Posts from July 2006

As sterile as it is absorbing

Depending on how you follow the posts here, you may or may not have noticed the box at the top of the front page, which features a randomly-selected, rotating epigraph. Well, in any case, I have a new one to put into heavy rotation. This one is thanks to Roderick’s belated Bastille Day oration; it’s from Proudhon’s General Idea of the Revolution:

[W]e must understand that outside the sphere of parliamentarism, as sterile as it is absorbing, there is another field incomparably vaster, in which our destiny is worked out; that beyond these political phantoms, whose forms capture our imagination, there are the phenomena of social economy, which, by their harmony or discord, produce all the good and ill of society. … Know well that there is nothing more counter-revolutionary than the Government. Whatever liberalism it pretends, whatever name it assumes, the Revolution repudiates it: its fate is to be absorbed in the industrial organization.

–Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1851), The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, Second Study § 1 ¶ 27 and First Study § 3 ¶ 48

Over My Shoulder #28: on women in Iran and the Islamic Revolution, from Azar Nafisi’s The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of, in My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother Guard Your Eyes

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from the opening essay of My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes, a collection of essays by Iranian writers, artists, and intellectuals. The essay is The Stuff Dreams are Made Of, by Azar Nafisi (known to you, perhaps, as the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran). Here she talks about women’s struggle in Iran, before, during, and after the Islamic Revolution, including some things that even well-meaning folks in the United States (let alone the bellowing blowhard brigade) tend to forget:

In the fall of 1979, I was teaching Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby in spacious classrooms on the second floor of the University of Tehran, without actually realizing the extraordinary irony of our situation: in the yard below, Islamist and leftist students were shouting Death to America, and a few streets away, the U.S. embassy was under siege by a group of students claiming to follow the path of the imam. Their imam was Khomeini, and he had waged a war on behalf of Islam against the heathen West and its myriad internal agents. This was not purely a religious war. The fundamentalism he preached was based on the radicla Western ideologies of communism and fascism as much as it was on religion. Nor were his targets merely political; with the support of leftist radicals he led a bloody crusade against Western imperialism: women’s and minorities’ rights, cultural and individual freedoms. This time, I realized, I had lost my connection to that other home, the America I had learned about in Henry James, Richard Wright, William Faulkner, and Eudora Welty.

In Tehran, the first step the new regime took before implementing a new constitution was to repeal the Family Protection Law which, since 1967, had helped women work outside the home and provided them with substantial rights in their marriage. In its place, the traditional Islamic law, the Sharia, would apply. In one swoop the new rulers had set Iran back nearly a century. Under the new system, the age of marital consent for girls was altered from eighteen to nine. Polygamy was made legal as well as temporary marriages, in which one man could marry as many women as he desired by contract, renting them from five minutes to ninety-nine years. What they named adultery and prostitution became punishable by stoning.

Ayatollah Khomeini justified these actions by claiming that he was in fact restoring women’s dignity and rescuing them from the degrading and diabolical ideas that had been thrust upon them by Western imperialists and their agents, who had conspired for decades to destroy Iranian culture and traditions.

In formulating this claim, the Islamic regime not only robbed the Iranian people of their rights, it robbed them of their history. For the true story of modernization in Iran is no that of an outside force imposing alien ideas or–as some opponents of the Islamic regime contend–that of a benevolent shah bestowing rights upon his citizens. From the middle of the nineteenth century, Iran had begun a process of self-questioning and transformation that shook the foundations of both political and religious despotism. In this movement for change, many sectors of the population–intellectuals, minorities, clerics, ordinary people, and enlightened women–actively participated, leading to what is known as the 1906 Constitutional Revolution and the effective implementation of a new constitution based on the Belgian model. Women’s courageous struggles for their rights in Iran became the most obvious manifestation of this transformation. Morgan Shuster, an American who had lived in Iran, even stated in his 1912 book, The Strangling of Persia: The Persian women since 1907 had become almost at a bound the most progressive, not to say the most radical, in the world. That this statement upsets the ideas of centuries makes no difference. It is the fact.

By 1979, at the time of the revolution, women were active in all areas of life in Iran. The number of girls attending schools was on the rise. The number of female candidates for universities had increased sevenfold during the first half of the 1970s. Women were encouraged to participate in areas previously closed to them through a quota system that offered preferential treatment to eligible girls. Women were scholars, police officers, judges, pilots, and engineers–present in every field except the clergy. In 1978, 333 out of 1,660 candidates for local councils were women. Twenty-two were elected to the Parliament, two to the Senate. There was one female Cabinet minister, three sub-Cabinet undersecretaries (including the second-highest ranking officials in both the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Industries), one governor, one ambassador, and five mayors.

After the demise of the shah, many women, in denouncing the previous regime, did so demanding more rights, not less. They were advanced enough to seek a more democratic form of governance with rights to political participation. From the very start, when Islamists attempted to impose their laws against women, there were massive demonstrations, with hundreds of thousands of women pouring into the streets of Tehran protesting against the new laws. When Khomeini announced the imposition of the veil, there were protests in wihch women took to the streets with the slogans: Freedom is neither Eastern nor Western; it is global and Down with the reactionaries! Tyranny in any form is condemned! Soon the protests spread, leading to a memorable demonstration in front of the Ministry of Justice, in which an eight-point manifesto was issued. Among other things, the manifesto called for gender equality in all domains of public and private life as well as for the guarantee of fundamental freedoms for both men and women. It also demanded that the decision over women’s clothing, which is determined by custom and the exigencies of geographical location, be left to women.

Women were attacked by the Islamic vigilantes with knives and scissors, and acid was thrown in their faces. Yet they did not surrender, and it was the regime that retreated for a short while. Later, of course, it made the veil mandatory, first in workplaces, then in shops, and finally in the entire public sphere. In order to implement its new laws, the regime devised special vice squads, called the Blood of God, which patrolled the streets of Tehran and other cities on the lookout for any citizen guilty of moral offense. The guards could raid shopping malls, various public spaces, and even private homes in search of music or videos, alcoholic drinks, sexually mixed parties, and unveiled or improperly veiled women.

The mandatory veil was an attempt to force social uniformity through an assault on individual and religious freedoms, not an act of respect for traditions and culture. By imposing one interpretation of religion upon all its citizens, the Islamic regime deprived them of the freedom to worship their God in the manner they deemed appropriate. Many women who wore the veil, like my own grandmother, had done so because of their religious beliefs; many who had chosen not to wear the veil but considered themselves Muslims, like my mother, were now branded as infidels. The veil no longer represented religion but the state: not only were atheists, Christians, Jews, Baha’is, and people of other faiths deprived of their rights, so were the Muslims, who now viewed the veil more as a political symbol than a religious expression of faith. Other freedoms were gradually curtailed: the assault on freedom of htep ress was accompanied by censorship of books–including the works of some of the most popular classical and modern Iranian poets and writers–a ban on dancing, female singers, most genres of music, films, and other artistic forms, and systematic attacks against the intellectuals and academics who protested the new means of oppression.

In a Russian adaptation of Hamlet distributed in Iran, Ophelia was cut out from most of her scenes; in Sir Laurence Olivier’s Othello, Desdemona was censored from the greater part of the film and Othello’s suicide was also deleted because, the censors reasoned, suicide would depress and demoralize the masses. Apparently, the masses in Iran were quite a strange lot, since they might be far more demoralized by witnessing the death of an imaginary character onscreen than being themselves flogged and stoned to death …. Female students were reprimanded in schools for laughing out loud or running on school grounds, wearing colored shoelaces or friendship bracelets; in the cartoon Popeye, Olive Oyl was edited out of nearly every scene because the relationship between the two characters was illicit.

The result was that ordinary Iranian citizens, both men and women, inevitably began to feel the presence and intervention of the state in their most private daily affairs. The state did not merely punish criminals who threatened the lives and safety of the populace; it was there to control the people, to flog and jail them for wearing nail polish, Reebok shoes, or lipstick; it was there to watch over young girls and boys appearing in public. In short, what was attacked and confiscated were the individual and civil rights of the Iranian people.

–Azar Nafisi, The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of, in My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices (2006; ISBN 0807004634), pp. 2–6.

Happy Bastille Day

There aren’t many so-called national holidays worth celebrating — most of them are nothing more than the high holy days on a theo-nationalist liturgical calendar, in which the Nation is the Church, the State is God, and the minions of the Government are the Saints that you’re expected to venerate. (See, for example, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, Columbus Day, etc.) There are some glorious exceptions, though, and today is one of them.

Liberté, liberté cherie,
Combats avec tes defénseurs …

Break the jails and bury the chains.

Democracy in Iraq #2

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq’s parliament speaker Thursday accused Jews of financing acts of violence in Iraq in order to discredit Islamists who control the parliament and government so they can install their agents in power.

Mahmoud al-Mashhadani hinted that the Americans and Israelis did not want to see officials of Sunni and Shi’ite parties running the country because this is not their agenda.

They will say that we brought you in a democratic way to the government but you are sectarian people. One of you is killing the other and you don’t deserve to become leaders because you are war lords, al-Mashhadani told reporters after a parliament meeting.

Al-Mashhadani is a member of the Sunni Muslim Iraqi Accordance Front while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a member of the Shi’ite Dawa party.

Some people say we saw you beheading, kidnappings and killing. In the end we even started kidnapping women who are our honor, al-Mashhadani said. These acts are not the work of Iraqis. I am sure that he who does this is a Jew and the son of a Jew.

I can tell you about these Jewish, Israelis and Zionists who are using Iraqi money and oil to frustrate the Islamic movement in Iraq and come with the agent and cheap project.

No one deserves to rule Iraq other than Islamists, he said.

— Ha’aretz (2006-07-13): Iraqi parliament speaker: Jews finance acts of violence in Iraq

What is there even to say at this point to the bellowing blowhards, who continue to act as if the United States government’s ongoing political and material support for this government in Iraq is anything less than a moral crime? The problem with sarcasm is that it’s not bitter enough under the circumstances.

(Link courtesy of David T. Beito at Liberty and Power.)

Proportionality

From Israel:

Hezbollah also claimed to have fired a volley of rockets on northern Israel early on Thursday. Israel said one woman was killed.

The killing of eight soldiers and the capture of another two by Hezbollah militants in fighting on the volatile Israel-Lebanon border on Wednesday opened up a dangerous new front in the Middle East conflict.

This was an act of war without any provocation on the sovereign territory… of the state of Israel, said Olmert, facing the most serious test of his leadership since his government took office in May.

Israel must respond with the necessary severity to this act of aggression… Israel will respond aggressively and harshly to those who carried out, and are responsible for, today’s action, a cabinet statement said.

— News24 2006-07-13: Israel bombs Beirut airport

From Lebanon:

Fighter jets swooped in on the airport, firing missiles on two runways, forcing the diversion of flights to neighbouring Cyprus and the closure of the newly renovated airport.

Lebanese police said 27 civilians, including 10 children, were also killed in a wave of Israeli attacks on the south on Thursday after the Hezbollah action that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert branded an act of war.

— News24 2006-07-13: Israel bombs Beirut airport

So in Israel, one civilian was murdered. Eight soldiers were killed in combat and two captured. In the process of retaliating, Israeli forces have slaughtered 27 civilians, including 10 children, who had nothing in particular to do with the attack. They have bombed out bridges, destroyed roads, and bombed the country’s main airport (which had no connection with Hizbollah’s attacks and is far away from Hizbollah’s base of power in Southern Lebanon). They show no signs of letting up: this deaths and destruction is only the beginning.

From Israel:

JERUSALEM (AP) – Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired three homemade rockets into Israel on Friday, hours after the Israeli prime minister pledged to push forward with airstrikes against the militants despite a recent string of civilian casualties.

The Israeli army said there were no injuries or damage from the rocket fire. But the attack prompted a prominent legislator to call for Israel to launch a military offensive into the densely populated Gaza Strip.

Speaking Thursday evening at an economic conference in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologized from the depths of my being’ for civilian deaths in recent airstrikes in Gaza. But he added, Israel will continue to carry out targeted attacks against terrorists and those who try to harm Israeli citizens.

I am deeply sorry for the residents of Gaza but the lives, security and well-being of the residents of Sderot is no less important,‘ Olmert said, referring to the southern Israeli town that has been pelted by rocket fire from Gaza.

Steve Weizman, The Guardian (2006-06-23): Gaza Militants Fire Rockets at Israel

Palestinian militants have captured an Israeli soldier during a raid on an army post near the Gaza strip, the Israeli military has said.

The man went missing during an attack on an Israeli tank which killed two of its crew, a military spokesman said.

Hamas said it had knew nothing about the soldier, but urged any captors to keep him alive and treat him well.

Israel said it would do everything in its power to retrieve the soldier, the first to be captured since 1994.

BBC 2006-06-25: Israeli soldier seized in raid

A young Jewish settler seized by Palestinian militants in the West Bank has been found dead.

The body of Eliyahu Asheri, 18, from the Itamar settlement, was retrieved near Ramallah by the Israeli army.

BBC 2006-06-29: Seized Israeli settler found dead

Israel has rejected criticism that its military offensive in the Gaza Strip is a disproportionate use of force.

PM Ehud Olmert said there was no other way to stop the fear, the shocks, the lack of security of Israeli civilians facing daily rocket attacks from Gaza.

— BBC 2006-07-10: Israel denies excessive force

From Gaza:

Israeli warplanes also bombed the Palestinian foreign ministry in the Gaza Strip overnight in the latest offensive over the seizure of an Israeli soldier by Palestinian militants three weeks ago.

A total of 70 Palestinians have been killed in the military onslaught against Gaza, which the United Nations has warned is causing a humanitarian crisis in one of the most densely populated areas on earth.

News24 2006-07-13: Israel bombs Beirut airport

The Israeli military said it attacked the home because it was a meeting place for terrorists. It also confirmed Israeli forces were operating in southern Gaza as part of an effort to win the release of a captured soldier.

With tanks and troops on the move farther south, a huge explosion destroyed the house of Hamas activist Dr. Nabil al-Salmiah, killing seven people, including two children, and wounding at least 24, hospital officials and residents said. There was no immeidate word if al-Salmiah was among the casualties.

They said the house was hit by a missile fired from an Israeli plane. The Israeli military said it attacked the house because it was a meeting place for terrorists who were planning attacks and rocket-launching.

Palestinian rescue teams dodged broken water pipes and electricity wires searching the rubble with bulldozers, shovels and their hands and to reach injured people screaming for help.

The scene resembled the aftermath of a 2002 attack, when an Israeli plane dropped a bomb on the house of a Hamas leader in Gaza, killing him and 14 other people, including nine children. The attack set off complaints from human rights groups that are still reverberating.

Canadian Press (2006-07-11): Israeli air strike on Palestinian home in Gaza kills 7, injures 24

Four Palestinian civilians were killed and 15 injured in Israeli airstrikes on a three-storey building and a car in northern Gaza City early Wednesday, witnesses and medics said.

Witnesses said that two successive airstrikes were carried out on Sheikh Radwan neighborhood in northern Gaza City.

They said that one rocket hit a car that drove in the neighborhood, but militants aboard the car managed to escape before the car was hit.

They said that a second rocket was fired at a three-storey building, which belongs to a Palestinian teacher at Islamic University in Gaza City called Nabil Abu Silmeya.

Medics at Shiffa Hospital in Gaza City said that four bodies were identified, two of them children, adding that 15 people were wounded.

People’s Daily Online (2006-07-12): Four civilians killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza

At around 1.00 am on Tuesday, 4 July 2006, an Israeli Apache helicopter fired one missile at the Islamic University in Gaza City. As a result of the attack, the target, a student council office, caught fire and was completely destroyed. At approximately 1:50 am on Wednesday, 5 July 2006, an Israeli aircraft dropped a bomb on the Dar al-Arqam School in al-Tuffah neighbourhood of Gaza City, destroying a number of classrooms. These attacks came less than a week after the IAF fired a missile at the Islamic University, hitting a football field.

Al-Haq Press Release (2006-07-06): Israeli Attacks on Educational Institutions in the Gaza Strip Violate International Law

PCHR strongly condemns the targeting of the Palestinian Interior Ministry building by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) for the second time this week. In addition, the Centre condemns the military escalation against civilian property and installations, including educational and governmental institutions that are essential to the daily lives of the civilian population. The Centre warns against the continued targeting of these institutions, which will lead to a complete collapse of basic services in the sectors of health, sewage disposal, transportation, education and social services. …

Shortly after targeting the Ministry of Interior, IOF planes dropped another bomb on Dar Al-Arqam School in the densely-populated El-Tuffah area of Gaza City. A number of structures and classrooms were destroyed. No injuries were reported.

Palestinian Centre for Human Rights Press Release (2006-07-05): Israeli Occupation Forces Destroy the Ministry of Interior Building and a School in Further Aerial Attacks on the Gaza Strip

GAZA, July 1 (Reuters) – Lutfi Halawa stood beside the hospital bed of his nine-month old daughter Isra, praying power cuts hitting the Gaza Strip will not shut down her ventilator.

Without electricity my daughter will die, he said.

Palestinian health officials say an Israeli air strike which knocked out Gaza’s main power plant has put the lives of hundreds of patients in imminent danger.

The attack was part an Israeli offensive to free a soldier captured by Palestinian militants last Sunday. Israel, which provides most of Gaza’s electricity, says it has boosted supplies because of the current situation.

But the United Nations and the International Committee for the Red Cross say the strike has cut vital electric power for hospitals as well as families. Air strikes have also knocked out water supplies, they said.

Israel’s closure of Gaza’s borders has also halted commodities including gasoline, meaning the fuel Palestinians are using to power home generators is being depleted.

Al-Naser hospital for children, where Isra is being treated, has been relying on a generator during power cuts. But its gasoline reserve will only last four to five days, doctors say.

Reuters (2006-07-01): Gaza power cuts endanger patients, doctors say

The decision to expand the the military operation in Gaza was made during consultations between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

Our main target is the terrorist infrastructure — the rocket crews, the gunmen, the arms caches, said an IDF commander.

But of course we are here to show that if, God forbid, any of us is captured by the enemy, the army will do everything to secure his return.

IDF troops rolled into Gaza from the Kissufim crossing, once the main access point to Jewish settlements, and an access road four kilometers to the south, menacing the nearby city of Khan Yunis and town of Dir al-Balah.

Palestinians said that IDF bulldozers were leveling farmland in the area, and the military ordered Palestinian security forces to leave their forward positions.

— Ha’aretz (2006-07-13): U.S. vetoes UN resolution condemning Israel’s Gaza incursion

So in Israel, one civilian was murdered, two soldiers were killed in combat, and one captured. Residents of towns near the Gaza strip have suffered some fright and some property damage from poorly-aimed rocket attacks. In the process of retaliating, Israeli forces have killed some 70 people, many of them children or other civilians who had nothing in particular to do with the attacks. They have also deliberately torn up farms, bombed bridges, destroyed school buildings, and the main civliian power plant. They show no signs of letting up: this death and destruction is only the beginning.

The murder of civilians by Palestinian or Lebanese terrorists is criminal, and those who committed the murders can be stopped from committing further crimes through the use of violence, if necessary. But the right to use force against someone does not mean the right to use any amount of force necessary against anyone at all in the process of stopping her. It’s true that if you really are willing to do everything in retaliation for the kidnapping of a soldier, or attacks on your forces, or attacks on civilians, then this is included. Any atrocity at all is included in doing everything, and that is precisely why the willingness to do everything in retaliation for an attack, no matter what the cost to innocent third parties, is a moral crime of the first order. Destroying the lives and livehlihoods of scores of innocent people in the process of trying to stop the murder of one or two other innocents is criminal. Destroying the lives and livelihoods of scores of innocent people in the process of trying to avenge the death or capture of a handful of soldiers in combat — the primary justification given by the Israeli government for these campaigns — is nothing less than an atrocity.

Further reading: