lahore, Pakistan: Simorgh, Women’s Resource and Publications Centre, 1991); Mernissi, Fatima, The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam, translated by Mary Jo Lakeland, (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co., 1991); Ahmed, Leila, Women and Gender in Islam; Historical Roots of a Modern Debate, (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992); Afshar, Haleh, Islam and Feminisms: an Iranian case-study, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998). For Iranian Islamic feminism, see Afsaneh Najmabadi, “Feminism in an Islamic Republic: ‘Years of Hardship, Years of Growth’,” in Yvonne Y. Haddad and John Esposito (eds.) Women, Gender, and Social Change in the Muslim World, (New York: Oxford
34. Women 35. 36.
University Press, 1998) and Nayereh Tohidi, “‘Islamic Feminism’: A Democratic Challenge or a Theocratic Reaction?” Kankash, No. 13, 1997.
46. Mahdi, Ali Akbar, “Iranian Women: Between Islamicization and Globalization,” in Ali Mohammadi (Ed.). Iran Encountering Globalization: Problems and Prospects, (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), 66.
47. Jahani, Maryam, “Jaayegaahe Zanaan dar Bakhshe Eqtesaadiye Keshvar,” (Women’s Status in the Economic Sector), Hoqooqe Zanan, Mehr and Aban, 1379.
48. Eric Rouleau, “Islam Confronts Islam in Iran,” Le Monde Diplomatique, June, 1999. 49. Ibid. 50. See Haideh Moghissi, 1994. 51. Kar, Mehrangiz.
52. Mahdi, 2003, Ibid.: 67. 53. Roshangari, Internet Edition, 2003.02.11. 54. See my interview with Azam Taleqani, “The First Woman Candidate for President;
An Interview with Azam Taleghani,” Pazhvak, No. 59, October 1997; and the declaration by the parliamentarian Fatema Rakei, that female Muslim activists should not be called “feminists,” Zanan, August 2000: 71. For a more nativistic approach to feminism by Muslim women, see Motie, Nahid. “Feminizm dar Iran: dar Jostejoye yek Rahyaafte Boomi,” (Feminism in Iran: In Search of Native Solution), Zanan, No. 33, Farvardin 1376.
55. Quoted by Farzaneh Milani in “Lipstick Politics in Iran,” New York Times, August 19, 1999.
56. Mir-Hosseini, Ziba, Marriage on Trial: A Study of Islamic Family Law, (London: I.B. Tauris, 2000).
57. Melucci, Alberto, Nomads of the Present: Social Movements and Individual Needs in Contemporary Society, (London: Hutchinson Radius, 1989), 75–8.
58. Although the Islamic feminists have been successful in putting pressures on religious male authorities for offering less rigid interpretation of Islamic laws, they have never been able to challenge the law itself or the right of male theologians in establishing those laws. Religious intellectuals, like secular intellectuals in pre-revolutionary period, keep emphasizing the primacy of citizenry rights over “women’s rights.” Abbas Abdi and Emadeddin Baqi express these views in an interview with Zanan, No. 58, Novemeber 1999. A recent interview by Mahtab Rahimi with a reformist, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh is also revealing, see Zanan dar Iran, Internet Magazine (www.womeniniran.com). See For a discussion of reformist views on women, see Farideh Farhi, “Religious Intellectuals, the ‘Woman Question,’ and the Struggle for the Creation of a Democratic Public Sphere in Iran,” International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society Vol. 15, No. 2, January 2001: 315–339.
59. For example, look at Hamidreza Jalaipour, “Ekhtelaate Maf-hoome Feminizm baa Jonbeshe Zanaan, baa eshaareh be Iran,” (The difference between feminism and women’s movement, with a reference to Iran) Nuorooz, No. 27, Khordad 1381.
60. Mahdi, Ali-Akbar, “Women’s Movement in Iran: Collective Action without Actors,” Zanan, No. 92, 1381.
61. Nahid Motie has emphacized this aspect of the movement. See Motie, Nahid, “Zanaan-e Iran: Harkate Tadriji, Solh-aamiz va Madani,” (Iranian Women: A Gradual, Peaceful, and Civil Movement), Zanan, No. 90, Mordad, 1381.
by: Hani Sabra
Ballot counting continues as Egypt’s first round of elections, in which a third of the country voted, comes to a close. We now know that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, with the weight of an 83-year old organization behind it, will come out on top. But the real surprise has been the success of the more hardline, ultraconservative Salafi Nour (Light) Party. Nour could capture roughly a quarter of the seats in the first round, and there’s no reason to believe that it can’t replicate that performance in the upcoming two rounds.
Nour’s success unsettles many moderate Egyptian Muslims, liberals, and Christians who fret about the potential impact on their personal lives. How will an Islamist-dominated parliament approach banking, tourism, and foreign investment? But Nour has probably unsettled the Muslim Brotherhood too. The upstart Salafis, who until recently did not participate in politics — many of them still say that democracy is “kufr” (non-belief) — have encroached on the Muslim Brotherhood’s traditional territory. Thus, an increasingly critical question in post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt is not how the liberals will fare against the Islamists; that’s already been answered. Rather, it is: Who wins the right to speak for Egypt’s Islamists?
There are roughly three main Islamist political trends in Egypt, and together they will form a supermajority in parliament. The Muslim Brotherhood represents the right-wing, conservative, pragmatic wing of the movement. The rising Salafis represent the more reactionary, uncompromising wing, and parties like Al-Wasat (The Center), who will be by far the smallest Islamist party in parliament, represent a third trend that seeks to emulate Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The three groups have legitimate reasons to believe they can seize the Islamist mantle and settle the question of who speaks for Islam.
With their electoral success and their unparalleled organizational skills, the Muslim Brotherhood is in a strong, but delicate, position. It remains unlikely that Egypt will have an Islamist-only parliamentary coalition, and electoral success strengthens the Brotherhood’s hand with non-Islamists parties, because it allows the Brotherhood essentially to dictate the terms of any parliamentary coalition that excludes Salafis. Non-Islamist parties may dislike the Brotherhood, but they understand that its leadership is essentially pragmatic and unlikely to introduce radical changes that impact the economy or peoples’ personal lives in the short term. The Brotherhood leadership has spokesmen who shave their beards and talk up the need for foreign investment. It also includes a senior Christian member.
But the Brotherhood has to move carefully and can ill afford to alienate the Salafis. For rank-and-file Brotherhood members, the line between a Brother and a Salafi is blurry. It’s almost certain that potential FJP voters chose Salafi candidates or parties at the ballot box. And more Brothers could jump ship if the Salafis illustrate that they better represent “true Islam.”
The Brotherhood is in a complicated position, trying to hew to the right in the provinces, while behaving “moderately” in Cairo and outside Egypt. In some cases, the Salafis and the Brotherhood will collaborate, but it will likely be a more competitive (and unpredictable) relationship.
Hani Sabra is an analyst in Eurasia Group’s Middle East practice.
by: Elizabeth Blair
Musicians have not been silent in the movement that brought down Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Perhaps the most popular song of the Egyptian revolution is by Mohamed Mounir, a singer so revered, he’s known as “The Voice of Egypt.”
The song is called “Ezzay,” which means “How come?” Dalia Ziada, a blogger and human-rights activist in Cairo, says Mounir compares Egypt to a lover in the song.
“He’s telling it, ‘I love you, and I know you love me, too, but you have to appreciate what I’m doing for you. I will keep changing you until you love me as I love you,’ ” Ziada says, adding that that’s exactly how Egyptians feel about their country. Mounir’s song was not played on Egyptian state radio, but the video is online, and it’s been watched hundreds of thousands of times.
Artists can often express the feeling on the streets better than anyone else, says Hani Almadhoun, who writes the blog Hot Arab Music. He says you can hear this phenomenon in Haitham Nabil’s “Sefr,” one of the first protest songs to be released. Sefr means zero; Almadhoun says Nabil’s message is that “Egyptians’ dignity became the equivalent of zero.”
A lot of songs have been inspired by the protests in Egypt. Almadhoun, who goes by the name Hanitizer online, says some songwriters are exploiting the opportunity.
“But the majority of the stuff,” Almadhoun says, “has been really good and drives the message home.”
One song that’s been very popular with Arab-Americans in the U.S. is called “January 25,” or “#Jan25,” after a trending topic on Twitter. Arab-American and African-American musicians living in different parts of North America contributed to the song. The first verse, which was written by rapper Omar Offendum, begins, “I heard them say the revolution won’t be televised / Al-Jazeera proved them wrong / Twitter has them paralyzed.”
“I wanted to open up that way because it symbolizes how a lot of people were hearing about this revolution,” Offendum says.
“#Jan25” has been viewed more than 100,000 times online. Offendum says he’s proud of the song, but that the real music that defines the revolution in Egypt was created on the streets there.
“The protesters were coming up with amazing call-and-response songs and chants on the fly, as Egyptians do, because they’re so creative,” Offendum says. “And to me, that’s the real true music of this revolution: the voice of the people.”
On the surface, when a group of Saudi women used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to organize a mass mobile protest defying the kingdom’s ban on women driving, it may have seemed less dramatic than demonstrators facing bullets and batons while demanding regime change in nearby countries. But underneath, the same core principles — self-determination and freedom of movement — have motivated both groups. The Saudi regime understands the gravity of the situation, and it is moving decisively to contain it by stopping the protest scheduled for June 17.
The driving ban stems from universal anxiety over women’s unrestrained mobility. In Saudi Arabia that anxiety is acute: the streets — and the right to enter and leave them at will — belong to men. A woman who trespasses is either regarded as a sinful “street-walker” or expected to cover herself in her abaya, a portable house. Should she need to get around town, she can do so in a taxi, with a chauffeur (there are 750,000 of them) or with a man related to her by marriage or blood behind the wheel.
Although the Islamic Republic of Iran could not implement similarly draconian driving laws after the 1979 revolution, given that women had driven cars there for decades, the theocratic regime did denounce women riding bikes or motorcycles as un-Islamic and sexually provocative. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proclaimed in 1999 that “women must avoid anything that attracts strangers, so riding bicycles or motorcycles by women in public places involves corruption and is forbidden.”
The Saudi regime, like the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the military junta in Sudan and the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, ordains the exclusion of women from the public sphere. It expects women to remain in their “proper place.”
Indeed, the rulers in Saudi Arabia are the most gender-segregated in the world today. In official ceremonies, and in countless photographs, posters and billboards, the royal family seems to be composed solely of men.
This desire to deny women entrance into the public arena is inaccurately presented as a religious mandate. Yet there is no basis for such exclusion in the Koran. On the contrary, in the early years of Islam, women were a vital presence in Muslim communities. They attended mosques, engaged in public debates and got involved in decision-making processes. Aisha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad, commanded an army of men while riding on a camel. If Muslim women could ride camels 14 centuries ago, why shouldn’t they drive cars today? Which Koranic injunction prohibits them from driving?
Gender apartheid is not about piety. It is about dominating, excluding and subordinating women. It is about barring them from political activities, preventing their active participation in the public sector, and making it difficult for them to fully exercise the rights Islam grants them to own and manage their own property. It is about denying women the basic human right to move about freely.
That is why the women defying the ban on motorized mobility are in fact demanding an eventual overhaul of the entire Saudi political system. They want not just to drive but to remap the political geography of their country.
These women know the value of a car key. Like the man who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square, like the unprecedented number of women participating in protests across the Middle East and North Africa, the Saudi women’s campaign for the right to drive is a harbinger of a new era in the region.
It may require decades to see an end to the Middle East’s gender apartheid and the political reconfigurations that would necessarily follow. One thing is certain though: the presence of women and men demonstrating side by side in the streets of Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria is a sign of more seismic upheavals ahead. Old categories have broken down and the traditional distribution of power and space is no longer viable.
The women demonstrating for the right to drive in Riyadh are seasoned negotiators of confined spaces and veteran trespassers of closed doors and iron gates. They are a moderating, modernizing force to be reckoned with — and an antidote to extremism.
Their refusal to remain silent and invisible or to relinquish their rights as citizens is an act of civil disobedience and moral courage. Their protest, and those of their sisters across the Middle East, represent a revolution within revolutions — and a turning point in the contemporary history of Islam.
Farzaneh Milani, chairwoman of the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Virginia, is the author of “Words, Not Swords: Iranian Women Writers and the Freedom of Movement.”