Ziba: A Memorial
by Shahrzad Mojab
July 9, 2004
Lecture given in Montreal, Concordia University
Zahra Kazemi was killed under torture. She was tortured and killed in the hands of the officials of the Islamic Government. Zahra is not the first woman to be tortured and killed in the prisons of the Islamic regime, there are at least 3000 more names of women who were executed in the last 25 years by this theocratic-despotic state. Indeed if we do a closer reading of the Islamic regime’s human rights record, we observe a pattern of torture, killing, disappearance and imprisonment (not to mention a complex mechanism of social punishments) which have been committed routinely against women and men in Iran in the last quarter of century; and these have been verified by international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Ironically, different factions of the government, reformists and conservatives, both share this record of brutal crimes.
Citizens of Canada and the rest of the world have remained uninformed, unengaged with, and inactive about the crimes committed by the Islamic regime. The state of Iran is not the first, nor the last one to enjoy this silence. The growing brutality of state violence from Israel to the US, to Congo, to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Sudan, Somalia, just to name a few, is made possible, in part, by our silence. Therefore, my question is why are not we outraged enough to break this silence by expressing our outrage? On the one hand, I mean a very plural ‘WE’, citizens of the world, on the other, let me be particular and ask, why aren’t we, Canadian citizens, outraged by the death of our fellow citizen, Zahra, in the hand of another regime? Isn’t this the same question that we have to ask ourselves about the torture of Maher Arar in Syria? Or even for that matter, isn’t this the same question that we should have asked ourselves about the role of the Canadian peacekeepers in the torture and killing of a Somalian civilian? When we remain silent in one case, there are more atrocities to come. Especially, since violence, militarism, and war are now becoming the dominant national and global policy. Aren’t you outraged that after all that has happened in Iraq and the toppling of Sadam Hussain’s regime, he is not being charged with the crime of genocide? The term genocide is not being listed as one of his crimes, he is being only accused of crimes against humanity. Let me be blunt and state that to remain silent amounts to the endorsement of these atrocities.
There are a lot of Iranians who are outraged with the killing of Zahra Kazemi, but their range of option in opposing the Islamic regime is limited; the fear of retribution is a serious impediment in taking any action. Thus, they point at us, Canadian-Iranians, and expect action; they argue that at least in Canada you are not faced with an immediate threat, do something. But, why our response has been limited at best? I think we should seek the answer, in part, in the composition of our community. The Canadian-Iranian community has become more diverse in the last decade. This is partly due to the political developments of the homeland, such as fierce factional struggle for power, and the reform of the Canadian immigration policy which attracted more educated, skilled, middle class entrepreneurs with substantial capital for investment. Ironically, the Iranian government officials and their dependents or ‘Noor-e cheshmy-ha’ and ‘agha zade-ha’(as we call them in Farsi) are the ones who are benefitting tremendously from the Canadian immigration policy. It is not unusual, for example, for a political refugees with the experience of prison and torture to run into her/his prison guard, court judge, or likes, in the streets of Toronto. The emergence of this new immigrants and the growing liberal/reformist tendencies among the activists has blurred the boundaries of anti-Islamic State activism.
The role of academia in obscuring possibilities for active and progressive citizen participation is noticeable. This, in particular is more applicable to women’s studies, an area that I am best familiar with. The theoretical approaches of postmodern and post structuralist feminism, to a large extent, have already deadened the critical edges of feminist politics. With the popularization of ideas of ‘politics of identity,’ ‘difference’, ‘locality’, ‘positionality’, ‘particularities’, and so on and so forth, these theories robbed feminist activism of possibilities of universality and struggle against the structures of power such as patriarchy, fundamentalisms, capitalism, and imperialism. These theoretical positions pigeon-holed feminist activisms into NGOs and state feminism. The NGOization of feminist activism has institutionalized, bureaucratized, and depoliticized women’s movement. Why are so many academics, of both Iranian and non-Iranian backgrounds, are silent about the atrocities of the Islamic regime against women? Why are we in awe with the achievements of thousands of Iranian women journalists, writers, artists, teachers, poets, and workers, but are not willing to highlight the oppressive and exploitative conditions under which these limited achievements are being gained? Why don’t they see the rise of violence against women in the forms of prostitution, trafficking young girls and women, suicide, self-immolation, addiction, poverty, and depression?
We are told that we leave in the age of globalization, borderless globe, and multiplicity of cultures; it is the age of celebrating differences and identities. This, I consider, an ideological war against people of the world. This ideological war is being waged by the capitalist media, academia, corporations, the military-industrial complex, and is sponsored by the state. What I see happening world-wide is the war of fundamentalisms. In fact, the axis of evil are capitalism, religious fundamentalisms, and US imperialism.
In this global order, the institution of the state, the nation-state, and nationalism are not withering away. Indeed, the institution of the state has shown that it can readily deny citizens the rights they have won through two centuries of struggle. It is only through organized and sustained struggle that we can tame the state.
The liberal government in Ottawa has not, in my opinion, taken the case of Zahara Kazemi seriously. The government means business with the Islamic regime or any other state in the region. Ottawa’s economic, military and political considerations overshadow the murder of a Canadian citizen. The government, whether liberal or conservative, has shown how it is the executive committee of the capitalist class. Earlier this year the parliament, that is, the highest organ of Canadian democracy, recognized the Armenian genocide, Mr. Martin announce that his government did not endorse the decision of the parliament. It was clear that for Ottawa the selling of arms to Turkey and Bombardier’s business with Turkey are more important than the decisions of the parliament. In near future Mr. Jean Chrétien will shake hands with the Islamic State in order to secure an oil contract for Canada.
I want to emphasize that the only recourse we have is to organize, and push the government to care about the life of a Canadian citizen, a woman, a journalist, a mother, and an advocate of peace and, in the international scene, to make other states accountable to rules of international human rights. We should break this silence.
Inspired by Brecht, I will remain hopeful when he writes:
In the dark times, will there also be singing?
Yes there will be singing
About the dark times.
My Brechtian optimism does not imply that the oppressive world order will improve spontaneously, that is, without active intervention. I have no hope that the Islamic regime will change through reform; only its elimination through revolution can put an end to this theocratic regime. In the last two years, the US and the Islamic reactionaries have proved that there is no limit to their brutalities. Rosa Luxemburg’s verdict, ‘socialism or barbarity’ is more relevant today than ever.