Thursday, June 18, 2009

Are The People Of Iran Moving Beyond Fundamentalism?

Iranian Women: We Feel Cheated, Frustrated, And Betrayed
Dianne Tucker--Huffington Post, 6/17/09

Look closely at the images of peaceful demonstrations taking place in Iran this week and you will spot thousands of brave women taking to the streets to protest an election they say was stolen. "We feel cheated, frustrated and betrayed," said an Iranian woman in a message widely circulated on Facebook.

For these wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, their march to oust Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has everything to do with their desire for equal rights. These women invested their hopes in Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the presidential candidate who pledged to reform laws that treat women unfairly. As it stands now, an Iranian woman's testimony in court carries only half the weight of a man's. Women do not have equal divorce, child custody, or inheritance rights either.

That's why Mousavi is popular with many female voters. But his wife Zahra Rahnavard might have even more fans. Iran's top-ranking female professor is a crowd-pleaser at political events, where she is anything but invisible and not afraid to speak her mind. For example, when Ahmadinejad accused Rahnavard of skirting government rules to earn her advanced degrees (she has a masters in art, and a masters and a doctorate in political science), Rahnavard publicly reprimanded him. The Los Angeles Times reported her I won't back down rebuttal:
Either [Ahmadinejad] cannot tolerate highly educated women, or he's discouraging women from playing an active role in society. (It's both/and, not either or)

Thousands of women have observed Rahnavard's call to climb up on their rooftops and chant "Allahu Akbar" -- a rallying cry of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In this unforgettable video that captures the late-night chanting, the woman speaking is saying, "Take our phones, our internet...take all our communications away, but we are showing that by saying alloho akbar we can find each other."

The regime in Iran obviously feels threatened by peaceful female activism. They branded as illegal the One Million Signatures Campaign initiated by women's rights groups in Iran that are demanding changes to discriminatory laws against women in their country. Dozens of women involved in the campaign have been harassed or jailed by the government.

One of Iran's leading women's rights activists Sussan Tahmasebi told NPR that this election marks the first time women's rights have been addressed in such detail. "Candidates have moved beyond vague slogans that emphasize the high cultural and religious value placed on women, to addressing specifically the demands voiced by women's right activists. This shift demonstrates the importance and vitality of the Iranian women's movement and in particular the achievements of the One Million Signatures Campaign."

Before today's government internet blackout, Iranian women were a force in the country's blogosphere -- the largest in the Middle East. This photo (above) posted as a TwitPic on Twitter has already received more than 82,788 views on just one of the many, many sites it is posted on. (This is one of the things that women do better than men--network. The new technologies with their networking social sites were the very first things shut down by the government.)

The courage of these women to confront Iran's patriarchal theocracy (in which the morality police still prowl the streets looking for women wearing make-up) may have been "a big reason why the regime rigged the vote count -- and why supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was forced to make a show of ordering a probe of the fraud," said the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor in their op/ed posted on Monday. "Eventually," said the editors, "Iran's women will not be denied."


I truly believe the political situation in Iran is a watershed moment. This will have massive repercussions in the Islamic world in terms of both political and theological power, but more than that, it is about the power of women, the changed world view of younger men, and the ability of the new technologies of cell phones, the Internet, and social networking sites to foster a global consciousness.

Seventy percent of Iran's population is under 30, which means seventy percent of Iran's population were not even born during the revolution in 1979. They have no real vested interest in the issues which brought that revolution to bear. Just the opposite, they have a real vested interest in over turning the human rights violations and oppressive Sharia law which were the fruits of that revolution. In a very real way, this is about freedom and equality as the fundamental basis on which decisions about faith should be made.

A meaningful religious commitment and adherence to doctrine can not ultimately be forced, they most be chosen. As Pope Benedict has repeatedly stated, religious belief must withstand the test of reason. A religious commitment which is a product of state coercion is not a religious commitment. It is a product of a religious leadership which is either secretly afraid that their religion can not stand on its own merits, or they believe the people they rule are inherently inferior and threatening. This latter view especially applies to women.

I can easily imagine that there are a number of Islamic states whose patriarchal leaders are holding their breaths, terrified of some of the potential outcomes in the political unrest in Iran. If the Iranian people wrest more freedom from their theocratic leadership, this movement won't stay with in Iranian borders any more than the over throw of communism in Poland stayed with in Polish borders. The evolution of human consciousness towards liberty and equality, away from fundamentalism and towards multi cultural plurality, is one Genie which never chooses to put itself back in the bottle. Instead it asks all people to move forward with it.

Meanwhile back in the States, it seems President Obama has voted 'present' on gay marriage (how totally novel of him) and the USCCB has voted 'not on our watch'. In fact the latest USCCB strategy is to specifically target young people and Hispanics with their 'pro family' message, purposely dividing and polarizing American Catholicism even further. I think it's time I made myself a green arm band.

1 comment:

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