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In Iran, images speak

Civil resistance against the regime grows stronger.


By Parvin Ardalan

Funeral procession of Ayatollah Montazeri: Photo by Nima Fatemi.

T he pro-democracy

during

Aashura commemorates the death of


protest
movement in Iran was violently
attacked Aashura
commemorations on December 27, 2009.
repression, and the implementation of a
military state grow daily. The news pours
in. It does not matter where you are
located. On the verge of the new year, Iran
has transformed into one of the hottest
led to a large informal, diasporic
network that exposes the regime, acts
as a mediator for contacts, and forwards
news about Iran to the outside world, on
a daily basis. Today, the world watches
Mohammad’s grandson and many of his news stories, not only for the news media, the developments in Iran in disbelief, but
followers in battle. but for governments, policymakers and hope has found its place in the hearts of
According to official sources, eight analysts alike. the Iranian people. These people are even
people were killed, but other sources After thirty years of the Islamic their own media.
claim that the number is much higher. Republic, marked with two supreme One day before the winter solstice
Since then, more than a thousand people leaders, six presidents, thousands of – the longest night of the year – and
have been arrested across Iran. On the deaths, executions and the imprisonment a few days before Christmas and the
morning of December 28 and 29, many of political and social activists and start of 2010, security forces from the
prominent political and civil rights systematic repression, hope has fled the intelligence ministry went to the home
activists, student activists, and women hearts of many, while scores have been of Somayeh Rashidi, a twenty-four-year
rights activists were arrested. forcibly exiled. Despite this, the actions of old women’s rights and student activist.
Concerns about the expansion of the Islamic Republic have unintentionally After responding to a summons to appear

22 January/February 2010 Independent World report


Photo by Hamed Saber.

Independent World report January/February 2010 23


“Fascist president: Polytechnical University is not your place” - Mohammad Yousef Rashidi: Photo via Change for Equality.

24 January/February 2010 Independent World report


Photo by Hamed Saber.

in court, she was arrested. One day, along with other female group, is not a new accusation, but more
Somayeh’s image sits next to the news students, Somayeh pushed aside the recently we see that these accusations are
we have published on her arrest, and it fabric curtain that separated the eating being launched against younger social
is transmitted throughout the world by areas of male and female students in the activists.
the media and by women’s networks. university cafeteria and proceeded to The accusation of cooperating with
Somayeh was accepted for masters level eat her lunch in the men’s section. Her foreign governments and spying on their
study, but because of her activities she action resulted in a one-term suspension behalf increases pressure by foreign
has been barred from further study. She from university studies, as well as an governments on the government of Iran,
has become a starred student, the term aluminium partition between men and but relations with an opposition group
used to refer to students who are barred women in the cafeteria, in place of the that is Iranian, becomes a national issue
from the university. fabric curtain. and reduces international pressures.
Students who are starred, receive a star But, this did not stop her. Somayeh is Moving on from Somayeh’s picture,
next to their name on the entrance exam the fifty-fifth person who has been arrested my gaze rests on the image of Mohammad
forms. They are marked in this manner for activism on behalf of women’s rights Yousef Rashidi, suspended student from
and prevented from continuing their with the intent of ending discrimination Amir Kabir University. He holds a sign
studies. Perhaps this strategy is modelled against women. One day after her arrest, in his hands during a conference held by
after Nazi Germany, where political the minister of intelligence explained in the Iranian president that reads: “Fascist
opponents – such as Jews, Romani people, an interview that they have identified the president; Polytechnical University is
and homosexuals – were identified in a leaders of the disturbances. not your place.” He was arrested. It is
similar fashion. He proceeded to identify women’s evident from this image that this brave
Somayeh belongs to the generation of rights activists, student activists and student does not want to be portrayed as
Iranian youth born after the Revolution. political activists as those leading the a victim, nor is he asking for any help. He
She was born in a religious city and to disturbances. A few days later, the state is determined and urges all to join him in
a religious family, and belongs to that run Iranian television broadcast staged his belief.
which among Iranians is familiarly called confessions by student activists. Having Mohammad is only slightly older
the revolution’s generation – a product of relations with an Iranian opposition than Sohrab Arabi, one of those who was
a country governed by Islamic laws. group, which is listed as a terrorist killed in the public protests, following

Independent World report January/February 2010 25


Sometime before his death, Sohrab Arabi with his mother Parvin Fahimi: Photo via Change for Equality.

the disputed June 2009 election in Iran. initiated by men, by issuing an analytical has committed many atrocities thus far,
Parvin Fahimi, Sohrab’s mother, searched statement criticising the concept of forced without cutting its handle, including
desperately for her son in various prisons veiling and a call for freedom of dress attack against political dissidents,
and government offices, for twenty days. for women. They announce that being a flogging, imprisonment, execution, and
Finally, they gave Parvin her son’s corpse. woman is not humiliating, and that men stoning. But presently, the attack against
Now, she is one of the mothers who, along who dress in women’s clothes should not the regime from within has started.
with other mothers who mourn the loss feel humiliated. The statement receives Now, we have to say that the knife has
of the children of Iran, gather in parks on support from both men and women. cut its own handle. The prominent role
Saturdays around the same time that Neda The frozen image of Grand Ayatollah of Montazeri was the exposed symbol
Agha Soltan, who has been transformed Montazeri after his death is yet another of this internal attack. Currently, the
into the symbol of the movement for image which appeared unexpectedly. attack is not only directed toward the
democracy in Iran, was shot. Montazeri, who is one of the theorists Supreme Leader Ali Khamenie, but has
Images speak. This time, it is the image behind the concept of supreme leadership, also targeted the role of Khomeni as the
of veiled men, wearing women’s Islamic is also one of the oldest religious leaders founder of the Islamic Republic and has
headdress, or the hijab. After the arrest who criticised both the supreme leaders grown even broader to take aim at the
of Majid Tavakoli, a student activist, an of the Islamic Republic, along with its six structure of an Islamic state.
image of him wearing the hijab is widely presidents. The news from Iran, and the images
published by government news outlets Montazeri was instrumental in laying that accompany it, are examples of
with the intent to humiliate him, women the foundation for the coming to power a variety of generations and groups
and all that is feminine. of Ayatollah Khomeini. His critical stance who have one thing in common – the
But in response, the images of Iranian with respect to the mass executions of undermining of an authoritative and
men also adorned with scarves and the political activists in the first decade of religious structure, through distancing
chador (a black full length covering) the revolution and after that, and his themselves from hopelessness and
appear in the virtual realm. These men criticism of those in power, at a time when cynicism, and by working towards
proclaim that they too are Majid Tavakoli. he too was a part of the power structure, increasing society’s resistance.
Shortly following this action, non-Iranian separates his line of thinking and his This is the strategy that women are
men follow suit, and these images also position from the establishment. very familiar with. One of the issues
reach the world. The protest action An Iranian saying that could describe addressed through headdress trainings
continues and women’s rights activists this situation goes “the knife does not cut about violence, is awareness of the cycle
announce their support of the protest its own handle.” The knife of the regime of violence. In other words, silence,

26 January/February 2010 Independent World report


Photo by Hamed Saber.

more than any other factor, promotes who, according to them, are imposters good excuse for minimising the struggle
the continuation of violence, whether it and foreign agents. By placing Iranians in spearheaded by social movements and
be domestic violence, sexual violence, opposition to one another, the regime the Iranian public. The excuse also
political violence or social violence. has tried over a long period to increase served as the basis for increasing and
For this reason, we as women learn the mental and psychological suspicion expanding political and economic ties,
how to resist violence. Perhaps this among the people. as well as cooperation with the Iranian
is a good analogy for the civil rights The news of the democratic movement government.
movements in Iran, which more than of Iran portrays a secular image, which Now, the images speak for themselves.
anything are working to resist political, has come from the last thirty years of They speak of a people who are rejecting
social, gender-based, ethnic and religious history in Iran, with both its religious and the status quo. Even biased media can no
violence. In essence, the civil resistance non-religious citizens. It is varied and longer disregard the Iranian public. We
in Iran has expanded in scope and size. colourful like a canvas which includes must wait and see what the governments
This resistance has brought back hope diverse colours representing a multiplicity that claim to be democratic choose as
to all our hearts. Six months ago, these of ideas, religions and traditions. their strategy. What will be the image of
protests began in response to election No longer can we give this protest themselves that these governments will
fraud. Today, these protests have not died movement a religious hue – not even choose to project in the year 2010, to the
down, nor have their demands remained with the creation of mythological world? �
static. Slowly, with the expression of characteristics attributed to its leaders,
each new demand, a new group joins the not even with the death of the revered
struggle and the power of civil resistance Ayatollah Montazeri. This movement
expands. is coupled with a constant and critical
Parvin Ardalan – Iranian women’s
The Iranian regime’s increasing use of examination from within, by some of
violence during the last few weeks is an those who have served as the regime’s rights activist and journalist – is the
obvious sign of its desperation. Besides leaders, some who have served as cover person of this issue of Independent
the physical violence, the most worrisome spectators and some who have been the World Report. She is one of the architects
is how the regime is splitting the Iranian regime’s victims.
of the One Million Signatures campaign:
people. After every demonstration, the For years, the international press only
regime mobilises all of its resources in heard and presented the official views and we-change.org/english. A version of this
order to bring real people out on the streets images from Iran. The justification that article, in Swedish, was earlier published
to show its strength in relation to others “Iranians do not have a problem,” was a by Dagens Nyheter.

Independent World report January/February 2010 27


Report

Outcast
LGBT people in Uganda live under threat and fear.
By Ariel Rubin

T he Kampala night club seems like


your typical bar – a DJ blasting
raucous dance music, drinking,
laughing and even some furtive flirting
are the order of the night. However, this
country that received millions of dollars
for its abstinence programs from the
Bush Administration.
Warren, the highly influential US
evangelical holds immense sway in
Ugandan elections is set to commence, the
Anti-Homosexuality Bill further presents
the opportunity for the ruling National
Resistance Movement government to
shore up popular support by vilifying an
remains one of Uganda’s few gay friendly Uganda. While finally condemning the already marginalised minority.
bars. On a recent visit, as the debate rages bill after a great deal of recent pressure, With the violence of the September
over the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Warren remains the same man who, 2009 riots still fresh and murmurs of
Bill 2009, a current of fear and anxiety is in an April 2008 visit to Kampala, told deep-seated unrest in this tribally-
felt beneath the veneer of another night religious leaders that homosexuality is divided country, the fervour over the
out. One man notes wearily, “Why is that not a natural way of life and, thus, not a inflammatory bill has played directly into
so shocking to you? This is the country human right, “We shall not tolerate this the hands of those who introduced it.
that wants to kill and imprison us.” aspect at all.” As Sylvia Tamale – Dean, Makerere
While life has never been easy for As Anglican priest Kapya Kaoma notes Law School – warns in a recent debate
Uganda’s marginalised gay community, it in a recent article, the religious orthodoxy over the issue, “Anyone who cares to read
could get a whole lot harder should the of many African churches provided the US history books knows very well that in
bill pass. Amos, an eloquent man in his religious right with a golden opportunity times of crisis, when people at the locus
early thirties committed in a relationship to extend the church’s influence into of power are feeling vulnerable and their
for many years notes, “Do some people the government. According to Kaoma, power is threatened, they will turn against
know? Yes. Do some people suspect? Yes. “Africans resonate with the denunciation the weaker groups in the society.”
Can they prove it in court? No. The new of homosexuality as a post-colonial plot.” When discussing the bill, Tamale still
bill changes that.” Ugandan homophobia, thus, ironically can hardly believe it came into fruition.
As a group of seventeen human rights doubles as an expression of resistance to Clearly, the bill’s author is no lawyer, she
organisations notes in a recent statement, the West while being stoked and funded notes, as it violates tenets of the 1995
the bill “includes a provision that could by conservative leaders and church clergy constitution while legally the parliament
lead to the imprisonment for up to three from the very same West. A recent news lacks the power to nullify inconsistent
years of anyone, including heterosexual item in the Vision newspaper, about Ethics treaties or constitutional provisions.
people, who fails to report within twenty- and Integrity Minister James Buturo’s “You cannot put this in a bill if you know
four hours the identities of everyone refusal to capitulate to donor country your international law.”
they know who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, demands to scrap the bill, sums up the Indeed, one of the key consultants
or transgender, or who supports human sentiment perfectly: We will not bend over and writers of the bill is not a lawyer
rights for people who are... The draft bill for aid, Butoro tells donors. at all, but the controversial Ugandan
seeks to imprison anyone convicted of In a country where the notion of pro-family pastor, Martin Ssempa. This
the offence of homosexuality for life.” atheism is scoffed at as a joke, and a is the pastor, who, over recent years,
The bill – known as the Bahati Bill, after deep-seated fear pervades over the burned condoms in the name of Jesus and
David Bahati, the member of parliament undue influence of Western decadence arranged for the publication of prominent
who privately tabled it in October 2009 and liberalism, political elites have homosexuals’ names in local newspapers.
– comes out of an environment that is managed to introduce the perfect bill to His abstinence-based HIV/AIDS work
already deeply inimical to alternative distract much of the country from the was supported by the Bush White House
lifestyles and any perceived threat to entrenched problems like corruption and and he has close ties with the born again
the traditional family. 94% of Ugandans unaccountability. Ugandan first lady, Janet Museveni.
consider themselves religious and 95% This is a country whose tabloid daily
strongly oppose the legalisation of same- – The Red Pepper – routinely publishes
sex relations. articles with titles like Homo terror and List “As Africans, we find the
As one of Pastor Rick Warren’s of tycoons who bankroll homos, in addition
purpose-driven nations, Uganda has become to notorious dossiers of first names, whole subject of sodomy and
a test-tube for Western evangelicals. The professions and physical descriptions of
coalescence of the church and the state alleged homosexuals.
lesbianism an
is the norm in this profoundly religious As the campaigning season for the 2011 unacceptable lifestyle.”

28 January/February 2010 Independent World report


A Red Pepper dossier on homosexuals: Scan by Gay Uganda via Box Turtle Bulletin.

Independent World report January/February 2010 29