Years ago, my mother, father and I went to Esfahan one summer. One evening, after having been out sightseeing and strolling around Maidan-e Iman on a beautiful starlit evening, my dad asked my mother if we could take a bus back to our hotel instead of risking our lives in a taxi. My maman, having grown up in Iran and being accustomed to Iran’s unique driving etiquette, was never rattled by the fact that the only rule of the road in Iran is that there are no rules.
Although she didn’t particularly like riding buses, on this evening she agreed, but only for my dad’s peace of peace mind. After waiting at the bus stop for what seemed like an eternity amongst people who stared unapologetically at this Iranian woman standing with a man who was clearly a foreigner and boy they couldn’t quite figure out, our bus finally appeared. It was hot and humid that evening and when my mother looked into the windows of the bus as it squeaked to a halt, I could hear her groan. It was packed with more people than I’d ever seen crammed into a bus. It looked more like a can of sardines than a bus full of people.
When the doors of the bus finally opened, my dad and I followed the men into the front door of the bus while my mother entered the women’s door at the back of the bus. It has always struck me as odd that Iranian women are forced to go through the back door of buses like 1950s African Americans being forced to go to the backdoor of a restaurant for food. I guess the only real difference between the two is that America ’s “niggers” were African Americans while the Islamic Republic’s “niggers” are our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, nieces and female cousins. Just as blacks were once considered to be mere second class American citizens, so too is it true of our women in Iran today.
Lest I digress further, let me get back to my story of the bus. Somehow, that night I got separated from my dad in the wall of sweating humanity entombed on that bus. People were everywhere. Every square millimeter of floor space was filled and every seat was taken with weary eyed and exhausted workers making their way home from a hard day’s work. With much effort, my dad made his way to the back of the male section on the bus until he was separated from my mother by only by a thin metal bar which served as the border between the male and female sections of the bus. It was only when my mother asked him, “where’s Lance” that he realized that I wasn’t behind him. They began to call out my name, but I couldn’t see them. Try as I might, I was unable to push through the wall of legs all around me. My dad was calling out to me in English, “Lance, where are you?” while my mother called out in Farsi, “Raheem, azizam, kojahee?” I could hear fear in her voice so I yelled back in my small voice, “I’m here mommy.” My mother clearly overreacted, but she was scared that I might get off, or get pushed off the bus accidentally and she wouldn’t be able to find me. Her fears were, of course, unreasonable, but a mother’s fears for her children often are.
What she did next still blows my mind. Since my maman spoke Farsi which my dad could not, she told him to stay put while she went to find me. Without the slightest hesitation, or concern for her own safety she climbed under the bar separating the women from the men and began pushing her way through the crowd, who were surprised to see a woman in their side of the bus. “Raheem, jan, kojahee….beah inja, azizam” she called! Although my mother’s voice was like a beacon in the night to me, I could not make my way to her. There were just too many huge men blocking my way. How she was able to budge them as she made her way forward still amazes me. Such is the strength of an Iranian mother’s love for her children.
Finally, she pushed her petite, 51 kg, body forward to where I was tightly lodged. When I saw her sweet, but anguished face, she took me lovingly, but firmly by the hand to start the journey back to the rear of the bus. Suddenly, a big, burley man who was so morbidly obese that his fat not only filled, but was pouring out of the two seats he occupied shouted at her about being in the men’s section. Though frightened, she glared back at him and told him shut his mouth since she was only trying to find her child. Stunned at being snapped at by a woman a fourth his size and in front of so many other men, he dropped his head and didn’t say another word which is typical of all bully’s when someone stands up to them. As we made our way back the women’s section, no one else said a word to my maman.
When I heard of the women’s rights activists arrested and imprisoned in Evin Prison recently, the thought of my maman on the bus that day came to my mind though I can’t say why for sure. Surely, she was my Shir Zan that day. It took courage for her to flout Iran ’s strict laws on segregation of the sexes on public transport and come find me, but the courage that she showed in rescuing me is nothing when compared to the sea of courage shown by Iranian women living in Iran these past twenty-eight years under extremely difficult legal and social circumstances.
While there have been many men with strong and noble characters, during this time, that have supported our women and respected them as equals in all aspects of society, there have been many others who’ve either preferred to see them stripped of their dignity, their rights and their confidence by a legal system that condemns them to second class citizenship in their own county, or worse, men who have been so frightened of the regime that they have stood by in timid silence as their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, aunts, nieces and female cousins have been forced to fight the battle for legal and social equality alone and unprotected from acts of violence meted out by government agents. How much injustice and violence must our women be forced endure before more men stand up and say, “Enough!” Some may criticize me and the words I write by saying that I don’t live in Iran . Maybe they are right, but when I saw the photos of scores of women beaten by thugs and agents of the Islamic Republic, many of whom were female themselves, on Khordad, 22, 1385 as they gathered peacefully in Tehran to protest for equal rights I wanted to vomit. I know that a few men came to their defense, but as the photos showed, only a handful.
Iranian women have been forced for far too long to face injustice, humiliation, torture and death at the hands of this wicked and vile regime during which time the silence of the majority of Iranian men has been deafening. While it is true that some men have stood tall in defense of our women and have been made to suffer horribly for their valor, it is equally true that the number of men willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with our women against the injustices and outrages of this regime has been relatively small.
It is shocking to think of how well treated Faye Turney, the detained female British sailor, was in Iran recently as compared to how our own women our treated. This “Islamic” regime has said that women occupy a special place of honor in Iranian society, but then it has harmed them at every turn for years. I wish someone could tell me what is so special and honorable about being an Iranian woman under the government of the Islamic Republic? With the deepest respect and admiration for the women of our country, I must confess that I can think of few things worse than being reincarnated as an Iranian woman and having to live my life under the government of the Islamic Republic.
Perhaps, Zahra Kazimi, the middle aged photographer who was raped, tortured and murdered at the hands of Saeed Mortazavi and other I.R.I. criminals, or Atafeh Sahaaleh, the troubled sixteen year old girl from Neka who was hanged by a fanatical and over zealous IRI judge, could have explained to me what was so special and honorable about being a woman in Iran if the Islamic Republic had not sent them both to undeserved and undignified deaths. What makes matters worse in both cases is that the government then covered up the facts surrounding the circumstances of their deaths and openly protected those responsible for unlawfully killing them. Since neither of these two brave Martyrs can tell me what is so special and honorable about being an Iranian woman in Iran today, I might have better luck if I seek my answer among the living.
Perhaps, Afsaneh Norouzi could tell me. After all, she only spent 2760 days of her life rotting away in a prison cell waiting to be executed. Her only crime was having the audacity to defend herself against an attempted rape by a high ranking intelligence and security officer on Kish Island in 1997. In warding off her attacker, she unintentionally killed him. In most countries of the world, she would have been celebrated as a hero who had a legal right to defend herself, notwithstanding the fact the would-be rapist died as a result of her actions, but not in Iran . She was tried, convicted and originally sentenced to death. Although she was eventually released, she was separated from her husband and children for seven nightmarish years. Her long and frightening ordeal only came to an end when on January 12, 2005, she was ordered to pay “diyeh” or blood money to the family of her attacker. Where, may I ask, is the dignity in forcing a would-be rape victim to pay compensation to the family of the deviant who assaulted and attempted to rape her?
Then, there’s always the possibility that Nazanin Fatehi could tell me what is so special and honorable about being a woman in Iran today. Nazanin, as you will remember, was the teenage girl who was walking with her cousin, Sumayeh, in a park in Karaj when three men tried to rape them. In an act of self defense, Nazanin fatally stabbed one of the attackers. She was tried for murder, convicted and sentenced to death. Only after a successful international campaign was organized by Nazanin Afshin-Jam was Nazanin granted a retrial. At the retrial she was spared the death penalty, but ordered to pay diyeh to the family of her attacker. Again, I am left clueless as to where the honor is in compelling this girl to pay compensation to the family of her attacker. I wonder if he would have been forced to pay her compensation had he been able to successfully consummate his intended crime. Most probably, he would have faced no punishment, but Nazanin would have been found to be “unchaste” and have met the same fate meted out to poor Atafeh Sahaaleh.
If these women’s heart wrenching stories are examples of what the government of the IRI means when it says that women occupy such a special place of honor in society, then, I would hate to imagine what the regime metes out to those it deems unworthy of honor. In my humble opinion, those who support and serve this regime have no right to speak of the dignity and honor of Iranian women. They are unworthy to even kiss the dirt on the bottom of our dear sisters’ shoes as far as I’m concerned. All who are sycophants to this wicked regime are traitors to their nation and their people. The day is soon coming when people like Saeed Mortazavi, Parvin Hosseini, Shirin Jalalli Ashfar, Shahla Ashtiani, Gol Mohammadi, Sahar Darbani, Faredeh Maliki, Maryam Kolhar and Masood Nadeeri will come to know firsthand, just how painful the Iranian nation’s demand for retribution will be for all those who’ve collaborated with this regime against their own people. There will be no place where people like these can run and no where they can hide. They will get to taste the same sweet justice that they’ve so willing meted out to our women and our nation over the years.
The number of women executed by this regime for political reasons since 1979 runs into the tens of thousands. The number of women sexually assaulted, maimed, tortured and disfigured during terms of IRI imprisonment over the past twenty-eight years is beyond calculation. This regime has so ruthlessly and regularly spilled the blood of innocent Iranian women over the past twenty eight years that oceans could be filled with it. Injustice toward women is such a fundamental part of Iran’s governing and legal systems that few people anymore would think it’s out of the ordinary to hear of women being murdered, imprisoned, flogged, stoned or raped by government officers or agents for nothing more than advocating that all Iranians be treated the same under the law. People have become so use to the systemic governmental abuse of women in Iranian society that horror-filled stories no longer shock the senses, and, for the most part, such stories aren’t even considered to be newsworthy. Many people have just grown numb over the years. Fortunately, a dedicated group of Iranian women has fought hard over the years for legal and social equality and justice. During these nearly three decades, many of these precious patriots have died, many have been imprisoned, a few have moved abroad, but most have stayed and continued the struggle to make all Iranians equal under the law despite the ever-present danger to themselves and their families of imprisonment and death at the hands of the IRI officials and officers.
Until yesterday, two of our brave sisters, Mahboubeh Hossein Zadeh and Nahid Keshavarz were locked away in Evin Prison for nearly a month for doing nothing more than trying to lift Iranian women from the muck and the mire which the Islamic Republic has consigned them to. Specifically, their activities in gathering signatures for the One Million Signatures Campaign are regarded as a threat by the regime. These courageous women are the embodiment of dignity and honor, as these passion filled words relate to Iranian women. They and many like them have courageously sacrificed their reputations, health and liberty, so Iranian women might enjoy social freedom and legal equality. Now, that they have been released from Evin and their dark hour has ended, we must not allow ourselves to forget the sacrifice they made for our people. Just because they've been released from Evin, doesn't mean that the women of our nation have been released from the legal and social bondage they've endured since 1979. The struggle must and will continue until the chains of inequality and discrimination are broken.
The way those of us outside Iran can best honor all those who struggle for the rights of Iranian women is by informing the world of the cruel and barbarous treatment perpetrated against women by the Islamic Republic. There are so many women who have remained nameless and faceless to the world over the years that have given everything to the cause of liberty, justice and freedom in Iran. Many of these have paid with their blood to advance the women's struggle. Still, others have given their lives for the cause. We owe these martyrs our never ending honor and respect for they gave, the ultimate and last true measure of one’s love for one’s country, their lives, so that all the people of our beloved Iran might one day know what means to live in freedom where one is judged by the content of one's character, and good deeds, rather than by one's gender.
During the past twenty-eight years where have the men been as our sisters have carried this heavy burden alone? Why haven’t our men been in the streets in the hundreds of thousands defending the rights of their wives, mothers, daughters and sisters? Ahgaye Siamack Baniameri got it right months ago, when he said Iranian men have become women while Iranian women have become men. Our women have demonstrated time after time that there is no limit to their courage and strength of character while our men have shown there is no limit to the depths of degradation they will stand silently by and let our women endure.
I’ve said it before, and I believe it now more than ever that any government in the world which intentionally harms its own people cannot be considered legitimate. In such a situation, the people that nation not only have the right, but the duty to replace it; whatever the cost. Isn’t standing like a man on one’s own two feet fighting those who continue to deny our mothers, wives, daughters and sisters their rights through acts of violence and intimidation, preferable to cowering on one’s knees in silence as the women of our race, the mother’s of our nation continue to be battered and murdered at the hands of vicious fanatics whom we’ve permitted to terrorize our land for far too long?
The akhoonds would do well to realize that the day is coming when the shoe is going to be on the other foot. Those who’ve terrorized our women should know that the hour approaches when they shall reap what they have sown. The Iranian people have been patient in waiting for this government to reform itself, but they are becoming increasingly impatient as the realization that the IRI is a monstrosity that is un-reformable. It has taken many of our weary people almost thirty years to realize that the only way to reform this government is to wipe it from the annuals of history once and for all. When the day finally arrives that the Iranian people have had enough, all those who’ve imprisoned Iran these many long years will not be able to count on the army to save them. Just like the young conscripts of 1979, those of today are not going to open fire on their own people, especially when their own mothers and sisters are in the crowds.
Until that day comes, we ought to heed our brave sisters’ calls for justice and freedom. Their cries for justice should be the rallying call around which each and every Iranian man reasserts his courage and honor in defense of our women. Iranian men should never again let it be said that they silently cowered as their women were being brutalized, imprisoned and murdered by this government. Instead, let history books one day say of Iranian men, that they stood along side their brave sisters in fighting for freedom and justice for themselves and their posterity.
May God Always Bless and Keep Safe the Mothers of our Nation!