May 15, 2005 VOLUME 12


To our readers,

As we celebrate the first anniversary of E-ZAN, WFAFI’s monthly publication, we would like to thank all of our readers for their continued support in keeping the voice of women against fundamentalism in Iran live and loud in America and elsewhere. Together, we will continue to facilitate the political voice of Iranian women in support of peace and against the misogynous rulers in Tehran.

Since mid-April, Tehran’s negotiation with EU, on its outlawed nuclear program, has captured the international headlines. At the same time, there has been a re-launch of:

-          Crackdown on women in major cities in Iran, and

-          Campaign of volunteers to carry out suicide bomb attacks against Americans in Iraq and against Israelis.

In response, Washington has been silent and EU is too busy appeasing Tehran. The fact remains, Tehran’s danger is growing on daily basis. Women’s goal is not to put Washington and EU on notice, but to give them a wake up call. If only Washington and EU could pay more attention to the status of women in Basra, southern city of Iraq, they would notice the depth of Tehran’s influence in that country. If only EU, particularly France, could see beyond its economic interest, they would notice the growing danger of a nuclear state-sponsored of terrorism in their own back yard.

Iranian women, along with their Iraqi sisters, will continue to press their political agenda for democracy as the only strategy to defeat Tehran and its influence in the region. Therefore, it behooves Washington and EU to recognize the voice of women as they review their policies in the both Iran and Iraq. Any policy short of that will prolong the danger and influence of Tehran’s fundamentalist regime in the region.


E-Zan Featured Headlines

Reuters – April 18, 2005

The main global humanist organization and a group of former Muslims on Monday accused European countries of ignoring violations of human rights in their Islamic communities to preserve "multi-culturalism". In a presentation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and at a separate news conference and a seminar, they also argued that Muslim countries were trying to use the body to quash any discussion of their own rights record. "Western society tends to turn a blind eye to the plight of European Muslim women and girls because 'Muslim culture is different'," Roy Brown, president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), told the 53-member Commission.


Agance France Presse – April 19, 2005

Tehran police chief Brigadier General Morteza Talaie has announced a new campaign to ensure women keep covered up in public in keeping with the rules of the Islamic republic, newspapers reported Tuesday.  "The press will take firm action against those who disturb security and moral order with their behavior and their clothing," he was quoted as warning.  He said 30 percent of complaints to police involved cases of women not covering up properly, with their hair not kept out of sight by a scarf, and "improper behavior" by the young.  Iranian police issue the same warning each year in the run-up to summer and patrol areas where the young gather.  Talaie's predecessor, General Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who has stepped down to contest the June 17 presidential election, said last year that women were behaving like "top models" on the streets of Tehran.  All women in Iran have to wear a scarf and the traditional chador, a robe which flows from head to foot, or a conservative coat to conceal their figure and hair from the eyes of men.


Agance France Presse – April 19, 2005

Around 400 Iranian men and women met in Tehran to declare their readiness to carry out suicide operations against Israel.  Some 250 men and 150 women, all members of Islamist militias, responded to an appeal by two non-governmental organizations urging them to support Palestinian suicide bombers and declare their own readiness to become "martyrs".  Grouped together in a hall in the centre of Tehran, women in chadors and men wearing headbands with the inscription "There is no God but Allah" heard the organizers read out a religious decree legitimizing suicide attacks.  Such actions are "permitted and considered relevant in the holy war for the good of Allah when the difference between the military forces of the army of Islam and those of the enemy is too great and there is no other classical means to hurt the enemy at strategic points," according to the decree from Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nuri Hamedani “I am ready to take up arms, travel to Palestine and fight against the Zionists," said Mansoureh Sadeghi, 31, a student. "People die in any case so why not die for one's ideals?"  The Islamic republic has always made clear its refusal to recognize Israel and its support of the Palestinian cause. However it denies providing anything other than political support to militant Palestinian groups. The authorities keep their distance from events gathering together would-be suicide bombers, saying they can do nothing to prevent such events taking place.


Agance France Presse – April 25, 2005

She said existing vetting procedures meant free and healthy elections were not possible. Ahead of the 17 June presidential election, the Guardians Council, a watchdog which screens all candidates, has said it is sticking by its interpretation of a key word in Iran's constitution that has long been taken as meaning that only men can be president. "I object to the Guardians Council's interpretation of the word 'rijal'," Ebadi told a news conference in Tehran. The disputed word "rejal", which comes from Arabic and refers to man (or men), could also be interpreted as meaning "personalities" in Persian and this is the translation used in some English translations of the constitution. "The approbatory supervision by the Guardians Council ... negates a free and healthy election," said a statement issued by the Defenders of Human Rights Centre, a group headed by Ebadi.  Aside from barring women, the Guardians Council can also weed out candidates it deems to be unsuitable. This power was used to devastating effect prior to the February 2004 parliament elections, when nearly all pro-reform candidates were disqualified.

Agance France Presse – April 25, 2005

Police in the Iranian capital are poised to launch a fresh crackdown targeting "models of corruption", or in other words poorly-veiled women, press reports said Wednesday. "The police will act against the models of corruption out in public places and against those who may not be ladies of the street but whose conduct does not respect Islam," Tehran province's police chief, General Reza Zareie, was quoted as saying. The general pledged that his forces would deploy in parks and streets around the capital that are frequented by residents on weekend picnics to escape the sprawling city's heat and pollution. Pre-summer crackdowns on skimpy clothes and flimsy headscarfs are common in Islamic Iran, where all post-pubescent females are required to wear the veil and a long coat that conceals their bodily form. Violators risk fines or imprisonment.  In large cities such as Tehran, the dress code has been increasingly flouted -- with many women barely covering their hair and sporting brightly-colored, figure-hugging coats.  Earlier this month Tehran city's police chief, Brigadier General Morteza Talaie, also warned of an impending operation targeting those "who by their conduct or dress are perturbing public security and morality".


Middle East On-line – May 9, 2005-05

Iran's Guardians Council, a hardline body that screens all legislation, has rejected a highly contentious law that allowed abortions in limited cases, the student news agency ISNA reported on Monday. "It is against sharia (Islamic law) to abort children who would inflict a financial burden on the parents after birth due to mental or physical handicap," ISNA said, quoting parliamentary sources. Iran's conservative-dominated parliament decided last month - in the face of opposition from religious right-to-life MPs - that abortions be allowed within four months of gestation if the foetus was mentally or physically handicapped and would inflict a financial burden on the family. At present, women in Iran can only get official approval for an abortion if their life is proven to be at risk because of a pregnancy, leading to a booming but angerous backstreet business. According to local press reports, at least 80,000 illegal abortions are carried out in Iran each year but some believe the actual figure could be far higher. The legislation will now be referred back to parliament for amendments and if it is still opposed by the Guardians Council, Iran's top arbitration body the Expediency Council will make a final ruling.



E-Zan Featured Reports


Campaign of suicide bombers to free "occupied Islamic countries"

By Parisa Hafezi, Reuters

April 21, 2005

TEHRAN, Iran - Around 400 volunteers signed up in Tehran to sacrifice their lives in "occupied Islamic countries" on Wednesday night, inspired by a fatwa from a top hardline cleric giving religious backing to suicide missions. Wednesday's registration session was the latest by a group called the Committee for the Commemoration of Martyrs of the Global Islamic Campaign, which says it has enrolled 35,000 volunteers nationwide for possible attacks since last year.  Iran's pro-reform government has repeatedly said it would not allow groups to carry out such attacks and no Iranians are thought to have directly executed suicide bombings in Israel or elsewhere in recent years.

But the presence of President Mohammad Khatami's adviser on women's affairs and a representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei leant some official backing to Wednesday's event. In a dark hall decorated with pictures of female Palestinian suicide bombers, dozens of men and women queued to fill out registration forms. "As a Muslim, it is my duty to sacrifice my life for oppressed Palestinian children," said Maryam Partovi, 31, a mother of two. A banner hanging over the main entrance quoted Khamenei as saying: "Sacrificing oneself for religion and national interest is the height of honor and bravery."


Iranian hardline cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamedani's religious decree was read to volunteers over a loudspeaker. It said "martyrdom operations" were permissible in the "occupied Islamic countries" as a weapon of war against modern armies. "Any martyrdom-seeking operation is a jihad (holy war) for God," it said. Women dressed in the traditional head-to-foot black chador and men wearing red headbands which read "Prophet Mohammad is God's messenger", responded with chants of "God is great".  Videos of Israeli army attacks on Palestinians were shown on a wide screen. Books and CDs on the Palestinian uprising were also for sale.

Hamid, a 20-year-old student who lost his father in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, said he was ready to sacrifice his life. "I want to kill Zionists and free my Palestinian brothers," he said.  Since its 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has refused to recognize Israel and supports anti-Israeli groups like Hamas.  "Our enemies are Zionists and other occupiers of Islamic countries," Mohammad Samadi, spokesman for the group of volunteers, told Reuters. "America is definitely considered an enemy."  He said the group was an independent organization with no ties to the government. Its work was limited to encouraging volunteers to carry out suicide attacks. "We will not dispatch them anywhere ... they will locate the targets themselves," he said.


Basra's intrusive Islamists reject Iran's theocracy as too tolerant

By Delphine Minoui, Chronicle Foreign Service

May 4, 2005


Basra, Iraq -- Sheikh Assad al-Basri says there's no need to worry that he and his Islamist militia intend to recreate an Iranian-style government in Iraq. For the local representative of rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Iran's theocratic state is far too liberal for his tastes.
"Only 5 percent of Iranians abide by real Islamic laws," said al-Basri, who boasts that he and his cohorts already have blown up most of
Basra's liquor stores, punished "decadent picnickers" and imposed Islamic dress codes. "The rest of Iranians are corrupt. Look, there are drugs and girls who don't wear hijab (traditional head coverings) properly in Iran."  Iraq's new Shiite-led government in Baghdad vows it will respect and tolerate all religious and ethnic groups and will create a constitution that will be a model for a region gripped by Islamic fervor. 

But on the streets of this once-liberal port city of 1.5 million, militias already have begun imposing a harsh version of Shariah -- Islamic law.
"They have managed to impose a republic of fear," said Yasser Qassim, a local journalist who publishes stories under a pen name out of fear for his safety.  Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, which has mounted armed uprisings against
U.S. forces in Najaf and Baghdad, has launched a reign of terror on Basra's streets, residents say. Al-Basri said that 12,000 militiamen have been trained for combat and "are ready to mobilize in case of a crisis."

Residents say militia members are hunting down unveiled women, attacking liquor stores and clamping down on the local press.
During celebrations two months ago commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, an important Shiite saint, 6,000 armed militiamen of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army marched through the streets. "They are everywhere," said Dr. Muhammad Nassir, who heads Basra Maternity and
Pediatric Hospital. "Some of them recently visited our hospital to try to convince us to forbid male doctors from curing female patients."  His colleagues at nearby Sadr Hospital -- renamed after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in honor of Muqtada al-Sadr's slain father -- complain that al-Sadr's followers have hung posters of the young cleric inside the wards.  "They watch us," said one doctor, who requested anonymity out of fear for his personal safety. "I have received a few death threats. I am afraid to talk. To protect myself, I bought a pistol, which I hide under my shirt."  Although Basra lies within the sector of Iraq patrolled by the British military, residents say the British are turning a blind eye to the dilemma. "It is a difficult situation," said one British diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There is a vacuum of power. We fear even more tensions in the hot summer months as energy supplies run short."  Basra officials concede the militiamen are creating problems, but are hesitant to crack down. "We are going through a sensitive time, and we must be cautious and careful," said Muhammad Saadoun al-Ebaadi, chief of the new provincial council.  On the streets, fear is palpable. One day three months ago, a female student from Basra University's college of sciences was ordered to cover her hair. She refused to comply. Three days later, she was found dead on the road to her house, said her classmates and professors.

Even picnics along the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where the Tigris River meets the Euphrates River -- a popular spot in steamy Basra -- have been declared illicit.  In a high-profile incident first publicized by television stations in Baghdad, the Mahdi Army violently broke up a March 15 picnic attended by hundreds of engineering students beneath the palm trees of al-Andalus Park. As young men played volleyball and young women listened to music, black-clad militiamen armed with knives, metal bars and assault rifles rushed them, firing shots into the air.  "A man dressed in black, his face covered with a mask, stood in front of my group of friends and asked why we were not wearing hijab," said Celia Garabet, a 21-year-old student recovering from neck injuries inflicted in the melee. "I was too afraid to reply, and I received a big hit on the back of my head, from behind. It was panic everywhere."  When police finally intervened, students said, some assisted the militiamen. "They were accusing us of being infidels. They were calling girls prostitutes," said 22-year-old Muhammad Samir.  Outraged students organized two large demonstrations and demanded an apology. Under pressure, al-Sadr's office issued a statement promising not to attack any more picnics.  Local officials downplayed the incident. "What happened was insignificant compared to the other cases of disorder and violence in Basra," said al-Ebaadi, the council chief.  Al-Basri, al-Sadr's top man in the city, is unapologetic. Sometimes, he says, violence is the only way to stop corruption.  "You should punish and beat a kid in order to protect him from playing with the fire," he said. "During this picnic, girls were wearing shirts that were far too thin. We could see their arms underneath. Boys were dancing. It was immoral." Even Christians, he says, must abide by Islamic dress codes. "Wasn't the Virgin Mary covered?" he asked. "Christian women should cover themselves, if they are good Christians."

For longtime residents of Basra, the violence and intolerance are heartbreaking. "When I was a student, I went to the movies and casinos every weekend," Juliana Youssef Davoud, an English professor in her 50s, said as she leafed through an old album with photos of her wearing a miniskirt and hanging out with her male friends in a Basra park.  "We used to go to the cabarets," she said. "Young people drank beers. We used to go on picnics every weekend. None of these little pleasures of the youth are now allowed in Iraq."


Iranian Volunteers Training for Attacks

By Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press

May 13, 2005


Tehran, Iran -  More than 200 young men and women presented themselves Thursday as volunteers to carry out suicide bomb attacks against Americans in Iraq and against Israelis.  The meeting was organized at Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, south of Tehran, by the Headquarters for Commemorating Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement, a shadowy group that has sought volunteers for attacks in Iraq and Israel since last year. It was the third such ceremony that the group has held, but there has been no independent confirmation any of its volunteers has carried out a bombing.

Most of those attending Thursday's meeting, half of them women, were members of the Basij militia, a hard-line paramilitary group, and have already had military training. But the movement says it provides more training for suicide attacks.

The movement's spokesman, Mohammad Ali Samadi, told the audience that the volunteers were preparing for ``martyrdom attacks against occupiers of Palestine, the assassination of (British author) apostate Salman Rushdie and attacks against occupiers of holy places (in Iraq).''

The volunteers, who chanted ``Allahu akbar'' - ``God is great'' - and ``Death to America,'' wore white shrouds symbolizing their willingness to die and headbands with the slogan ``There is no Allah but the Almighty.'' No weapons or explosives were visible at the ceremony.  The two previous such ceremonies - in December and April - each had 200 volunteers. 

The Iranian government has distanced itself from the organization, but the group has occasionally used buildings belonging to semi-official hard-line organizations. Certain hard-line lawmakers and some commanders of the elite Revolutionary Guards have spoken in support of the movement.  The volunteers were given metal name plates to identify them after they've carried out attacks and presented wills to Samadi. They refused to show their will to reporters.

One woman, who only gave her first name Zahra, said a ``sense of obligation'' encouraged her to leave her family and become a suicide bomber.


Under the Veil of Iran's Nuclear Aspirations
By Roya Hakakian, The Forward

May 13, 2005

The Iran of May 2005 is, in some ways, looking very similar to the Iran of November 1979. Back then, when the American embassy in Tehran was seized by hardline university students, every other domestic issue was cast into oblivion. Nothing mattered more than the hostages. Nothing superseded the war with the "Great Satan." The hostage crisis became so giant of an issue that all else alongside it was immediately dwarfed — in particular, the issues of freedom, civil liberties and human rights.

With each passing month in 1980, as the world's attention increasingly focused on the hostages, more and more arrests took place throughout Iran. Given the absence of both domestic and international scrutiny, acts of summary justice were performed far more swiftly. After January 1981, when the hostages returned home, the state of oblivion only deepened.

Today the dominant discussion about Iran is focused around another giant issue: Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. More attention is now focused on Iran than at any point in time since the 1979 revolution; nearly all of it is in regard to Tehran's intentions for its uranium-enrichment program. As media around the world report on the day-to-day details of the European Union's ongoing negotiations with the Iranian regime, the story of the Iranian people's daily struggles is increasingly buried.

…How can Iran — how can any country — ever reach democracy when truths are so constantly twisted, when acts of heroism prove merely ethereal and are vulnerable to the will of the rulers? ...A permanent space for the issue of human rights must be carved out so that they will no longer be subject to political trends and headlines.

These days, among Iranian scholars a dangerous argument seems to be gathering momentum, one which essentially brands any criticism of Tehran's human rights record as unpatriotic — particularly given the presence of American troops in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq. However, those of us who lived through the 1979 revolution and its aftermath know better than to agree.

Back in 1979, when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini proposed reinstituting the Islamic dress code, Iranian women who took to the streets in protest were accused of being unpatriotic. With the revolution still in its infancy and with the grave threat posed by the United States, the argument went, truly conscientious Iranians were those who sacrificed their personal happiness on behalf of collective unity. Women who advocated for free choice were, among many other things, slandered as selfish.

The Islamic dress code, of course, soon became mandatory. We were driven under the veils and the uniforms and the scarves. In retrospect, it is clear that the enforcement of the dress code paved the way for the loss of other civil liberties.

Given this history, now is the best time — indeed, the only time — to be talking about the issue of human rights in Iran.

Will the E.U.'s negotiations with Iran succeed? Will there be a military strike? Will there be a deal? If a deal is struck, those who care about the cause of democracy in Iran must play their humble part in making sure that Iranians' human rights won't be sacrificed for the sake of diplomatic considerations.

Tyrannies thrive on forgetfulness. Their hold over society is made clear to the public every time they manage to obliterate someone's record of opposition — or someone's existence.

As the international community converges on Iran to sort out the nuclear problem, it should remember that focusing on human rights is, in itself, an exercise in sovereignty — it infuses the debate with preoccupations that ultimately affect only Iranians. It is a way for the Iranian people to make our own demands. It is a way for us to wrest the subject from political and partisan wrangling and claim it as our own.


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Volume 12, May 15, 2005

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