Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will.
On 2009-12-29, BBC World published an article titled “A women’s movement turning men’s,” written by Omid Parsa Nezhad (from now on PN). The article expresses concern about the recent developments in Iran, referring to occasions when the demonstrators have returned violence in the face of the brutal assaults of the Islamic Regime’s security apparatus.
PN problematically interprets this violence as an indicator of a fundamental change in the nature of the “movement,” turning from what has been described as a “women’s movement” to one of men. This interpretation is based on two erroneous assumptions: that women’s leading role in the ongoing revolution guarantees the “nonviolent” nature of the revolution, and that violence alienates women from the revolution.
PN further asserts that demonstrators’ “violent” reaction to the Islamic security forces’ violence leads to more and intensified violence by the regime. This argument is derived from a perspective that has an interest in denying the Iranian people their right to self-defense.
Due to the biased methodology, the article has little informative or analytic value. Its conclusions are based on a nonrepresentative sample of events videotaped during the Ãshura protests on December 28 2009 and selected for upload to online sites such as youtube.com. Further bias is introduced by the author’s non-random selection of video clips for analysis. Thus, the PN/BBC article is not remarkable for the accuracy of its content or the insightfulness of its analysis. Rather, it is interesting because it is an early example of a particular discourse that has specific political aims. It is one in a series of recent articles, interviews and analyses generated by the Western media that propounds a consistently biased, anti-revolutionary, pro-reformist position.
In this analysis of the PN/BBC article, I describe the fallacies in PN’s characterization of women’s role in this revolution; I qualify the role of nonviolent methods of resistance during revolution; and I argue that PN/BBC have an interest in promoting a discourse that, if followed through to its logical conclusions, ensures that Iranian people – and especially Iranian women – remain locked within the oppressive, insupportable status quo of today’s Islamic Republic: unfree, unequal, and without recourse to justice.
Women’s role in the current revolution
Obviously PN has heard the unfolding revolution being defined as a “women’s revolution” (see WPI, Manifesto of the Revolution). However, although he seems to accept this characterization of a women’s revolution at least superficially, his rhetoric demonstrates a failure to understand the meaning of this designation, as well as its revolutionary implications. PN refers to video clips taken during the Ashura protests where outraged demonstrators attack the murderous security forces of the Islamic regime, and says:
“We might consider the violence of so called green against the regime a confrontation of the male characteristics of the movement with the feminine one!”
He concludes that this development will alienate the women’s movement from the so called “Green movement” and subsequently undermine the latter. But PN and the BBC have got it all wrong, from promoting disempowering stereotypes of women to failing to grasp what the phrase “women’s revolution” really indicates about the current movement.
First, PN seems unable to accept the reality of women as a leading power, as the spearhead of a revolution with a primary objective of freeing the society from Islamic gender apartheid, which is dependent upon the elimination of the Islamic regime in its entirety. Instead, with his insistence on essentializing the female as nonviolent, he promotes the idealized stereotype of women in a male-dominated society: kind, submissive, humble, nonviolent, etc.
Second, the intent behind the designation of this movement as a “women’s revolution” refers to the undeniable fact that any change in favour of Iranian society as a result of the current revolution is primarily bound to respond to a very fundamental issue: oppression of women, expressed in Iranian society as gender inequality, sexual apartheid, and constitutional male chauvinism. The designation of this movement as a “women’s revolution,” and women’s presence in the front line of this revolution, are significant indicators: they indicate that for the past 30 years, Iranian women have been the primary victims of a violently anti-woman constitutional as well as institutional framework, Islamic Shariá law and Islamic reactionary culture. The designation of this movement as a “women’s revolution” is not and has never been about women’s presence as an indicator of the violent or nonviolent nature of ongoing revolution.
The use of disempowering stereotypes about women – with the implication of correspondingly unflattering stereotypes about men – to try to describe a revolution that fundamentally demands gender equality undermines PN’s argument from the outset.
The legitimacy of the use of violence by the people
One important question that the Iranian masses have clearly answered from the first day of the post-election protests – and which now must be answered by BBC – is whether a violent response to the nakedly barbaric violence enforced by the regime against the protesting people is morally and legally supportable. Iranian people have said yes; international laws and conventions and millions of honourable people all around the world say yes; yet BBC shows deep “concern,” and warns the “men’s movement” from confrontation with the “women’s movement,” lest the current movement lose the latter’s support. Why? Is BBC implying that Iranian women, unlike men, are against toppling the Islamic regime, and they are satisfied with small reforms?
The Iranian democratic revolution, with women in the front line of it, has to at one point or another during this round of confrontations topple the regime of 150,000 executions; the sooner this is done the better. This society has suffered far too much to tolerate any more executions, imprisonments, and tortured, beaten and raped sisters and brothers.
Gender and violence in Iran
Women of Iran, the primary victims of this regime, are leading this revolution, and their front line presence indicates their awareness of the historical role they are playing. If violence could have intimidated these determined masses of revolutionary women and men, it would have done so during the first days of the protests, when the Islamic regime implemented overwhelming and unprecedented violence against women, children and men, young and old, in an effort to force the masses out of the streets. This did not happen, despite the very high price.
Didn’t the Iranian women – then in the front line, and now in the same position – know what this regime is capable of? Does BBC think that women are by their nature both submissive and naïve?
PN from BBC either has misunderstood Iranian women and 30 years of struggle, or has chosen not to understand. Does PN need a list of Iranian girls and women executed in the last 30 years on account of being a “Combatant against God”? Has BBC missed the protests of women and girls filling the streets of Tehran, demanding their human rights, confronting Islamic thugs and gangs of Hezbollah who are armed to the teeth by the Islamic regime with acid, bats, knives, chains and fire arms? Did BBC really fail to note the armed women in barricades of Sanandaj, Mahabad, Marivan, Baneh and Saghez defending the free Kurdistan in an armed resistance against the Islamic regime’s invasion, extended from 1979 to the early 1990s?
Let us assume that BBC missed all that, and ask: How could anyone miss all those recently broadcast scenes in which young girls and women are collecting bricks and rocks, the only available means of deterrence against the security forces with their superior means of violent intimidation? Does BBC need a copy of all the clips of women setting fire to garbage containers to prevent the thugs charging at the protesters, or women hitting back when attacked by the regime’s security forces? Does BBC need a link to observe how young men are humanely protecting injured Islamic murderers from enraged woman? If BBC Farsi thinks the long, manicured, painted nails, and styled hair of women protesters prevents them from defending themselves; from punching, kicking and hitting back; from using bats and sticks or going to barricades to shoot back, then BBC has another thing coming, and that very soon!
Iranian women have known the risks of challenging these violent regimes, have fought for their human rights for the last 30 years, and now are leading a revolution. This is not an “all gal’s picnic.” Iranian women are at war, and have been for the last 30 years: a war forced upon them by gangs of murderers. This is a revolution, an all-out war between the oppressed and the oppressor; in which the oppressed has to either crush the oppressor or accept a prolonged unbearable misery, pain, apartheid, poverty, torture, and execution. This is a war fought by warriors, women and men; this is a revolution entering a new phase: people on the offensive. The sign of victory is now the waving of fists, not of fingers.
War and violence: What is really bothering BBC?
PN is worried about the “recent violence,” as if violence is a “recent” parameter in Iranians’ everyday life; as if the people themselves – particularly women – haven’t been under siege by the Islamic Republic since its ascent to power; as if the “recent events” are not the logical course of and the natural continuation of the events since the 2009 election. What is “recent” is not the violence; it is the change in the balance of power.
BBC says that it is worried that the violence against the murdering thugs of Basij, plainclothes police, IRGC, and the rest of the Islamic regime’s murderers alienates women from the “protest movement”! We dare the BBC to stand in front of the Khavaran mothers, who only recently had to stand in front of bulldozers, preventing them from destroying the humble graveyards of their beloveds, dare to stand in front of them and repeat this statement! The statement implies that the demonstrators should take the beatings, not resist arrests, not beat the hell out of gangs of murdering thugs, take the torture, turn the other cheek – to prove to the regime that they are a harmless bunch of subdued citizens, asking for not that much!
Is BBC so out of touch with earthly reality that it does not see that the overwhelming majority of Iranian people in the streets are rejecting the entirety of Islamic regime? Has BBC Farsi difficulty understanding the implication of “down with Khamenei,” chanted by millions of women as well as men?
The ongoing revolution has never been about a rigged election, a sickening caricature of a democratic process. The majority of people in any colour, green, red or blue, all over Iran, have never been out there to protest against one flank of the regime and for the other flank of the same regime of murder, terror and torture. The ongoing revolution is to topple a violent regime, and this will not happen by holding back 30 years of rage and anger. Revolution is on the offensive to end the violence. Any possible means to achieve this objective is morally acceptable, and a violent confrontation is the most probable scenario.
No, the BBC is neither blind nor deaf. It is not the answering of the Islamic regime’s violence with revolutionary violence which bothers the BBC, and it is certainly not concern for gender equity that bestirs the BBC so; it is the revolution itself.
The BBC’s unsolvable dilemma is that the reformist part of the so-called green movement has long since abandoned the claim of alignment with ever-deepening radicalism in the demands and forms of the struggle. They keep distancing themselves from the events by condemning the “foundation breaking” slogans, by saying “It wasn’t us who called for Ãshura demonstrations.” They keep renewing their loyalty to the supreme leader, or the “Velayat,” the theological supremacy. Pick any statement by reform leaders since the election; you choose!
The reform movement – the hope for a harmless change within the framework of Islamic constitution, another colour “revolution,” a velvet one – vanished when the first protester tore down a poster of the supreme leader. A peaceful power transaction which can guarantee the preservation of the regional status quo is out of the loop. And this is precisely the concern of the BBC – that the world’s 4th largest oil producer is about to become temporarily unstable, in an already-unstable region, with uncertain final outcome.
Democratic revolution in Iran: whither BBC?
The BBC should get used to the idea that the offensive mode of the revolution in the coming weeks will intensify: the streets of Tehran and other major cities will witness clashes between the people on offensive and the Islamic regime’s thugs taking severe beatings. The humane acts by men and women protesters of giving sanctuary to the fleeing foot soldiers of the oppressor is certainly a phenomenon to be proud of; this is very humane, an admirable act, a solid proof of a civilized people fighting for their human rights and dignity. Nevertheless, the moment of truth is closing in and the revolution is gathering momentum.
Thirty years ago, when Ayatollah Khomeini and his gangs of vicious murderers like Khamenei, Sazegara, Yazdi, Mousavi, Lajevardi, Khalkhali, and others hijacked our democratic revolution, the BBC did its share in nominating Khomeini as the leader, promoting and selling him as a saviour of the people, a messenger of freedom. This time, BBC is singing in the same old choir, in the company of the other corporate mass media outlets. There are, however, major differences this time: BBC possesses only a bunch of marked cards to play with; BBC is challenged by massive, real-time street journalism and therefore is no longer dominating the information/misinformation flow; and more importantly, has been taken by surprise by an unexpected radical revolution which will not settle for anything less than a real democracy, a humane society.
Scaring the revolutionary masses with the bogyman of the “dangers” of getting physical against the Islamic regime is all the BBC can do in an effort to mitigate the perceived risks to entrenched British interests that may be posed by a revolutionary change in the governance of Iran. That is not much!
~ Siavash Sayid and Maria Rohaly