Feminists Brutally Assaulted in Tehran

On International Women’s Day, anti-gay Iranian security forces crush peaceful rights rally

In Tehran on March 8, International Women’s Day, busloads of state security forces brutally attacked a peaceful demonstration of Iranian feminists who had gathered to demand their rights and express their opposition to war and violence.

Gay City News has regularly reported on the lethal anti-gay pogrom currently ongoing in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This latest assault on women stems from the same bigoted patriarchal religiosity that is casting Iranian gays into the fiery furnace of repression today.

Although the Associated Press ran on its newswire a dispatch from Tehran about the suppression of the women’s demonstration, U.S. media blacked out this latest evidence of the inhuman violence perpetrated by the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against his own citizens. The only significant U.S. daily newspaper to run the AP’s account was the San Diego Tribune.

Iranian feminists from among the demonstration’s organizers provided this reporter with the details that follow.

“Approximately 1,000 women had gathered in Park Daneshjoo [Student Park] on the occasion of the International Women’s Day to emphasize their stance in support of women’s human rights and peace. Organized by independent women’s groups and activists, the ceremony—which started at 4 p.m., and was scheduled to last one hour—was charged shortly after it began by plain clothes militia [the basiji], special anti-riot forces of the Revolutionary Guards, soldiers, and police, who relentlessly beat the protesters, in an effort to disperse the group.”

Ten minutes into the protest, this report continues, “after security forces had managed to fully film and photograph the protesters for follow-up and interrogations at a later time,” the assault began, with the security forces “dumping cans of garbage on the heads of women who were seated to prevent easy dispersal…”

Among the victims of this state-sponsored wrath was a famous feminist poet, Simin Behbehani, who is in her mid-70s and nearly blind. Behbehani, who has always said that “the purpose of my poetry is to fight injustice,” has published 15 volumes of poetry.“ A Cup of Sin: Selected Poems of Simin Behbehani,” was published in 1999 by Syracuse University Press, and her poems also appear in “Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature,” published here last year by Arcade.

Behbehani ”was beaten by a baton and then kicked repeatedly by security guards, amidst objection by women protesters. Female and male pedestrians passing by the protest also received beatings by the police.

“Journalists, including several foreign correspondents, who had filmed and photographed the event, were rounded up, held in custody and released only after their films and photographs had been confiscated. The security forces were initially estimated at over 100, with busloads more being added during the course of the protest. All carried batons and the women were repeatedly told by the security forces as they administered beatings that they had orders to do so.

The Tehran feminists report that, “This latest development is part of a growing repression of women’s groups and women’s rights activists, human rights leaders, and civil society leaders in Iran. In June of 2005, thousands of women gathered in front of Tehran University asking for changes in the Constitution with respect to women’s rights. Many of the women involved in the protest were subsequently called in for questioning by security forces, interrogated, and repeatedly harassed. Some organizations were denied permits of operation due to their involvement in the Tehran university protest.

“Women’s rights activists believe that interrogations, harassments, and pressure on their organizations, including closure and arrests will increase as a result of this latest event.”

Why should gay people—especially gay men—care about this latest assault in Tehran on women demanding their rights? Because, as the gay liberation movement of the 1970s used to proclaim, misogyny and homophobia are the twin expressions of the same patriarchal bigotry, symbiotically linked in repressive, sexist attitudes of hate and contempt for natural sexuality and sexual freedom. Scratch a homophobic dogmatist and you will find someone who incarnates a basic contempt for women.

Gay liberation as a movement sadly has been dead for decades—in part due to the AIDS epidemic, which swept away so many of its most valuable leaders and thinkers, and in part due to the embourgeoisement of gay life, which has seen the demand for gay liberation replaced by the demand for gay citizenship and assimilation. But we must never forget the teachings of the early years of the modern-day struggle for gay freedom.

And that is particularly true in confronting the human rights crisis in Iran, today the world’s largest religious prison. Gay men ought to be just as outraged by this assault on women as they are by the arrests, torture, kidnapping, and executions being inflicted on young Iranian gay men today—for they both stem from the same primitive religious fanaticism and sexism. Moreover, in practical political terms, if we want the American women’s movement to care about the gay freedom fight abroad, gay men must embrace that movement’s concerns as their own. As the great gay black civil rights leader Bayard Rustin used to say, “All successful coalitions are based on mutual self-interest.”

That’s a lesson gay leaders—and in particular our national gay institutions—badly need to learn.

Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/.

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