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Islamic Fundamentalism and Women

 
National Press Club, Holeman Lounge, July 1, 2005
 

On July 1, 2005, Women's Freedom Forum held a panel discussion entitled, “Islamic Fundamentalism and Women”. The program began with a tribute to Dr. Brenda Pillors, Congressman Ed Towns ' Chief of Staff who unfortunately passed away days before the panel. The transcript of the panel is as follows:

Good Afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming today.

As we begin this forum, I would ask the panel, the members, and all of you here today to pause for a moment to remember Dr. Brenda Elaine Pillors, she would have been one of our panelists but she passed away suddenly June 12 th . Dr. Pillors was the Chief of Staff to US Congressman Ed Towns of New York , but she was so much more than Chief of Staff. During her illustrious tenure on Capitol Hill Dr. Pillors distinguished her self as a brilliant leader who was not afraid to tackle unpopular issues. She was a humble spirit whose knowledge of international policy issues was well known in all societies here in Washington and abroad. Dr. Pillors' beauty was all encompassing; she had a mind that could unlock the rustiest lock, a heart that could find treasure in the oddest places, hands that could put together the most intricate puzzles and a soul that gave a gift of knowledge and love. We will miss you Brenda and we will try to live up to your ideals.

.

Moderator, Mrs. Paula Corrado, from Women's Freedom Forum:

And now I would like to introduce Zolal Habibi, who will address you, thank you.

Zolal Habibi, Women's Freedom Forum, researcher and analyst:

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you for joining us today. I am pleased to welcome our distinguished guests and panelists, here with us today.

Our forum strongly believes the Islamic Fundamentalism has now emerged as the greatest threat to the world and the Middle East in particular. It first came into power in its current form in Iran in 1979 and has been relentless, ever since, in spreading its medieval standpoints. For this reason, we believe the fight against fundamentalism cannot be won without the active involvement of women in this arena and support for democratic change.

While our distinguished panelists will address the issue at length, I just wanted to take the opportunity to also say a few words about the recent elections in Iran .

There has been much talk about Ahmadinejad in the media in recent days, particularly his questionable role as a former hostage taker and his dark past. Regardless on how the picture in question will prove his role, we have to pay a close attention to his past.

Ahmadinejad's past clearly illustrates his involvement in serious regional issues, from Iraq to Lebanon and Palestine . He has expressed negative views towards the West and vowed to take Iran back to its “pure values of Khomeini's days”. His involvement in international terrorism, reactionary and fundamentalist thinking and commitment to establish a nuclear dominance in the Middle East will certainly guide his thinking as a president.

For this reason, liberal democracies, advocates of women and human rights, and peace seeking nations of the world can not ignore Iran 's political developments in coming months. Therefore, there is an urgent need of being fully vigilant of the dangerous role of Ahmadinejad will play at the service of Ali Khamenei.

The consequences of a nuclear Iran at the hand of fundamentalist regime like Tehran are beyond the Middle East . So, more than ever, there is a need for the democracies of the world to speak in one voice. Such voice should outline the political and economic isolation of Tehran 's regime. This united voice should stand by the women of Iran and their resistance movement. There is no longer any justification for talks of engagement and appeasement of the fundamentalist regime in Tehran . As Iranians, particularly women, said no to this regime in its entirety, the rest of the world should do the same.

Iranians want a change of regime and we must support that call. Those standing by Iranians, particularly women, will have a special place in our heart and our history.

So let us urge Washington and its EU allies to close the door on the Iranian regime while offering the democracy movement in Iran their unprejudiced support.

People of Iran deserve to have a democratic government and that day is not far.

I thank you and at this point I would like to introduce our moderator, to start our panel discussion.

Thank you

   

Mrs. Paula Corrado:

Thank you Zolal, I would like to thank Women's Freedom Forum, for hosting such an important event. I'm Paula Corrado and proud to be a member of Women's Freedom Forum. We are gathered here today, to discuss the concept of Islamic fundamentalism and the status of women. This is a very timely discussion because we have witnessed how dangerous this ideology is once it has power and targets women, in Afghanistan , Iraq and Iran . We all know we could no longer ignore this threat of fundamentalism, especially when it has political power is in the case of Iran . The face of Islamic fundamentalism is seen in the stoning of women, public hanging of minor children, young girls most in particular, these young girls are raped before their execution because they are virgins. We have also seen fundamentalist rulers of Iran have been benefited from human trafficking and targets women, girls and even young boys. We must put a stop to this; and now I would like you to view a film, it's called "Illusion or Reality"; this documentary film depicting the sad realities which Iranian people are faced with under the Iranian regime. Thank you.

Text of documentary, "Illusion or Reality?"

A brief account of rampant poverty in Iran

"The era of trickery has come to an end." These are the words of Mullah Karroubi. Karroubi, like all the other mullahs ruling Iran , is still engaged in deceit and trickery. The short documentary you are about to see is but a short glimpse at a society engulfed in poverty, hunger, illness, addiction, unemployment, class discrimination and repression. This is a picture of Iran, overwhelmed by misery and misfortune brought about by the mullahs; ironically, those who were running for the farcical presidential elections, forgot that they personally were among the oppressors, plunderers and murderers who have brought about the pain, misery and suffering for the people of Iran. Although their hollow words failed to deceive anyone, one cannot sit aside and just watch the agony of those who are burning in the flames of poverty.

Now, let us take a brief look at life in Iran under the mullahs' rule.

•  Old woman: I'm going through the garbage, I have no spouse. I have three young children and can't get by in life. I go through the garbage with my hands.

•  Interviewer: Don't you have a spouse?

•  Old woman: No dear, my husband passed away 3 years ago.

•  Interviewer: How do you work? Do you work with this sack or do you have a cart or car?

•  Old woman: No, I fill up my sack and carry it on my shoulder back to home, then I come back to fill it again.

•  Interviewer: How many children do you have?

•  Old woman: Two daughters, one of them had an eye illness and recently under went surgery.

•  Interviewer: You only have two daughters…no sons?

•  Old woman: I have two sons as well who are married. I had three daughters, we would search through the garbage together, but she couldn't take it anymore.

•  Interviewer: Your daughter?

•  Old woman: Yes my daughter. She said I'm tired of living like this, I said, what can I do, this is our destiny. She said "mom I really can't take it". It was the month of Ramadan and she had broken her fast at nightfall. It was the 17 th of the month and she had lit a fire and was sitting outside. My younger daughter was ill and I said I want to go out and get some medicine, I said "Marzieh come with me", she answered, "you go ahead, and I'll come later." As I turned around to go I heard a loud cry and the sound of flames burning. My knees grew weak… her uncle put her flames out. He's not really the children's uncle, he's just a stranger but the children have called him "uncle". She said, "I can't live like this, do you call this type of living a life? Why should others live nice lives while we live like this?" I lost one of my daughters like this, I swear she said: "I'm tired of living like this! I look at the way others live. We are Iranians, yet why are our living conditions this way?" I am tired of this life as well; the way we pass our days is not called life. My little daughter cries "I want shoes, by me a pair of shoes!" How am I supposed to buy anything? I was sick for 2 days and couldn't come to collect garbage. How can I buy my daughter shoes? I have no kerosene and have to pay 5000 Tomans to buy kerosene. How am I supposed to get by in life?

•  Interviewer: Is your home near here?

•  Old woman: Yes, you've seen it before.

•  Interviewer: If possible let us have another look.

•  Old woman: Of course, it would be my pleasure.

•  Interviewer: Sorry for bothering you. Not only are we wasting your time but you have to leave what you're doing.

•  Old woman: It's no bother, let's go.

•  Interviewer: please go ahead.

•  Old woman: Ali, are these full?

•  Interviewer: What do you usually eat?

•  Old woman: Nothing, really nothing, just dry bread, do you think I can afford anything else?

•  Interviewer: You make 4500 Tomans a month

•  Old woman: sometimes potatoes… and rarely eggs instead. Sometimes our friends or relatives would give us rice. They've stopped giving coupons now.

•  Interviewer: You mean food coupons?

•  Old woman: Yes, it's been two years that they've stopped that as well. Before we could get something to eat but that was 2 years ago.

•  Interviewer: Does your heater work with kerosene?

•  Old woman: Yes.

•  Interviewer: Where do you buy the kerosene from?

•  Old woman: I buy it right here near home.

•  Interviewer: Has there been times when the heater stopped because you had no kerosene?

•  Old woman: Two nights ago we had no kerosene. I sold my daughters bracelet to pay for it. I bought kerosene to heat the place for my children.

***

  Interviewer: What were you doing?

•  Young man: I was dancing

•  Interviewer: How old are you?

•  Young man: 27 or 28 years old

•  Interviewer: Where are you from?

•  Young man: From the province of "Khorasan"

•  Interviewer: Khorasan?

•  Young man: Yes.

•  Interviewer: And now you live in Tehran ?

•  Young man: Yes

•  Interviewer: Do you have a house of your own?

•  Young man: No, I'm a tenant.

•  Interviewer: Do you have a family?

•  Young man: Yes, a wife and a child

•  Interviewer: How many children?

•  Young man: Just one, a new born.

•  Interviewer: Are you content with what you do?

•  Young man: No, I'm ashamed of what I do. But I'm obliged because of misery and a hard life and…I'm forced to do it. I'm not content with what I do but what choice do I have? Should I go after robbery, or illegal matters, what can I do? God forbid, if I can't supply my family with the basic necessities and money for the household, God forbid, if I can't bring money home then my wife would have to go to the streets (prostitution), even though it's not custom for our family, but my wife would be forced to go to the streets. So in order for our minds to be at ease, there must always be money at home.

•  Interviewer: Thank you for your time. Go back to your work. The traffic light is red.

***

•  Interviewer: Do you work these days?

•  Man: No I can't work

•  Interviewer: Why is that?

•  Man: I've been told not to work; if I work my eye injury will get worse.

•  Interviewer: Who said, the doctor?

•  Man: Yes the doctor said so. It's been 5 or 6 months that I haven't been working.

  Interviewer: Where did you work?

•  Man: I worked at a brick making factory.

•  Interviewer: What was your job before that?

•  Man: I've always had the same employment.

•  Interviewer: Are you insured?

•  Man: No, I'm not insured.

•  Interviewer: Do you have medical insurance?

•  Man: No I do not.

•  Woman: My father had given us a Persian rug as a wedding present, which we sold to tend to his eye.

•  Interviewer: How much did the treatment cost?

•  Man: Overall, something near 350,000 Tomans.

•  Interviewer: How much did you sell the rug for?

•  Man: About 60,000 Tomans

•  Interviewer: Where did you get the rest of the money from?

•  Man: I borrowed about 120,000 Tomans from here and there.

•  Interviewer: Did you get a loan from a bank?

•  Man: No, I loaned it from our neighbors

•  Interviewer: He must have been a good person, what made him lend you the money? Was it a loan with interest?

•  Man: Yes.

•  Interviewer: How much interest per a month?

•  Man: 7,000 Tomans a month.

•  Interviewer: Do the children complain about being hungry?

•  Woman: Yes, very much

•  Interviewer: What do you say to them? How do you put them to sleep when they're hungry?

•  Woman: I give them bread and cheese.

•  Interviewer: Have there been nights when there wasn't anything for them to eat?

•  Woman: Check the refrigerator, it's empty, there's nothing in it.

•  Interviewer: Do your parents mock you for being in such a situation?

•  (woman cries) Woman: I've been trying to wash the clothes from morning 'till now, but I can't cause my hands are scarred.

•  Interviewer: Do you have warm water?

•  Woman: No

•  Interviewer: Do you wash all the clothing?

•  Woman: I wash them all.

•  Interviewer: You mean you wash your brother in law, mother and father in laws' clothing?

•  Woman: Yes. If I don't do so, I won't be able to buy my children warm clothing.

***

•  Interviewer: How are you Madame? Please go ahead, so we can follow you in.

•  Woman: I sell clothes, my neighbor helps me as well; she's new here. I used to get rice from another neighbor but she doesn't give me rice anymore. I fix old clothes and then get bread for it in exchange.

•  Interviewer: How do you buy clothes?

•  Woman: My neighbors bring the clothes and I work on them.

•  Interviewer: So they give you old clothes for free, you work on them and then sell them?

•  Woman: Yes, I make a living by selling old clothes.

•  Interviewer: What is your income?

•  Woman: 1000 Tomans a week

•  Interviewer: When you got up this morning what did your mother give you for breakfast?

 

•  Little girl: cheese

•  Interviewer: What about lunch?

•  Little girl: cheese

•  Interviewer: Do you remember what you had for dinner last night, before you went to sleep?

•  Little girl: nothing

•  Interviewer: You didn't have anything to eat? Were you hungry when you went to sleep last night? (girl nods) Did you tell your mom you were hungry? (girl nods) Yeah, what did she say?

•  Little girl: She said later if we get anything

•  Interviewer: She said if they brought you some food she'll give you some? Did you fall asleep? When you woke up in the morning were you hungry? (girl nods) Did you have bread and cheese? (girl nods) Who brought you the bread?

•  Little girl: The neighbors

•  Interviewer: What about the cheese?

•  Little girl: The neighbors brought it.

•  Little boy: We ate bread and cheese

•  Interviewer: What about breakfast?

  Little boy: We had bread and cheese for breakfast too.

•  Woman: I have no money to buy them food; I get the food from our neighbors. There's no one who will help me, I have no one by my side. I have no one.

•  Interviewer: "Alireza" why are you crying? "Alireza" hold your head up. "Alireza" what's wrong?

•  Little boy: (whipping tears) nothing, my eye burns.

•  Interviewer: Your eye is bothering you?

•  Interviewer: "Khadijeh" imagine a government official is sitting in front of you, and you want to speak your mind, what would you tell them.

•  Woman: Don't ask her, I'll tell you everything you want to know.

•  Interviewer: Ma'am please let her answer the question. Imagine someone who can do something is sitting in front of you, what do you say?

•  Young girl: I just want a home

•  Interviewer: A home, what else, imagine, you could say anything you want; whatever is deep down in your heart, the things you think about when you're alone…be comfortable, you can say anything you want.

•  Young girl: I don't want to see my mother distraught anymore; I don't want her to have to beg from others.

•  Interviewer: what do you do?

•  Little boy: I gather rubber and sell it to the street seller

•  Interviewer: How much does the street seller pay you usually?

•  Little boy: 10 or 20 Tomans

•  Interviewer: What do you do with the money?

•  Little boy: I give it to my mother.

•  Interviewer: you give is to your mother, have you ever put the money in your pocket and spent it on yourself?

•  Little boy: No

***

•  I wanted to show them this letter and let them judge for themselves. Why should a weak person be trampled under the feet of others? Are we not human? Did God not create us all? I have kidney problems and a weak heart, and as you can see my wife is sick too. Considering all the pain and suffering, we are pulling through and we don't have expectations from others. But we don't expect to be humiliated by others either. Why should we be treated so. I've been running to try to get a building permit for over three years now, here's the letter. Why is it that if a man pays 2 million Tomans as bribe he begins construction on a home in 24 hours? If necessary I can show the land it's built on as well. I swear to Ali, this is not just. Iran is the land I defend, it's my country, but how come I'm deprived of everything in my own homeland? Who am I suppose to tell this to? What am I suppose to do? If you want to kill us, go ahead and get it over with, but don't torment us like this. Why does the Mayor choose his own son over me? Why should we be treated differently? I'll show you the land; they've built around it but won't respond to my claim. When I can't even buy my wife and children food or a notebook for school, when I can't even buy the medicine I need to tend to my own illness, what is there that "I can do" in this country? It's the dream of every parent to have a proper home for their children and to be able to provide for them. I don't want anything extra and have no expectations from them I just want my rights to be respected. Is someone who hasn't seen the color of meat for 6 months a Muslim? I ask you, where in the Quran has this been written? According to the Quran if you don't have meat within 40 days you're not Muslim. How is it that my child hasn't tasted chicken within the past 6 months? Where in the Quran has such a thing been written? Five prophets were sent to guide mankind, in which of their books has such a thing been justified? Words don't ease my pain, medicine does. The doctor gives me a price for medicine, but I don't have that much.

***

•  Interviewer: Hello, is your father home?

•  Man: Please come in.

•  Interviewer: What type of work did you do before, where were you employed?

 

•  Man: I've been a driver from 1983, and I have documentation to prove it.

•  Interviewer: Where?

•  Man: In Kianshahr, I was single then. I've driven all kinds of vehicles, even gasoline trailers, and now here I am. Now, I'm unemployed.

•  Interviewer: You have two children. Does "Hooshang" go to school?

•  Man: Yes, the other one goes to school as well.

•  Interviewer: Your daughter goes to school too? What was her name?

•  Man: Yes, she goes to school, her name is Mahsa

•  Interviewer: Can you afford to buy her school supplies?

•  Man: She doesn't even have shoes, how can I afford to buy her school supplies? She doesn't even have shoes to wear.

•  Interviewer: Then what does she wear?

•  Man: Sandals, I bought her sandals and I've arranged to pay for it with monthly payments.

•  Interviewer: How much did you pay for the sandals?

•  Woman: 300 or 400 Tomans each

•  Interviewer: Did you repay it all?

•  Woman: I would pay 200 Tomans each week.

•  Interviewer: Have there been times when you couldn't provide food for your family for a few days at a time?

•  Man: Yes

•  Interviewer: What did you do then?

•  Man: They were just showing a commercial for chicken on Television; before I could get up to turn the television off, my children saw it. They started crying and said we want food like that too.

•  Interviewer: Which one of them cried?

•  Man: Hooshang

•  Interviewer: What did he say?

•  Man: He said it tastes good, look at what they're eating, why don't we have any? Look around and see if you find any rice in our house.

•  Interviewer: have you had dinner tonight?

•  Man: No

•  Interviewer: What are you planning to eat?

•  Man: Nothing, there's nothing to eat.

•  Interviewer: Until when can you cope with this situation?

•  Man: I have no clue. The last time I saw you, I said we have no kerosene. I still haven't been able to purchase any kerosene. My home is not heated, and the window is broken as well.

•  Interviewer: Why haven't you replaced the window?

•  Man: I can't afford a new one. The first time I went to buy one it was 3000 Tomans, now it's reached 3500 Tomans.

•  Interviewer: So you need 3500 Tomans to buy a window?

•  Man: No that's the price per a meter; our window is at least 2 meters high.

•  Interviewer: So you need 7,000 or 8,000 Tomans?

•  Man: Yes, probably.

•  Interviewer: And you don't have the money for it?

•  Man: No I don't

•  Interviewer: You warm the entire house with this one kerosene lamp?

•  Man: Yes, just this one.

•  Interviewer: Don't you have a kerosene heater?

•  Man: We do, but we don't have kerosene to run it. I can't afford to buy any kerosene.

•  Interviewer: Is there any job you are capable of doing that you could go after? Or do you say "no, I'll only drive or do construction work?"

•  Man: No, I've tried getting a job at food stands but the owners wouldn't hire me. Either because I was too old or that I lived too far away.

•  Interviewer: So you've tried to find employment?

•  Man: Yes, the "Punak" agency located in Bahar Street , he was an old friend, I've known him since 1985 but he said I'm sorry, I can't, and he turned me down. He said he had a car but I lived too far away to be able to work there. Even if he hired me I would get to work at about 9 o'clock in the morning or I would have to use his car to go which would cost him a lot. So I've tried finding jobs.

•  Interviewer: Are you content with your status and current situation?

•  Man: We want to have a color TV too, or plaster the walls and have a rug on the floor, make two rooms in the house, make a bathroom for my children.

•  Interviewer: Where do the children go to bathe?

•  Man: They go out

•  Interviewer: Is there a public bath around here?

•  Man: Yes

•  Interviewer: Is it close to home?

•  Man: Yes, but it costs money as well, nearly 500 Tomans per person. Of course, I want to improve my life as well.

•  Interviewer: When was the last time your daughter bathed?

•  Man: How long ago was it?

•  Woman: Two or three weeks ago.

•  Man: Two or three weeks ago!

•  Interviewer: Are there times when your children complain about things? For instance you said, your son, Hooshang complained when he saw the chicken commercial on TV, are there other instances?

•  Man: Yes, their clothes, her school bag.

•  Woman: Her friends all have bicycles except her

•  Interviewer: Have there been times when other children would mock her?

•  Man: We use to live in a tent when she started going to school 4 months ago. They made fun of her. That was when I felt indebted to her; I decided to come here, at any price. I borrowed the plaster needed to build a home, I borrowed the plaster from a store near "Imam Zadeh Hassan", on Azari intersection; it's called "Toliddaroo". I told the owner that I would work for him in return if he gave me the plaster. I borrowed another 200,000 or more than 150,000 Tomans. I got upset because one day, she came crying from school, they had mocked her and said she lived in a dump. People would even harass me too. Every time they passed by they would say "look at the villa!" or "look at the mansion!" I would tell myself, it's not important. Our neighbor, two houses down, came complaining that "you are gypsies, you live in tents." I told my wife, it's not important; let them say what they want. I'm Iranian but now they call me a gipsy.

***

  Interviewer: Is your mother home?

•  Young girl: No

•  Interviewer: She's not home? Where is she?

•  Young girl: My mother is at work.

•  Interviewer: Where does she work?

•  Young girl: On Vali-Asr Street in Tehran

•  Interviewer: What does she do?

  Young girl: She works on a production line, making coats.

•  Interviewer: What about your father?

•  Young girl: Please don't ask me about my father.

•  Interviewer: Why?

•  Young girl: I don't like talking about him.

•  Interviewer: You can't tell me why?

•  Young girl: My father was a drug addict. He gave someone a drug injection and it was so severe that the person died, and now my father is in prison.

•  Interviewer: Is he in prison for murder or drug abuse?

•  Young girl: For both.

•  Interviewer: Did they get blood money from you?

•  Young girl: No, they didn't want blood money. But we asked them not to give consent for my father's release and they accepted.

•  Interviewer: You asked them not to consent? Why?

•  Young girl: We don't like our father.

•  Interviewer: Did her work?

•  Young girl: No

•  Interviewer: Do you have any heating systems?

•  Young girl: No, there's only this one that we hear ourselves with.

•  Interviewer: It is obvious that this kerosene lamp is very old and worn out. Do you always have kerosene?

•  Young girl: No, my mother works on the production line all week long, except Fridays. On Fridays she works in a home and does their cleaning. The days she goes there she gives the empty kerosene containers in the morning and gets the filled one back at night. When they get empty she does the same thing again. She got 2 full containers this Friday.

•  Interviewer: What does she do at the house she goes to?

•  Young girl: She cleans the house.

•  Interviewer: How much does she get paid?

•  Young girl: 5,000 Tomans

•  Young girl: There have been many nights when we would sleep on an empty stomach, but we never complain about it to our mother. We never humiliate her.

•  Young girl: He had been injecting drugs for 2 years; the officials came to our home and said to my mother, "your husband has Aids."

  Young girl: The woman doesn't let me talk to her, she bothers her a lot. I cried a bit, she speaks in a different tone than before. When my mother called her, she said "you put me in this stranger's house, and my dad was a good man and…" and my mom would cry.

•  Young girl: I'm not very hopeful

•  Interviewer: You don't think the government will do anything?

•  Young girl: No

•  Interviewer: Why?

•  Young girl: because we've gone for help several times but no one has helped us. God only helps the rich, not the poor. We've been here for several years now. God only gives to the rich and wealthy. He gives and gives and gives, but grants nothing to the poor people.

***

•  Interviewer: You don't even have a lamp here.

•  Man: We have nothing sir. We are a family, a husband and wife with one child. He also lives with us. I have a weak heart, my profession is shoemaking, but is has been nearly a year that I have been unemployed. I am not covered by an agency and I have no income. I swear, sometimes my child goes to sleep without having a single piece of bread to eat.

•  Woman: This is all I have, why should I lie? I went to work this morning and came back with only 700 Tomans. We go and buy 2 pieces of bread, heat it up and eat it with tea.

•  Interviewer: Don't you get cold?

•  Man: Yes, but what else can we do? What other choice do we have?

***

  Interviewer: Your spouse told me that they cut-off your power.

•  Old man: Yes look up there and see for yourself

•  Interviewer: Yes she told me.

•  Old man: I am not the kind of person who goes to "Komite headquarters"

•  Interviewer: Yes your wife informed me.

•  Old man: No matter how much we tell them, they don't come.

•  Old lady: (crying) even if we die, they won't come check the power problem.

•  Old man: (crying) She shivers all night and day, I got her a blanket but it doesn't keep her warm

•  Old lady: No one cares about what we go through, it's not their problem.

•  Old man: Look and see, no one comes around here to check-up on the situation. This is how we are living; no one cares about anyone else. This is all the medication I have; I would be better off killing myself. I swear, an entire month goes by and even more, and I don't even see the color of meat. Kerosene! Who can afford kerosene at the price of 800 Tomans? I swear I just filled this container up for 200 Tomans last night. The other one, I left as deposit to borrow 350 Tomans. Cold?! We freeze here! We thank God that we can afford to buy bread and cheese. The rich, they haven't gained their wealth by working! Definitely not by working! When a human is hungry, he doesn't care about God, or the Imams or the Prophets. One's body must be supplied with vitamins in order to think properly, if they don't get vitamins and they're hungry, they forget everything. No matter what it is they are doing, if they are committing crimes or… what makes them this way? Poverty…poverty! Take yourself for example, supply yourself with food and a home, but work for it, and work straight for it.

***

•  Interviewer: Hello, can I take your time for a few moments?(asking man sleeping in the streets)

•  Aren't you cold sleeping here?

•  Interviewer: Hello sir, how are you? Why are you sleeping here sir?

•  Man: I was panhandling, now I came to get some sleep.

•  Interviewer: Don't you get cold this time of night out here?

•  Man: Yes it gets very cold.

•  Interviewer: Could you get up and talk with us for a few moments?

•  Man: I know what you are here for; you've asked me a hundred times before. You're the one with the car.

•  Interviewer: No, I swear, this is my first time here.

•  Man: I swear you've been here a hundred times, I just finished panhandling. Now I want to sleep for a few minutes.

•  Interviewer: He's sleeping out in the freezing winter weather.

 

Mrs. Paula Corrado:

I just saw a movie called "Cinderella Man", Ron Howard does an excellent job of depicting the depression era here, and it was sad and it is so tragic to think that there's a depression in a country like anywhere, but it's not from famine, this oil rich country has millions and millions of dollars going into nuclear weaponry, as to opposed to helping these people who are starving, and are in need of medical help, in want of a clean body and hope.

I would like to recognize Andrew Mackinley, he's a member of parliament from the Labour party, and I'm so happy to have you with us today, and if you would like to say a few words to us. Thank you.

Andrew Mackinley, British MP, Labour Party:

Madame Chairperson, it's a great privilege to be here and if I could just say a few words by way of biographical introduction, and also say I'm accompanied by another parliamentary colleague, from the British House of Commons, Mike Hancock. We represent different interests, I'm Labour, he's Liberal, but to both of us, joined together in trying to promote interests in the United Kingdom Parliament about the plight of women and women in Iran

and the denial of human rights in Iran and I thought, perhaps, I should just say to you, I've been privileged to say these few words, it is coincidence as we speak here, there's a conference going on called The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, where parliamentarians from a pretty big area of the globe are meeting this afternoon, to discuss human rights and we had Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice address us an hour or two ago about many of the issues which are relevant to the subject matter you're discussing this evening, but geographically, excluded Iran, and I find that very disappointing. There are historic reasons for that. But many other parts of both Europe and Asia were included in our agreement and because of my friends in London who support the National Council of Resistance of Iran, they heard I was here and asked if Michael and I would make contact with you to perhaps share some of your deliberations and also if I could just say one or two things which may be of some encouragement to you this evening.

I was privileged two weeks ago to attend a rally in Paris, addressed by Madame Maryam Rajavi and I have to say it was a tremendous honor for myself and my wife not only to listen to her but also to meet her and I have taken great encouragement from her fortitude and her courage and her serenity and she stands up as a leader of the rights of the people of Iran to the ownership of Iran and also for her courage in resisting what is considerable harassment from, I regrettably have to say the French authorities, and also I think she is a wonderful symbol of the courage of women in Iran and around the world who stand up against persecution and do it in the face of a great adversity. We were there in Paris to meet Madame Rajavi, but also to protest against the attacks two years ago against her and her colleagues and we also took the occasion to urge the United Kingdom's government and the European Union's governments and if I may say, the United States to lift the terrorist tag to the PMOI, the People's Mojahedin, which we think is most inappropriate, unfair and indeed arguably cruel to men and women who are standing up for

human rights and justice and we also respectfully say to the government of France and if I might say, the United States of America, just pause to think for a moment. You know, in London for half a century, there were the governments in exile of Latvia , Lithuania , Estonia , the great Polish government in exile. Of course, back home the Soviet Union and the Communist Polish government said they represented terrorism, but we gave them, accommodation, support, and at least some recognition in London and that was reflected by the government of the United States of America; and I think that was correct, and I think we ask that Madame Rajavi

and her organization should be given similar recognition and also say to friends in the United States, just pause and remember that the great President Franklin Delaine Roosevelt, great hero of mine and I guess many people here, never the less, didn't always get it right, and if you remember in the dark days of 1940s he actually refused to recognize Charles de Gaulle and the free French; he gave support to the Vichy regime. It was a misread of the situation; of both of what was the long term interest, I believe of the United States of America and democracy, and also what was right. In my view the legitimate and I think history has prove this, the legitimate line was with Charles de Gaulle, he was, as Winston Churchill said the "Constable of France"; and I believe that Madame Rajavi represents and constitutes the flame flickering of Iranian freedom, which I am confidant, one day will burn very brightly in Tehran and I would hope that our friends in the United States would bare that in mind. Also, I'm conscious of the fact that, and I understand you have to deal with the world as it is rather than how you would like it to be, but the European Union three; the foreign ministers of France, Germany and United Kingdom are having dialogue with the mullahs' regime and I have to say, they should sop with a very, very long spoon. We learned how beguiling dictators can be in the 1930s and while I and my colleagues wish to seize and prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; I'm not sure that the current course in which we are embarked is one which will succeed in that objective but it will give credence and credibility to a wholly illegitimate, cruel, and wicked regime. And I also am troubled by the media in the United Kingdom but I also imagine it happens here in North America , who were so foolish in these bogus elections of last week. The BBC, who you would appreciate Madame that I love very much, but they would use these terms in relation to Rafsanjani, they referred to him as the moderate conservative and also gave credence that this was an election with some legitimacy, when half the people of Iran, namely women were denied the opportunity of putting their names forward as a candidate for the presidency of their country. It was an illegitimate and wicked, bogus elections for a whole range of reasons, but just putting to attest were people allowed to stand? Well half the people of Iran, women, were denied that opportunity and one has to say to all the journalists and the BBC and all the national networks, I mean, half the presenters, half the journalists are women, they hadn't needed to be reminded that they would have been denied the opportunity of standing for election, were they in Iran. I have just last week, written to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, urging the United States government to pause and reflect on the things which I have just referred to and to recognize that even they should not stop giving credence to what sometime happens in Iran, cause now we are faced with the terrible shock of the president, so called president who has emerged. I said in London, that there is very little to distinguish between the man who so called is one, and his opponent Rafsanjani, they are both the same, and they are both to blame, to blame for the persecution, executions, and the denial of fundamental human rights to men and women. And so, colleagues, I want to set that seen, I'm certain that much can be done by meetings such as this to create a way to bring your democratically elected Representatives in the United States Congress to pause and reflect to look back to see whether or not more can be done to champion the rights of people who are standing for freedom both in Iran and those in exile. You're right to focus this afternoon on the very important fact that not only is it a fundamentalist state, but particularly disadvantages and persecutes women. Can I just on the side say to you that I have put down a parliamentary question last week, asking the British government if their support for the United Kingdom sporting teams competing internationally was predicated that there would be no discrimination among spectators to those sports; and I have to say I was taken a back when the minister, a woman, Secretary of State for Culture in my country hesitated to reply, because it wasn't easy I guess because there's things such as the Olympic bid in London, there's the aspirations of people who are keen on soccer and they realized I guess, that I was asking because I had in mind the fact that women protested and were beaten in Tehran very recently when they sought to exercise their right to go watch the Iranian international football team, soccer team competing in the World Cup. And I have to say that my government and others are going to have to address themselves to the fact that whether or not they are prepared to support international competitive sporting organizations which tolerate discrimination against women or people on the grounds of their gender from being supporters from spectating and having access to those competitions and to say something which I tend to pursue when I go back to London with the United Kingdom government because that is wholly unacceptable. Now Madame you have been very patient with me and I feel that I'm trespassing on your time and I just wanted to say, because there might be a wider audience here, I say to people who are enduring suffering either in Iran or other parts of the globe which you and your colleagues have been focusing on this evening, that they should take heart from the fact that their fortitude, their suffering will sure as night turns into day, one day produce changes, and it's easy for us, from the comfort of Washington or London to say that, but I do believe that is so, and I just hope and pray that they can endure and will be sure that in relation to Iran which is my particular interest, the day of deliverance will come and every time I have been privileged to speak on this subject I have tried to find words of inspiration and encouragement. I think this is important, and they are not words that are meant in any empty way. Conscious of the fact that I am here in Washington, one of my school boy heroes was Robert Kennedy and I remember the words but I'm going to read them just in case I slip up, but I know them pretty well and I think they are appropriate to men and women around the world who are suffering persecution, denial of their fundamental human rights. Robert Kennedy as you will recall perhaps, said "it is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped; each time a person stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lives of others or strikes out against injustice they send forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those reports build up a currant that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." I hope that those words will inspire those people like yourselves who are trying to create awareness in this country about the needs of people who are suffering persecution, deprivation; women around the world who are being denied their rights, but also to anybody else who might have access to what we are to hear this afternoon, particularly those people who are in persecution, in Iran and elsewhere. I hope that we will take new hope and encouragement from the words of the late Senator Robert Kennedy.
Thank you very much indeed.

   

Mrs. Paula Corrado:

Thank you so much for those inspirational words, and we do believe it. Now I would like to introduce our first speaker from the panel, which will be Professor Carole Fontaine. Carole Fontaine is the Taylor Professor of Biblical Theology and Religion at Andover Newton Theological School , in Newton , Massachusetts . She joined the faculty in 1979, as a graduate of Yale Divinity School and Duke University . She is the author of Traditional Sayings in the Old Testament and Smooth Words: Women Proverbs and Performance in Biblical Wisdom , as well as over 85 journal articles. She also co-edited the study notes for the Book of Proverbs for the Harper Study Bible NRSV .

A well-known lecturer on prayer, healing, and feminist spirituality, Dr. Fontaine has extensive media credits.

A Human Rights activist, she sits on a variety of Non-Governmental Organization boards: International Network for the Rights of Female Victims of Violence in Pakistan; Women Engaging in Bridge Building-International; Women's Forum against Fundamentalism in Iran; the Inter-religious Center for Public Life (a Hebrew College-Andover Newton initiative on peacemaking and public theology); and the Women's United Nations Report Network, where she is Boston Director of the East Coast Workshop Project. She serves on the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Task Force on Violence, and she is the founder of the Council of Human Rights at ANTS. Welcome.

   

Professor Carole Fontaine, Taylor Professor of Biblical Theology and Religion at Andover Newton Theological School:

Thank you, Salaam, Shalom Alechem , and peace be upon you all, Salaam Alaeik.

I'd like to begin with a line from the most Holy Quran, the Sura is chapter 2, 'The Cow', and the verse and line are line 256:

" let there be no compulsion in religion truth stands out clear from error who ever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the most trust worthy hand hold that never breaks and God hears and knows all."

I am actually a professor of the Bronze Age, of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, Canaan and Palestine, and I have found in my work on the Bible that very often the things that I write about in the past are still taking place and I found myself , the Bronze Age citizen that I am, something of a 'Good Samaritan'. I was unable to pass by on the other side and ignore the suffering of the very things that I write about in the past.

In particular, I would like to say also, that it's always ironic to be a Westerner speaking about human rights because it is certainly true that Islam has no monopoly on human rights abuses, nor on the use of religion for cynical political gains.

I should note here, that I grew up in poverty, in the American South and I just saw my mother who use to go to the garbage dumps to see what she could find, who took in sewing from the rich; and because we lived in a black neighborhood very often her white customers would not come to her, she saw them in the shop. But every now and then, a famous black person would be entertaining on Miami Beach and if there was a problem with their costume, my mother who lived in the midst of this black neighborhood would be called upon to be the seamstress. Because white women, in the south at that time, would not sew on or repair a piece of clothing belonging to a black man; and that is how I got to actually touch one of the coats of the temptations in my very early young years. I should also say I was raised as a Southern Baptist, so I know a thing or two about fundamentalism; and I want to say to all of you here who are from Iran , that we know what this is like in the south and we know it is not true religion.

As I work for the Women's United Nations Report Network, I come to you, we are a subcommittee of the UN Commission on Human Rights and we are the only group of its kind in the world. Our mandate is to look at the rights of women from the perspective of freedom of religion. We are sometimes the only people who will call into question whether religion is true or false when it aims to deliberately suppress half of the human race. Indeed, we find this to be not religion but heresy. Let me make clear from the World Council of Church's Task Force of the Faith and Order Commission on Violence that we are against it. Sometimes, by the behavior of Christians you can not always tell.

I would like to say that violence against women has a great and long history. We did not make this up, it did not arrive with the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, nor was it invented by the Bible, it was rather in its earliest times a strategy for state formation. You see the way people acquire land and hold it, is by being able to trust those to whom they give they give the land. That is usually a kinsman in the ancient Near East. So you must control the women and give them as brides to the right men so you can have brothers you can trust. I did not see in this film, men who were in anyway untouched by the plight of their women. And in fact in February at the conference in Paris where we will shortly see Madame Rajavi's speech, I spoke with a leader, an Ayatollah, who is the leader of the Freedom of Religion Committee of the NCRI and I was deeply moved when he said to me, knowing that I'm attached in so many ways to the Hebrew Bible, to the Torah, he said "what will it take for Jews to feel safe in Iran?" That was his first question to me, a Christian and a woman; and I said only what it will take for your women to be free. If we have freedom for the women we will have every other freedom as well, for women are part of every group that we have. Their treatment is a touchstone for the human rights of everyone.

We want to commend here today publicly the women of Iran . We note the broad representation of women as students in the universities. Some numbers on their presence range from 62%. This on the one hand speaks of opportunity, perhaps, but also says the women are training themselves we know they are not given full professional opportunities, of course, they are more or less restricted to what is considered "women's work". But for some of us, women's work is the work of the world. We are also heartened by the undaunted activism of the women of Iran in pressing for reform, even within an extremely dangerous situation where their very voice is unwelcome and puts them in danger. We also say their commitment to entering into the theological world, to

seek alternative solutions from within side an Islamic frame work; we believe to be one of the most serious and important things that can happen in dismantling this extremely bigoted and biased form of Islam. This is not the Islam of the Prophet.

We also note that Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, another person who reports to the UN High Commission on Human Rights calls upon all of us here—community leaders, academicians, media, government personnel, national and international NGOs,, including religious leaders and scholars to engage in 'cultural negotiation' of group interests verses the rights of women. You see, we now find that when states seek to repress women in the name of religion they do it for this greater glory, the glory of the religion, which then reinforces their group identity. However in speaking with the leader of the NCRI Freedom of Religion Committee, he told me how as a student of Khomeini's he actually saw and sat at the meetings where the mullahs discussed how they would use the repression of women as a deliberate strategy. By taking women hostage, they have shamed and terrified the men of Iran , as we saw here. It is that shame that dishonor, that eats away at the heart, that prevents, as the gentlemen said— you cannot think of God when your stomach is empty, and your children are crying, and you are crying too because you cannot provide for them.

States are advised that they are accountable to the women of the world for the granting of rights, access to justice and bodily integrity. I am sorry to tell you that the Fundamentalist Republic of Iran is in violation of all three of these basic rights and we request respectfully that they repent and read their Quran.

How do I say that they are not speaking to us in accordance with the teachings of the Quran? You see that Arabic homework paid off, they don't let people like me out very often, we stay in the back with the hieroglyphics and dead languages and so forth and every now and then, you know, somebody finds something buried in the ground and we get to talk.

But never the less the Quran tells us in Sura 5, line 77:

“Say, O People of the Book! Exceed not in your religion the bounds of what is proper, trespassing beyond the truth, nor follow the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by, who misled many and strayed from the right path.”

Finally I would like to say that we call on the states of the world to respond to the need to require due diligence from the fundamentalist Republic of Iran because cannot enter into negotiations with people who are burning their own grannies, and flogging their women in public, and hanging minor children. We will not say yes to this.

Finally we call upon the men in Iran —and I see my prayer has already been answered; you see, God has ways of speaking when we all come together. We call upon the men in Iran and beyond its borders to stand in full solidarity with women to end the egregious legal, moral and theological oppression.

Men everywhere must learn to measure their masculinity and worth in other terms than the life and death power over their women. Men need to discover an honor which gives life instead of death, which builds up the entire family, community and nation. Women and men must learn how to support each other as partners, not as a master and slaves.

Indeed, the Holy Quran has already said this to us, it is this loving, knowledge-filled partnership of male and female that is to be the paradigm for how nations and tribes are to relate to one another. I read to you from Sura al Hujurat Sura number 49, line 3:

“We created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know each other. The noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the best in conduct…”

And what is best conduct? Again, the Quran will tell us over and over again, I might add. Sura 98, with which I will finish, tells us in verse line number 5:

“And they have been commanded to do no more than this: To worship God, offering God sincere devotion, being true in faith, to establish regular prayer, and to practice charity."

And that is the Religion Right and Simple.

I call upon the Mullahs of Iran to read their Quran, and respond to the life of the poor.

Thank you.

 

Mrs. Paula Corrado:

Bravo Dr. Fontaine, so wonderful, so beautiful. And now we have another speaker on our panel who I deeply admire, Sister Louise Akers, coordinator of the Office of Peace, Justice & Integrity of Creation, in Cincinnati , Ohio and has presented numerous workshops, courses and reflection days on justice related issues. Her past ministries include justice education & advocacy in formal classroom teaching at both the high school and university levels, parish coordinator in the Archdiocesan Social Action Office of Cincinnati, founder & coordinator of Cincinnati's Intercommunity Justice & Peace Center, social concerns director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and represented the Leadership Conference at the Fourth World UN Conference on Women, 1995.

Her master's thesis in theology focused on the “Prophecy of Martin L. King, Jr.”. She completed her Doctor of Ministry with a project entitled “Patriarchal Power and the Pauperization of Women”. Ministry opportunities include working with migrant farm workers, involvement with the civil rights & women's movements along with international experiences in Africa, Nicaragua , El Salvador , Mexico , Czechoslovakia , East/West Germany, Italy , Spain and other places. Welcome.

   

Louise Akers, S.C., Devine Minister:

I'd like to begin with the words of the invitation that I received from the Women's Freedom Forum because when I read the letter I thought, how can I say no!

The modus operandi of fundamentalists consists of, but is not limited to, unprecedented violence against women, inhumane and brutal punishments such as stoning, elimination of women from meaningful political and social activities, forced marriages, compulsory veiling, “honor” killings, forced prostitution and trafficking of women and young girls and economic destitution

and hardship forced upon women in a theocratic society. As such, it is obvious that Islamic fundamentalism has mostly taken its toll on women.

I would like to add to this that fundamentalism worldwide has taken its toll on women; and then the conclusion from this preceding paragraph:

Thus we believe the fight against fundamentalism cannot be won without the active involvement of women in this arena. The ever-greater presence of women in political (and I would add ecclesial ) leadership is indispensable to rejecting fundamentalism and attaining peace and democracy.

And with regard to what Carole so brilliantly presented, I would just give absolute support, and I thank you very much for those words. I'd like to start with a picture, last week I read 2 articles one was in Mother Jones magazine, some of you might not be familiar with Mother Jones, it's an alternative periodical in the United States; and by alternative I mean as in contrast to much of the mainstream media. The front cover raises a question and the title of the article is "No Safe Haven"; and I think this is worldwide for women and so the question on the front of the magazine: "Will Cops, Congress and the Supreme Court Leave Women with no Safe Haven?" because it deals with some cases with regard to women and violence.

Another article I read in a more, from some people's perspective, reputable resource; although I love Mother Jones; this one is an article from the New York Times, Sunday, June 5 th and the title of the column caught my eye, entitled "A Policy of Rape" from Sudan :

All countries have rapes, of course. But here in the refugee Shantytowns of Darfur , the horrific stories that young women whisper are not of random criminality but of a systematic campaign of rape to terrorize civilians and drive them from ''Arab lands'' -- a policy of rape.

One measure of the international community's hypocrisy (and I think this is certainly applicable to Iran ) is that the world is barely bothering to protest. More than two years after the genocide in Darfur began; the women of Kalma Camp - a teeming squatter's camp of 110,000 people driven from their burned villages - still face the risk of gang rape every single day as they go out looking for firewood.

(And then it gives examples of different people.)

On March 26, a 17-year-old student went to a French-run clinic and reported that she had been raped. A French midwife examined her and confirmed that she was bleeding and had been raped.

    But an informer in the clinic alerted the police, who barged in and - over the determined protests of two Frenchwomen - carried her off to a police hospital, where she was chained to a cot by one leg and one arm. A doctor there declared that she had not been raped after all, and was then imprisoned for a couple of days. The authorities are now proposing that she be charged with submitting false information.

Doctors Without Borders issued an excellent report in March noting that it alone treated almost 500 rapes in a four-and-a-half-month period. Sudan finally reacted to the report a few days ago - by arresting an Englishman and a Dutchman working for Doctors Without Borders.

(So the Doctors Without Borders were arrested, not the rapists.)

Those women who spoke to me (says this columnist) risked arrest and lifelong shame by telling their stories. Their courage should be an inspiration to us - to speak out. Silence amounts to acquiescence, for this policy of rape flourishes only because it is ignored.

And I use domestic violence in the United States and the horrific story of rapes and killings in Sudan; I knew the focus was going to be on the terrible violence of the Mullahs in Iran and part of my purpose in speaking today is to recognize and broaden the picture of fundamentalism in the world, because it is so systemic; even though, and I've heard Soona say this a number of times, that the hub of fundamentalism in the world is in Tehran, and the more I am learning, the more evident that certainly becomes to me, personally.

Randall Bamer, who is a professor at Bernard, considers himself an expert on evangelical Christianity; this is a quote from him: There is a sense that the world is out of control and chaotic, and that if woman can be controlled, then the world will be a safer place.

That's a real perception on the part of a lot of religious conservatives – Muslims, Catholics, protestant fundamentalists .

So it is we women, once again, who endanger the world! It always some how gets twisted, doesn't it? Just gets twisted.

So the Conservative influence– whether it's the ruling mullahs in Iran or from my own lived experience in the United States, the right wing political and religious leaders we know that the influence is very expansive, and very determined. So I would like to spend my short amount of time taking a look at some of the characteristics of fundamentalism and the roots of fundamentalism, being patriarchy and then digging even deeper to patriarchy that the grounding of patriarchy is the operative image of God that so many peoples of the world have today, including my own faith tradition of Christian. As you heard I am a Catholic Sister and have been a strong feminist and a justice advocate for many decades. So I am just very honored to be asked to be a part of this forum. Because I join with the Women's Freedom Forum to resist attempts at control and diminishment of women's lives; I continue to speak out for an egalitarian society and an egalitarian religious faith.

I believe fundamentalism, whether we are referring to Islamic or Christian has a number of common characteristics.

Some of these principles that are included are the following:

•  Fundamentalists understand truth as revealed truth. As such, truth is unified, absolute, universal and discernable by one's faith.

•  Fundamentalists use this revealed truth and religious idealism to constitute the basis for both personal and communal identity.

•  Fundamentalists perceive themselves as being engaged in a cosmic struggle between good and evil. (and think about that in light of our world today, between the Christian fundamentalists, Islamic fundamentalists and the whole war on terror.

•  Fundamentalists demonize outsiders, particularly opponents, in terms of their perceived cosmic struggle between good and evil.

•  Fundamentalists feel that today's society is in a period of religious decline.

•  Fundamentalist communities are indeed patriarchal, led by elitist males.

•  Women, consequently, are excluded from leadership roles and relegated to roles defined by tradition. In other words, women's rights are not acknowledged nor allowed

To quote a recognized protestant male fundamentalist leader in the United States , and this was in the Washington Post, it was about a fundraising letter sent by Pat Robertson, this is a quote from his fundraising letter:

“ … The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti – family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

Another statement made by this same man, Pat Robertson “There is no such thing as separation of church and state in the constitution."

And for those of you in touch with some of the US politics, the national conversation today is certainly about faith and politics, religion and politics the Gospel values and political agendas. I mean it is every where, everything you turn on, everywhere you read, every conversation, whether it's a backyard barbeque, a family reunion, the Parish Halls, the Synagogues, Mosques; it is the conversation.

So Pat Robertson says: “There is no such thing as separation of church and state in the constitution. It is a lie of the left and we are not going to take it anymore.”

And finally the same man, and this was twenty years ago, he said: “Every means of communication, the news, television, radio, the cinema, the arts, government, and finance – it is going to be ours! God is going to give it to His people. We should prepare to rein and rule with Jesus the Christ.”

Within the catholic religion we now have a new Pope, as the world knows, Pope Benedict XVI, formally, Pope Benedict XVI was Cardinal Ratzinger; who head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, one of the themes while he was in that position, related to women. For those of you who are familiar with the US Catholic Church, Cardinal Ratzinger called the Bishops many times to come to Rome and to talk about the pastoral letter they were trying to write, this was in the 80s, and they kept getting it back, watered down, watered down, because the very first draft of it acknowledged sexism as an evil, as sinful, and that is a strong statement, of course, I think it's a very true statement, but it was a strong statement. So to this day there has been no pastoral letter by the US Bishops on women. Now I teach many, many courses on Catholic Social Teaching Traditions, which is a rich, rich tradition which speaks to every justice issue imaginable, worldwide. When it comes to women, the church is pretty silent accept to say, a year before, the new Pope, again when Joseph Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. He identified feminism as the cause of antagonism between women and men. Feminism was the cause of the antagonism. What many clerics, including, I think the Mullahs, with some exceptions, don't get it, and by don't get it I mean antagonism preceded by centuries feminism and has deep roots in the tradition and system of patriarchal fundamentalism.

So just a few reflections on patriarchy, that we know, and experience in our everyday lives as an all encompassing system; according to one Catholic Christian theologian, Rosemary Radford Ruether, patriarchy is “the nerve of not only sexism, but includes racism … (and this I think a lot of people don't get that feminism and patriarchy aren't just concerned with gender, its much bigger than gender, because it is a worldview, just as feminism offers an alternative worldview, patriarchy is a worldview that has been put into place in our structures, has been put into place in movements for centuries.) So Rosemary Radford Ruether says: "It is fundamentally a masculine power structure which includes racism, ageism, classism, colonialism, clericalism; all relationships are understood in terms of superiority and inferiority and social cohesion is assured by the cause of dominative power.”

In 1992 feminist theologians of different religions and faiths met together for the first time in an ecumenical gathering and this is a quote from them, this is 1992: Feminist movements all over the world have raised the most radical cultural critique …. They started naming the cause of women's pain and struggle – patriarchy. And then they described patriarchy as a hierarchical system of domination, where men with power rule all other beings in the cosmos with their ideological invention of (again the isms) of sexism, racism, classism, cultural imperialism and andocentrism. And they conclude by saying: "This system of domination – submission has – as we know – promoted war, injustice and ecological disaster…”

Vandana shiva, author, activist and ecologist observes: “patriarchal religion (again, whether it's the Mullahs or the right wing religious leaders in the States) patriarchal religion is about control over behavior, especially women's social and sexual behavior, it is about exclusion, it is about power and control.”

Another perspective, 25 years ago, and I give you these different perspectives cause their women coming from different faith perspectives, different political perspectives but they all get it, they all have the same message. So this is from a sociologist, and a former…she's dead now of cancer a couple of years ago but, sociologist and Catholic Sister Marie Augusta Neal, observed as a sociologist:

“My discipline of sociology in theory and research confirms that the major sexual problem for consideration by the church is the human rights of women in the consciousness of men. “ I mean that is the heart of it, is it not? The human rights of women and the consciousness of men and I certainly continually find this to be true in lots of different venues and forms. It was reminiscence too when I was reviewing this, of Hillary Clinton; some of you were at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing , when Hillary Clinton, spoke and said:

"Women's rights are human rights; human rights are woman's rights."

That was the only time I know of that the TV was cutoff, her talk was not covered.

So an alternative course and alternative worldview calls for relinquishing traditional institutions and fundamentalism. So I just want to suggest a few possibilities that are already happening but I think we need to strengthen those and expand them, I think we who offer the alternative want to:

•  Discern what truth claims by institutional religion need to be questioned as assertions of power; so to question the truth claims.

•  To challenge the continued usage of sexist interpretations of sacred scriptures and tradition.

•  To work to expose and eliminate those policies and behaviors, which both political and religious fundamentalist leaders use to marginalize and oppress women.

•  To continue to raise questions and objections when women are not at the decision making tables –be they political, religious, economic, cultural or social.

And finally, and I know that I need to rap this up, but to me this is the heart of it, to call attention to the human construct of the operative image of a male monotheistic God.

Because as one theologian said: "If God is male, then male is God", we're made to the image and likeness. And I would like to go on about that but we'll stop there. Thank you.

 

Mrs. Paula Corrado:

Thank you very much Sister Akers that was very enlightening. And now I would like to introduce Mr. Mike Hancock, he is also a member of the British Parliament as McKinley had also introduced him, but he wanted to say a few words. Thank you.

Mike Hancock, British MP, Liberal Democrat Party:

If I could, thank you.

Well, I didn't expect to come here; I came because Andrew asked me if I'd like to come and I've been involved. I will tell you a little about myself, I won't tell you what religion I am but you can probably guess when I tell you I am one of eleven children, and I know a lot about Catholic Sisters; not all good I may add, when you're five years old and they are scrubbing you with a loofah and not much water. But I do know a lot about the issue of human rights, because I've been in politics for 35 years, and I also know how much religion is played and has distorted many of the issues.

As a young man brought up as a Catholic in the United Kingdom, I did military service, and my best friend was shot standing next to me on the streets of a British city in Londonderry by a bullet paid for by American fundraising with a riffle that wasn't really available in the United Kingdom, it had to come from the United States, and he was killed because of religious fundamentalism. The campaign of the IRA against the British, Protestant against Catholic in Northern Ireland was an everyday event in my life, growing up in the United Kingdom , and I've seen it everyday, virtually in that time. Colleagues of mine in Parliament have been killed, blown up in bomb outrages, even in our own parliament, we had one member killed. But I also worked for a long time for the BBC and I traveled the world, many of the countries that you talk about, I visited, making films and bringing home to people in the United Kingdom, many of the issues that we see daily on our television screens, sadly for thirty years now, or more; and it's interesting when you talk about rapes in Darfur in Sudan. I talk about rapes on the streets in Italy of ten thousand, underage girls who work as prostitutes on the streets in Italy . They're raped every time someone goes with them and that's why Western European countries and your country do nothing about it. Because if you have ten thousand girls working the streets in Rome, who are under the age of 16, and when you speak to these girls, as I have and we filmed and recorded them, and they would say on average they would have five clients a night, that means there are 50,000 criminal acts against underage women taking place on the home of the Pope, in the streets of Rome and of Italy; 50,000 a night. When you ask the Italian government how many men have been prosecuted for underage sex in Italy ? They will tell you less than a 100 in any one year. How can that be right? The human rights of those women, that's not consenting sex, that's rape and it's the same in many, many, sadly, parts of the world. When you said about the child on that picture, I've seen children like that in my own city, and I represent a city in the United Kingdom where well over ten percent of the population follows the Islamic faith, and it isn't religion that is wrong, it's the flawed human beings who use religion that's wrong and the way they manipulate it. And I've lived too long with the sheer hypocrisy in the interests. Politicians are too keen to use ignorance as bliss, as an excuse for not doing anything about the issues. And I try, my career as a parliamentarian in the United Kingdom, and as I said, for thirty years in elected politics, but also in the Council of Europe, which is the home of human rights in Europe and should be the bastion of it, but yet within 500 yards of where the Council of Europe and the Court of Human Rights meets in Strasburg, there is widespread abuse of women from allover Europe who are plying the streets there. And the campaign that you're running for equality for women in Iran is as big a battle in Iran as it is in many other countries. Many of the people I represent, their origins are from Bangladesh and Pakistan . You ask women in those countries, not the sophisticated ones who have managed to get somewhere in their lives but the overwhelming majority of them, who when they come to England as arranged brides who can't speak the language, who are terrified, who are used and abused by the families that they marry into, what their human rights mean to them, what chance have they got? So the abuses are everywhere around us and until all of us recognize that politicians should have no excuse and no reason not to take this issue up and governments like yours and mine.

Well I have to go, if Catholic Sisters can be told to shut up so can British Politicians, but I wish you all the best and all the success.

The meeting that Andrew went to in Paris was attended by over 20,000 people; and he was right, the Iranian people deserve neither of the candidates they had. They might have deserved each other but Iran deserves better, and the people there deserve better

Mrs. Paula Corrado:

Thank you, I am so sorry about time restraints we'd love to hear all of you be able to say as much as you can but…anyway I would like to introduce to you Sofey Saidi, she's president of the Women's Research and Technology Corporation which is based in Virginia . She is an Iranian political scientist and has received her advanced degree from Duke University . Sofey has been involved in the issue of human rights and women's rights in her homeland, what a task! Iran , for the past 25 years! Welcome Sofey, thank you.

   

Sofey Saidi, Human rights and women's rights activist:

Thank you very much, it is an honor to be here, particularly to be among this distinguished panel and speakers, I've enjoyed listening to each and everyone. Just one slight correction, I have not been in my homeland Iran for the past 25 years. I would not be able to be saying the things that I want to tell you and be alive if I was over there, so quite frankly that's why I'm here and speaking to this wonderful group of interested people. Again, it is a great pleasure to be here and speaking on the important issue which is Islamic Fundamentalism and the status of women in Iran . The political phenomenon of Islamic Fundamentalism in Iran has taken on a very different and dangerous momentum, I should say, with respect to the recent elections in Iran .

So, if you would allow me, I would like to speak and address this issue in the conversation and talk that I will have today. I would like to discuss how this impacts the Iranian women on various grounds, especially socially, politically and economically.

The victory of the ultra-conservatives such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is now the President of Iran this is the ninth presidential election, I should mention. And this happened on June 25 th , and it really sent a political shockwave throughout the West, Middle East and beyond.

Many believed Rafsanjani, the so-called pragmatist candidate, was going to win the elections which really meant supposedly better relations with the West and perhaps moderate allies in the Middle East .

Ahmadinejad's victory was not only as the result of the power shift in the leadership of the fundamentalist regime in Tehran, but also a silent vote of no, through a widespread fascinating boycott, to any further talks of reform and moderations in the system of theocracy in Iran.

I believe an Iranian woman, a housewife, who was interviewed by the Reuter's news press agency after the announcement of Ahmadinejad's victory, she said it best, and I'm going to quote her. She said”: "This is the best result. Now the people and the world won't be fooled by these fake reformers who have been in power. The moment of real change has just got much closer."

If we take this comment, which is shared by majority of Iranians, and couple it with the unprecedented women's protest on June 12, 2005 , this year, just one week before the presidential elections in Iran , we see how the Iranian women are opening a new political chapter in their equality movement in Iran . In this new chapter women, not just the elite feminists and those who joined the ranks of organized opposition groups, but also the average housewives, mothers, daughters and sisters are speaking in terms of their social, political and economic rights.

So let me elaborate on that. Much has been said, particularly in the Western media and academia and sadly some women's organizations as well, about the progress of women under the so-called “reformist” Mohammad Khatami. One, however, has to look at the social, political and economic status of women in Iran to see the hollowness of such suggestions. The record of Khatami's eight years in the office is studded with propagation of prostitution, trafficking of teen-age boys and girls abroad, 23 cases of death by stoning, public lashing, and public hanging of teenage Iranians, including a 16-year-old mentally ill girl last summer.

Under Khatami's watch the suicide rate among women, suffering from tremendous social and political despair, reached the highest in the world where 81% of victims were between the ages of 15 to 31. Some officials are boasting that 60% of students in Iran 's university are women, let's address that for a minute they fail to mention the 11% employment rate among women; and facts really speak volumes when it comes to Khatami's record on women's issues.

So, given all this, Iranian women from all walks of life are really taking matters into their own hands. They are denouncing the regime and its misogynous institutions by taking their desire for equality to the streets.

Women's movement in Iran is taking on a more vigorous momentum because Ahmadinejad's win, the current President, is signaling the dominance of the most extreme faction of the ruling regime on all centers of powers in Iran . Although one should expect an increased crackdown on women, women are much more emboldened, to the contrary and more empowered than before. Iranian women are now fighting for not only social justice and equal opportunity, but they are also politically challenging the fundamentalism at its core.

By that I mean, if we believe misogyny is the heartbeat of fundamentalism in Iran , then women's protest on July 12 th , this year, 2005 targeted the very core of the regime. In their protest women set the tune for real change in Iran . In a published declaration; Iranian women outlined their demand for change insisting that, and I'm quoting from that “democracy will not be possible in Iran unless full rights of women are recognized”. The declaration that they had, outlines that the organized women's movement in Iran will continue to do the following and I think it would be very interesting and worth while to just quickly go over some of those from their declaration:

•  Until there is a ban on forced marriages

•  Until divorced women gain equal rights for child custody

•  Until polygamy is banned and all temporary marriages, legal or illegal, is totally abolished

•  Until violence against women ends and shelters are provided for run away girls and women

•  Until there are more options available to young women in their choice of life style

•  Until there is no more self-immolation of women because of their social despair and desperation

•  Until there is a social safety net for poor and economically-deprived women and girls

•  Until there is democracy and freedom established in Iran

So we all know that the fundamentalist regime will never heed to women's demands, unfortunately, but we have to recognize by outlining such basic demands, they are announcing in fact the death of this regime in power.

And finally in short, allow me to commend really the women of Iran , of my homeland and join their call for change. I believe Ahmadinejad's win marks the end of this regime. I am more encouraged with the prospect of women's leadership in my beloved country. I am even more proud to see a Muslim woman; Maryam Rajavi is leading the charge for ending the threat of Islamic Fundamentalism in Iran . Such a leadership will surely impact the rest of the Middle East and it will set an example for others to follow, just as it has done in Iran 's case and with that in mind, thank you.

Mrs. Paula Corrado:

Thank you, thank you so much. And now, Professor Donna Hughes , s he is a Professor who holds the Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair in Women's Studies at the University of Rhode Island . She is one of the leading international researchers on trafficking of women and children and has completed research on the trafficking of women and children for prostitution in the United States , Russia , Ukraine , and Korea . She was a research consultant to the Council of Europe on the use of new information technologies in the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation. Working with pro-democracy activists, Professor Hughes has been able to collect information on trafficking and prostitution and the connection between Islamic fundamentalism and sexual exploitation. She is frequently interviewed by the media on topics related to trafficking. Professor Hughes has testified before the U.S. House International Relations Committee, the Senate Foreign Relation Committee, the Moscow Duma, and the Czech Parliament. Welcome and thank you.

   

Professor Donna Hughes, Eleanor M. & Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair in Women's Studies at the University of Rhode Island :

Good evening,

Before I start talking specifically about Iran, I wanted to follow up on something that Sister Louise said, when she made reference to what was happening in Darfur; the rapes of the women in Darfur an that is the Sudanese government is an Islamic government and it is the Sudanese government that is backing the Janjaweed, which are the people that are going out and massacring and burning

villages and raping women. So in fact, what you all are seeing is the actions of Islamic fundamentalists. And also wanted to say something to follow up what Mr. Hancock said. I first encountered Islamic fundamentalism and got involved in opposing Islamic fundamentalism in the mid 1990s when I lived in Bradford, England; which has a large population of Pakistanis, many of whom are fundamentalists and there were a lot of arranged marriages; and in the community where I was living there was a woman who was run down by a car and killed by her brother because she refused to accommodate the arranged marriage that had actually already occurred in Pakistan. So that is actually how I got involved in this.

Twenty-six years ago in Iran , Islamic fundamentalists captured their first state. They turned it into a theocratic dictatorship and used its resources to fund terror abroad and pursue weapons of mass destruction. Since then, violence, expansionism, and terror against civilians have become hallmarks of Islamic fundamentalism. As was referred to and is happening in Sudan as well, over the last twenty years.

To defeat the world's leading state sponsor of terror, one must understand what keeps them it power.

In Iran , terror begins at home. The clerics put their ideology into practice in the most oppressive and barbaric ways the world has seen in recent times. The first victims were women and girls.

Their women hating views and laws reinforced and empowered men's oldest sexist prejudices and anxieties. Men's frustrations with life, their insecurities, even their sexual feelings are projected onto women. Suppressing women became the solution to men failures, and as we heard earlier focus of organizing for the Islamists.

There has been no moderation of misogyny since the fundamentalists seized power in Iran in 1979. In the past several months, teenage girls have been executed by hanging or sentenced to flogging and death by stoning for “crimes contrary to chastity” and giving birth to an “illegitimate” child. In each case, the girls were victims of multiple forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, such as: incest, rape, prostitution, temporary marriage, sexual abuse in prison, and being sold to a pimp. Officials are frequently corrupt, even complicit in crimes, and arrests, convictions, and punishments are often arbitrary, as well as heinously unjust and cruel.

The misogyny of Islamic fundamentalism is not ancillary to the Iranian regime's grip on power or their global sponsorship of terror. Misogyny is at the heart of their ideology and is the framework of their state structure and authority. What I am talking to you about is an excerpt from a longer paper that's in your packet and you can read a little bit more of my analysis of Islamic fundamentalism, which by the way I have to say that almost everything I know about Islamic fundamentalism I learned from talking to and reading the texts of Maryam Rajavi.

But here are the following things that I think could be recommendations for governments, this was specifically aimed at the US government on ways that we can defeat the Islamic fundamentalism by defeating misogyny.

First place the freedom of women and girls and their human rights at the top of the agenda for dealing with Iran . Give the defeat of misogyny equal weight to efforts to contain terror and weapons of mass destruction. Equate the dismantling of misogyny to destroying the structure and power of the theocratic state.

Voice support for women and their freedom, equality, and human rights in every policy statement on Iran . Speak directly to Iranian women about their plight under Islamic fundamentalism and their hopes for freedom, equality, and democracy. There is something strange going on in the world today, around the discussion about human rights. When I, probably over a year ago, a year and a half ago, when I was publishing some things about the human rights violations in Iran; I started getting e-mails from women who were identifying themselves as feminists, condemning me for talking about the human rights of women in Iran. They said that all that was, was a front for providing information to the US government
so that they could declare war on Iran, and therefore any discussion of human rights violations was only

fuelling the fire of the Bush administration. I thought that this was just a particular nutcase that was writing to me but I've been hearing more about that, and a little bit more about that later. But what was really interesting to me is that I've just spent a week in Seoul, Korea, where I also got to hear a lot about the human rights violations of North Koreans and what I heard there was the exact same thing; that we should not talk about human rights violations in North Korea, because that was only going to cause a war. And I heard a member of the ruling party, I actually had lunch with him, and he told me we never talk about the human rights violations in North Korea , because we don't want to create negative feelings towards North Korea . So I think that this is a side, goes beyond Iran , but I think we need to have a real serious discussion about human rights and what it means to be talking about them today.

We also need to fund communications technology and broadcasts that focus on women's freedom. Support programs developed by Iranian women activists, such as Radio Voice of Women produced by Women's Forum Against Fundamentalism in Iran . Provide funding for Internet servers that can be accessed by women activists from inside Iran , and I'm very happy to hear that there is US funding in the pipeline to do just that.

We need to hold hearings on Islamic fundamentalism and women in Iran . I recently participated in a breakfast meeting in Congress and there have been other Iranian organizations that have had meetings in Congress focused on women as well but we need to have more members of Congress talking about this as well.

We need to grant political asylum to women fleeing misogynist tyranny. Victims of Islamic laws which institutionalize violence against women should be recognized as political refugees and granted asylum. Women have been on the forefront of fighting fundamentalism. Thousands have already died resisting the clerics' regime. Women who have risked their lives to oppose fundamentalism should be protected when they are forced to flee. In addition, we need to oppose the deportation of women back to Iran where they face political persecution and possibly execution. Which leads me to sort of a follow up on my comment on human rights; I was contacted by an immigration attorney about six weeks ago, asking me if I would write an affidavit to prevent a teenage girl from being sent back to Iran and he had found me through some of the things I had written on the internet, and I said yes of course I would do that! And he said thank you so much, he said I've contacted almost every mainstream human rights and women's organization in this country and they will not write such an affidavit and he said, the reason… and I could name a very well known feminist scholar and activist in this country, who personally told him, I will not write an affidavit saying anything negative about the Iranian regime, because all it will do is give the State Department fuel for a war against Iran. So, essentially what these human rights and feminist activists are doing, is simply saying that what we think is our agenda is more important than the lives of women and girls.

We also need to engage and support opposition groups committed to women's freedom and equality. The US should morally, politically, and financially support pro-democracy opposition groups, which include many women members, inside and outside Iran .

We need to support pro-democracy activists' calls for an internationally-monitored referendum in Iran . Support the non-violent strategy of holding a nation-wide referendum in which the Iranian people can vote on the system of government they want.

And we also need to take the women led resistance groups off the terrorist list. There are two Iranian opposition groups that are led by women dedicated to women's freedom and equality: The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran and the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The Mojahedin is a political and formerly armed resistance group that is strongly opposed to Islamic fundamentalism. The entire Leadership Council is composed of women, and many of the experienced military commanders are also women. The National Council of Resistance is led by a woman, Maryam Rajavi, with a long record of supporting women's freedom and democracy. The NCRI's parliament-in-exile is composed of more than 50 percent women. In 1996, Maryam Rajavi made this promise to the mullahs: “You have done your utmost to humiliate, torture, and slaughter Iranian women, but rest assured that you will receive the blow from the very force you discounted, the very force whom your reactionary mindset cannot allow you to take into consideration.”

We need to support that kind of thinking. And since 1996 I've had a number of opportunities to speak in person with Maryam Rajavi, and as I said, almost everything I know about Islamic fundamentalism I learned personally from her.

The Iranian regime holds the upper hand in the power struggle with the west as long as the U.S. and Europe constrain their opponents. Removing these pro-woman, pro-democracy resistance groups from the terrorist lists and supporting their efforts to overthrow the Iranian regime provides an alternative approach to appeasement and attempts to normalize relations with terrorists or military action.

This new policy approach offers a strategic psychological advantage: The Mullahs are terrified of any interference with their

“prison for women” as Iran was called by a U.N. representative in his report to the General Assembly. Promoting women's freedom and equality is the most powerful psychological weapon to use against the clerics because it goes to the root of their pathology, their ideology, and their social and political control of the people of Iran .

A policy of defeating misogyny and supporting freedom and equality for women in Iran will complement other policies aimed at defeating terror and stopping the development of nuclear weapons.

Supporting a policy of freedom for women in Iran will send a powerful message to pro-democracy activists in Iran . It will convey to those struggling to survive that we really understand the fundamentalists, their mindset, and their tactics of control. It will empower activists in their efforts to overthrow the Iranian regime.

Thank you.

 

Mrs. Paula Corrado:

I have an announcement to make; there is a protest for Darfur Genocide, Sunday July 3 rd , 23 rd and Massachusetts Avenue, North West at the Sudanese Embassy, West of DuPont Circle at 1p.m.

Such wonderful brilliant women and thank you so much. And now we are going to here from another brilliant and brave woman, by way of video, Madame Maryam Rajavi.

Maryam Rajavi was born in 1953 to a middle class family in Tehran . She joined the anti-Shah movement in the early 1970's and soon became one of the leaders of the student movement while studying in Sharif University of Technology, where she received her degree in metallurgy. She was a candidate for parliamentary elections in Tehran in 1980. Despite widespread rigging she received more than a quarter of a million votes. She played a key role in organizing two major nonviolent demonstrations in Tehran in April and June of 1981 against the government's increasingly repressive policies.

Two of Maryam Rajavi's sisters were executed by the two brutal dictatorships of the Shah and the Khomeini. Narges was executed by the Shah's notorious SAVAK, and Massoumeh was killed under torture in 1982 while she was eight months pregnant.

In August of 1993, Maryam Rajavi was elected as Iran 's future president for the transitional period following the overthrow of the Iranian regime by the Iranian resistance. Her election gave great hope to Iranian women in their quest for equality and a bright future.

In June 1995, Mrs. Rajavi unveiled the “Charter of Fundamental Freedoms”, a platform guaranteeing respect for human rights in post-theocratic Iran . During a trip to Norway in October 1995, Mrs. Rajavi called for the formation of a united international front against fundamentalism.

On December 15, 2004 , Mrs. Rajavi purposed a third solution to the European Parliament, stating that neither appeasement nor invasion is the answer in dealing with Iran and the regime. A third option is within reach, the Iranian people and their organized resistance have the capacity and ability to bring about this change.

And now the video.

   

Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, leader of the Iranian Resistance:

Distinguished guests,
Dear friends, sisters,
It is indeed a pleasure to be among you, experts, thinkers and activists of the equality movement.
For me, it is a great pleasure to be in this gathering of distinguished women. Allow me to join you and send greetings to our sisters around the world on International Women's Day; to all those striving for freedom and equality; to all those who have rebelled against oppression and exploitation; to Iranian women who have not tolerated a life of humiliation under the yoke of misogynous despots and have risen to fight; and to all pioneering women who are carrying the burden of this resistance.
I am also quite happy to see you, my dear compatriots, at this conference. The women of Iran, steadfast as they are against the most brutal dictatorship in the world today, are a source of pride: those of you who have come here for the ideal of equality, our young women in universities, women in factories, in rural areas, and those at home.
These days, Iran is again in grief after the earthquake that struck Zarand, Kerman . Poor housing and vulnerability of Iranians under clerical rule again made losses caused by this natural disaster far bigger. Women, especially child girls, are facing dual suffering. While again expressing my solidarity with those affected, I emphasize the need to make sure that aid reaches the people who need it.
The suffering of Iranian women, who are being humiliated and insulted over trivial issues under the mullahs' rule, is indeed painful. The discrimination and oppression against Iranian women is intolerable.
But Iranian women have kept the flame of hope alive in their hearts, because they are convinced that liberation is at hand.
I sense the passion for and belief in liberation among Iranian women from the messages of my fellow women from inside Iran . The hardships of Iran 's women today will no doubt be turned in to happiness and liberty.
Our gathering today only days before March 8 is a valuable opportunity to pursue this great ideal, as that day offers inspiration for the realization of hopes and ideals of women around the world for equality and liberation
I believe all of us here today, regardless of our specific beliefs, share the view that in our turbulent world, the struggle for equality would be effective and have resonance only when it is linked with the political struggle and the pressing issues of the day. If we limit the equality movement to women's issues as well as gender deprivations and discrimination, and stay away from such a link, we would be confining the equality movement within itself. This would not benefit the equality movement. Because when we speak of equality, we mean the real meaning of the word: equality in political activity and political leadership and not only equality before the law.
The most urgent issue that has aroused concern across the world is Islamic fundamentalism emanating from Iran . It is now spreading to other Muslim countries, regional countries and especially Iraq , seriously threatening peace, democracy, and the achievements of humanity and the equality movement.
The abysmal plight of girls and women in Iran , where even 16-year-old girls are hanged by the mullahs, and the bleak destiny fundamentalists have imposed on women in Muslim countries cannot be ignored by the worldwide equality movement. This movement considers itself duty-bound to rush to the aid of these women.
How to confront fundamentalism relates to all peace and human rights advocates, and specifically to activists in the equality movement. The danger of Islamic fundamentalism is not unique to the Middle East and Islamic countries only. The specter of fundamentalism is now on the march throughout Europe .
What should be done with Islamic fundamentalism? In truth, the policy toward Islamic fundamentalism across the world depends precisely on the policy toward the Iranian regime as the heartland of exporting fundamentalism.
In confronting this increasing danger, there is normally talk of two options. The first is to compromise with the clerical regime with the aim of containment and gradual change. In the past two decades, Western governments have pursued this option.
The other option is to overthrow the mullahs by way of a foreign war, similar to what happened in Iraq . No one would want to see the repeat of that scenario in Iran .
The Tehran mullahs and those with stakes in the status quo want us to believe that any serious change requires a foreign war, and the only alternative to war is to make a deal with the mullahs. But the Iranian Resistance believes that in place of "appeasement or war," there is a third option, which represents the real path to change: change brought about by the Iranian people and Resistance.
I raised this option last December in the European Parliament. Today, I want to raise an important issue when we talk about this option, which is nearly as vital as the issue itself. That the issue is vital would be established in responding to this question: which force would be specifically advancing the real option to fight the fundamentalists? Which force that could make this third option succeed as the real solution to combat fundamentalism?  
My answer is that women's vanguard force provides the bedrock for the decisive defeat of Islamic fundamentalists. That is why we stress that women must participate actively and equally in political leadership in Iran and elsewhere in the world. The notion that women's participation in political leadership is the antidote to Islamic fundamentalism is the essence of the Iranian experience, which has been created through immeasurable pain and suffering.
The experience of the Iranian people's Resistance in the confrontation against fundamentalism is important because Iran is the first country where fundamentalists attained political power and implemented their reactionary ideas in the form of law and policy in all social, cultural and political spheres.

We pay attention to women's participation in political leadership because it was confirmed in Iran in both theory and practice that women were antifundamentalist in all respects. The reason simply had to do with the nature of fundamentalism, where gender distinction and misogyny formed its pillars. The decisive role of women is intrinsic to this struggle.

When speaking of fundamentalism, we do not mean the reality of Islam or even a backward interpretation of Islam. At issue is a medieval phenomenon with suppressive, monopolistic, terrorist, dogmatic and misogynous attributes that is bent on expanding the velayat-e faqih rule (absolute rule of the clergy) to the rest of the world.

We have made social progress toward emancipation and liberation conditional on the status of women. For their part, the fundamentalists enslave women in order to take society backwards and engage in all-out crackdown.
Why do the fundamentalists need to be so hostile to women? And why does the struggle for liberating society by necessity passes through rejecting misogyny?
When the mullahs assumed power in Iran , they faced an enormous energy released as the result of the 1979 revolution and the powerful desire of Iranians to change the old order. They relied on gender discrimination and misogyny to suppress and contain this massive energy and potential.
They propelled the sinister desires of their operatives and forces that were only quenched by gender distinction and ownership of women. They transformed it into the source of power and impetus for general suppression.
Those who have lived in Iran or know about the situation there, understand fully what I am saying, namely that fundamentalists acted as if they were foreign invaders of our nation and looked to women as war booty. In other words, they enslaved them and exercised free rein in various assaults and aggressions against them. On the surface, one sees the mullahs boast of piety, virtue and chastity. Behind this demagoguery, however, there is a sinister force that forms the will to suppress: the desire to own and ravage. This has victimized women and pushed the regime's forces outside the bounds of humanity. This is why we call it an anti-human regime.
This is the essence of misogyny, which is carried out under the cloak of the fundamentalists' laws and religious edicts, has become law, is implemented as official policy and shaped suppressive agencies.
In this respect, take another look at the regime's suppressive agencies and forces. All of them, the anti-vice office, the agency to enjoin good and forbid evil, the paramilitary Bassij force, the chastity patrols, etc., have the task of assaulting and engaging in aggression against women.
What distinguishes the fundamentalists' suppression from other dictatorships is their intervention in the most minute and private
aspects of people's lives. This permeates repression deep inside society. The justification is to expand the fundamentalists' sharia law and fiqh (jurisprudence) in the most private aspects of women's conduct.

The raids by the Revolutionary Guards and Bassijis on private parties, inquisition in the streets, harassment of young people are justified as attempts to control women and their relations with men based on the mullahs' sharia.

If misogyny were rejected, the pretexts and religious superstructure built upon it would no longer be an issue. The rule by the mullahs and fundamentalists would have no theoretical basis. What would remain is a military-police state, similar to other dictatorships, devoid of any religious justification.

On the surface, the mullahs are hiding their obvious hostility to women under the pretext of morality and social chastity. In practice, however, their actions have resulted in savagery, brutality and a rise in moral corruption.
Misogyny is the source of what the fundamentalists claim, reject, desire and stand for. When they oppose Western democracies and engage in anti-colonialist sloganeering, it is because they blame them for forcing women out of the home.

The mullahs have perverted religious piety. When Islam speaks about religious piety, it seeks to elevate the position and human dignity of women and men as well as their emancipation and liberty. The mullahs, however, espouse an anti-human interpretation of this issue and consider women as the source of corruption and sin. Based on this inhuman assessment, they resort to eliminating, suppressing and humiliating women. It is for this reason that we say misogyny is the heart and soul of general suppression and that fundamentalists cannot abandon it.

Since the onset of their rule, the mullahs have not spared any discrimination and oppression against women. On the contrary, they have strengthened misogynous laws every year. Indeed, the pillar of all social relationships and the laws of the state is oppression and discrimination against women. Furthermore, what is happening to women in courts, police centers, the workplace and the household is far more hostile than the letter of the law.

Last month, Prof. Yakin Erturk, the United Nations Human Rights Commission special rapporteur on violence against women reported at the end of her week-long trip to Tehran that Iranian women were sentenced to death based on inaccurate evidence and that in many cases; women who lodged complaints had been victimized. Women who were raped faced enormous obstacles in order to have their voices heard, she added.

I want to reiterate that none of the mullahs' misogynous policies and laws is compatible with true Islam. They are the product of the fundamentalists' perverted interpretation of Islam.
As we discussed last year in a similar meeting, reactionaries have deliberately taken advantage of allegorical verses in the Quran. They have taken the laws of 14 centuries ago, such as women inheriting half of men and the testimony of one man being equivalent to two women - major changes with respect to women's rights at the time - to form the basis of the laws in the twenty-first century. Consistent with the Quran's ever-lasting and developing essence, these edicts should have been annulled and new civil codes enacted. In what reflected the spirit and essence of Islam's thinking and respect toward women, the Prophet of Islam stated, "Only those who are dignified hold women in high esteem. Those without dignity belittle and humiliate women."

I want to conclude that women's active and equal participation in political leadership is necessary because it undercuts the pillar of fundamentalist thinking. This reality has been proved in 25-year experience of our resistance movement against the mullahs' regime.

If I were to present to you the specific experience of the resistance against Islamic fundamentalism, I would have to say in a nutshell that confronting fundamentalism emanates from a mindset that believes in the need for the equal and active participation of women in this struggle and could realize this principle in the political arena.

In more than two decades, we have resisted against a fundamentalist regime. Inside Iran , the Iranian people and Resistance have endured a brutal suppression, unprecedented in contemporary history. The execution of 120,000 of those who chose to resist against the Iranian regime, the massacre of political prisoners, and the torture and incarceration of half-a-million more represent a part of the fundamentalists' suppressive record.

In this period, the Western governments' appeasement of the fundamentalists ruling Iran and their assistance to the regime has directed enormous pressure toward the Iranian Resistance on the international scene.

Nevertheless, our Resistance movement succeeded in overcoming obstacles and adverse conditions and advanced its ideals. That the Resistance movement enjoyed such strength and foundation that enabled it to survive the most venomous conspiracies, heaviest pressures and crackdown was because it refused to compromise with the ruling fundamentalists.

Here, I want to draw your attention to a fundamental reality and a key experience:

   

The Resistance's power and uncompromising posture were the direct result of a revolution and the subsequent presence of women in its leadership, particularly its political leadership. Women have secured the Resistance's dynamism for endurance and progress. This reality is the essence of our struggle in all these years.

Specifically, this reality was tested during the past two-year confrontation between the Iranian Resistance and the clerical regime.

At a time when the clerical regime was exerting maximum pressures and hatching various conspiracies to destroy the Resistance in its totality and was taking advantage of the situation after the U.S. invasion of Iraq to devour that country and spread fundamentalism in the entire region, the city of Ashraf - the headquarters of the National Liberation Army of Iran in Iraq - emerged as the greatest anti-fundamentalist bastion. Ashraf is now being commanded by the pioneering women in the ranks of Iranian Resistance.

Here, I want to talk briefly about the Iranian Resistance's unique experience, namely, the pioneering role of women within its ranks and how they achieved these results.

Thousands of hours of meetings in all these years led the women and men in the Resistance to the conclusion that the fight against the ruling fundamentalists passes through the belief in equality as well as eliminating gender discrimination.

Otherwise, how could a force that was itself tainted with the mullahs' misogynous attitude and to some extent made of the same cloth with the fundamentalists, fight them decisively and without compromise.

Could this Resistance succeed in the struggle against fundamentalism without shedding the patriarchal mindset? There is a well-known Iranian adage that a knife does not cut its own handle. Indeed, it does not.

Our most basic experience was that rejecting misogyny in our thinking was indispensable to the fight against fundamentalism. Advancing such a struggle would be impossible without eliminating all aspects of gender discrimination in all its levels. Similarly, the emancipation of women is impossible without ridding society of the ogre of fundamentalism.

Our movement's perseverance heralds the defeat of the ruling fundamentalists. It also demonstrated that the Resistance movement has succeeded in exposing the fundamentalists' culture and ideology. This has been achieved in every step of the way with the pain and suffering of selfless women in the Resistance. The participation of women in the confrontation with the fundamentalists and the epics they created in prisons and torture centers arouses the respect of all. I will never forget those brave girls and women, the most enlightened, patient and innocent daughters of Iran . They paid the price for the ideal of equality by sacrificing their affection, lives and existence. They are a source of pride for the Iranian people and the equality movement. Where are they today? They don't appear to be with us. But, they are present in our hopes to liberate oppressed women.

Through the leading role of women, the Resistance achieved monumental political and cultural advances, which are not only a human capital for the Iranian nation to liberate itself from fundamentalism but also a strong barrier against the export of fundamentalism and its danger for other societies.

The Resistance has charted a new course that guarantees future progress toward a noble path.

Today, fifty-two percent of the more than 500 members of the Resistance's Parliament, the National Council of Resistance, are women. Women comprise the entire membership of the Leadership Council of the People's Mojahedin, the Resistance's pivotal force. Most of the senior commanders of the National Liberation Army of Iran are also women.

The Resistance has become the advocate and the standard-bearer of women equality, the separation of church and state and the abolishment of any religious discrimination.

The rights of Iranian women are recognized in a plan by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which include the following:

 

-    Women's social, political, cultural and economic rights would be absolutely equal to men;
-    Women will enjoy the right to political and social activity, to freely choose one's occupation and the right to occupy any post and position as well as judgeship in all courts of law;
-    Women will be completely free to choose their clothing, attire, husband, marry and divorce and will enjoy equal rights with men; but of course, there are the basics of women's rights.
-    Legal inequalities will be abolished. In order to eliminate dual oppression, special privileges will be considered for women;

 
 

these were parts of the NCRI's plan on women's rights.

Because this Resistance is inspired by the ideal of equality, it is the source of creating invaluable human and cultural achievements, whether with respect to new modus operandi that relates to women or with respect to resolving substantive problems in the process to emancipate women and men.

We reached the conclusion that classic methods to make women more responsible were outdated. We, therefore, adopted a new approach. We realized that before anything else, we must ask women to accept responsibility for themselves. We also realized that the positions of responsibility and leadership must be handed over to qualified women without any concern because they could handle them.  Otherwise, in a routine classical trend, namely within a patriarchal system, it would be impossible for women to prove their qualifications on a macro level. But in smaller quantities and micro levels, it is definitely possible.

Why? Because of a ruinous perception of women toward themselves: disbelief in themselves. Men have the same perception toward women. It is a result of the gender-based and patriarchal culture that perceives women as being weaker than men are.

Challenging the deep contradictions of this backward culture and resolving each and every one of them were the greatest accomplishment of women and men in the movement, even more so for women. Such issues as "looks" enslave women so much so that from the day they are born, they are concerned about any changes in how they look. The increase in age, a strand of white hair or a wrinkle on the face is the source of constant anxiety, making women upset and desperate. In all moments of their lives, women find themselves broken from within as if they are nothing more than commodities. These are the result of looking at women as commodities. Yet, when these same women are freed of these concerns, heavy chains are removed from their arms and legs and they become emancipated and liberated. We have a rich experience in this regard and many women overcame this problem and possess many experiences. These women and their generation are truly a source of pride.

Another important problem that has plagued women historically is the relations between women, which in many instances are filled with personal rivalries. Overcoming this problem is one of the accomplishments of the Resistance. Women tended to find themselves spaced out in the presence of other women. They felt threatened when other women entered their realm or were promoted.

Fortunately, in our movement, these relations have changed; women are closer to each other than blood sisters are. They are advancing the most difficult responsibilities along side each other. Contrary to the relations between oppressed women, for the women in our movement, the promotion of every woman is the source of encouragement and inspiration for other women. Thus, all of them work to make sure women in the Resistance accept greater responsibilities. The solidarity and cooperation among women in our movement is truly astounding and is a new creation.

Each of these women believes that by supporting other women and with greater cooperation, they can become more powerful. The path to women's blossoming and promotion is to increase the number of women whom she helps, enabling all of them to work toward their joint ideals. Truly, this new world is different from women's past history.

The emergence of this new relationship between women, arising from a need among women themselves to advance their ideals, is a new creation in our movement.

The complex and long-lasting human and cultural issues, which our movement has resolved to by following the ideal of equality is the subject of major debate that goes beyond the limits of this discourse. I will, therefore, be very brief.

Systematically and by the thousands, women in our movement, from all classes and sectors, have obtained new strength and firmness in their human character. Women's historic weaknesses, such as being fragile and jealous as well as the sense of competition and comparison, the fear to making a point in group, apprehension about accepting responsibility, or the fear to accept men's responsibility and exerting hegemony on men have all dissipated.

Those passive, silent, reclusive and introverted human beings have been transformed into active, aggressive, firm, capable women. They have created new qualities in loving and caring and in possessing the noblest human affections. With respect to exercising responsibility, they are prepared to take risks. If they commit errors or fail in carrying out a task, they are not demoralized. They have become human beings who do not see their own identity as a commodity in the eyes or assessment of others. They have gained their identity from choosing their ideal and their human character and attributes.

These are women who have the power to exert hegemony and responsibility. Being emancipated and liberated from all shackles is their distinctive attribute. These were accomplished because they chose a noble human idea, namely freedom and emancipation for the Iranian people. Its yardstick for leadership has fortunately proven itself in practice.

In this path in our movement, men have also traveled down a very tortuous and long path alongside women. This path has liberated them from patriarchal bondage and has made human beings out of them who see their humanity in equality with women. And not only in words, but in deeds.

They out pace each other in accepting hegemony and women's equality in carrying out tasks and responsibilities and have turned into a new generation.

Of course, this was a very difficult and arduous task. I wish there was enough time so that you could talk to these men up close and personal in order for them to share their experiences and feelings with you.
I dare say that this Resistance has a new generation of women and men, each of whom has a profound experience in the long struggle against dictatorship and fundamentalism on the one hand and against the patriarchal and misogynous culture and mindset on the other.

At present, each of them, as emancipated women and men, is carrying out her/his responsibilities alongside the other with the mantra of equality and even positive discrimination for women.
Compared to the past, they have become qualitatively more capable, competent, creative and resourceful. In one word, they have become more emancipated. Women's hegemony has not translated into eliminating men from the scene. Men and women are not in contradiction to one another. Women's emancipation is a prelude to men's emancipation.

This is the new experience of this generation and the history of the Iranian people and the Resistance. This is a new birth in all equality movements and contemporary history. This path is open to any women with any belief or any nationality.

These advances are each a new souvenir for human society. But the biggest discovery is that the survival of the Resistance and the decisive defeat of fundamentalism would be possible only through the pioneering role of women and their participation in political leadership.

Dear sisters and friends,

I thank you for paying attention to this discourse. I would also like to say that I am hopeful for your cooperation and assistance. Because I know that each of you can be effective in advancing the equality movement and specifically supporting the Iranian people's resistance against the ruling fundamentalists.
We have many things to do. Many obstacles are created against our movement. Many conspiracies are hatched against our Resistance. But there is something, which none of these conspiracies and hostilities could rival: our belief in freedom and especially in the emancipation of women. This links women of all nationalities, religions, races and beliefs.

On the eve of the Beijing +10 conferences in New York , we again reiterate the universality of women's rights. No one could use religious or cultural pretext or any other justification to distort women's rights, which are as universal as human rights, and deny its totality.

As Mrs. Elizabeth Sidney noted earlier, the Iranian regime has tried very hard to create obstacles in international conferences against the confirmation of these ideas and words, they will try to do the same thing in the next conference. But I am confident that the free women of Iran and elsewhere will definitely thwart its efforts and will not allow it to succeed.

I end my remarks by honoring the heroic women who gave their lives or suffered greatly in the struggle against the ruling fundamentalists in Iran . Those who were tortured executed or hanged by thousands upon thousands in the past quarter of a century. They also demonstrated the astounding courage, selflessness and endurance of Iranian women. They proved that the source of the unrelenting and uncompromising struggle against the misogynous ogre rests with women.

Indeed, the reactionaries could be brought down, but by these pioneering women.
I again wish your conference success.

Thank you very much.

 
     
 

Mrs. Paula Corrado:

Thank you Madame Rajavi, thank all of you. I have an announcement, there is an exhibition on the century long struggle of Iranian women, which opened on June 28 th and continues until tomorrow from noon to 4 pm . It's at the Fondo del Sol Art Gallery at 2112 R Street, North West, in Washington . I hope you can make that. I would like to thank Dr. Fontaine, Dr. Hughes, Ms. Saidi, and Sister Akers for coming and all of the others who spoke. I'd also like to thank the media; you play a big part in this. Everyday we here of the missing girl, the young woman, in Aruba and we all hope and pray for her safety. Please let the world know an equal amount of measure to those young women who are victimized and suffer everyday.

 
 

All of these people you hear about, the faces that you saw, they have names; they have people who love them, and it is you who could bring that word that you heard from Madame Rajavi and all of these wonderful women who spoke today. Please, please do that, help us. Help us help them.

Be fitting of this 4 th of July weekend, I would say these are the times that try women's souls, and we shall overcome.

Thank you.

 
     
 

 

 
 

Previous Events:

Briefing on the Deteriorating Human Rights Situation in Iran, UN Church Building, New York - December 10, 2004

"Islamic Fundamentalism and the role of women", George Mason University, Virginia- May 21, 2004

Statement on May 6th film screening in Auraria Campus in Denver, Colorodao

A report on "Women in Trafficking in Iran, Victims of Islamic Fundamentalism" Film at George Washington University April 1, 2004

     

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