Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Iranian and Muslim response to Boobquake

I freely admit that Boobquake did not begin as social commentary on women's rights in Iran or criticism aimed at Muslims. It simply started as a humorous "science" experiment to promote skeptical thinking and poke fun at the cleric's hateful, superstitious view of women. Because Boobquake had such a simple beginning, many people have been tweeting at me that it is somehow anti-Muslim or anti-Iranian. Some feminists have complained that it ignores the real plight of women in Iran and is insulting to their struggles.

I could write a long post about why I disagree, but I don't think this is my place to speak. I'm not well versed in Iranian politics, I'm not a scholar of Islam, and I'm not an expert of women's rights in the Middle East. I'm just a feminist who likes to promote skeptical thinking and whose idea accidentally started important discussion.

But I have been getting immensely positive feedback from people who do understand these things. I've received dozens and dozens of emails from male and female Iranians (some still in Iran, some abroad) who have been thanking me for Boobquake and standing up against the ridiculous cleric. The only concerned emails I've received have been from people making sure I don't think all Iranians think the same way as that man - and I definitely do not. I can't share the emails here for the sake of their privacy and safety (especially for those still in Iran), but I am going to share some public statements that have been made. I think they speak for themselves:

An open message from Mina Ahadi, International Committee Against Executions and Stoning; Mahin Alipour, Equal Rights Now - Organisation Against Women's Discrimination in Iran; Shahla Daneshfar, Equal Rights Now - Organisation Against Women's Discrimination in Iran; and Maryam Namazie, Iran Solidarity:
Dear Jennifer

We wanted to write and congratulate you on 'boobquake.' As signatories to the Manifesto of Liberation of Women in Iran and Iran Solidarity, we felt strongly that it was an important act in defence of women's rights and human dignity. This is particularly so given the silence of so many feminists who seem to have succumbed to the racist concept of cultural relativism that implies that women choose to live the way they are forced to. Clearly though, women everywhere want to live lives worthy of the 21st century and not under medievalism and religious rules. That is why you have received so much support from people in Iran for this action. This support is a reflection of a strong women's liberation movement, which is leading many of the ongoing protests there.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi's views are not merely those of a madman but of the state, the judicial system and the educational system. Under Sharia law, for example, a women's testimony is worth half that of a man's, women are still being stoned to death for sex outside of marriage (with the law even specifying the size of the stone to be used), women and girls are denied access to certain fields of study (they can't be judges for example as they are deemed to be too 'emotional'), and they have no right to travel or even work without the permission of their male guardians. Like racial apartheid in the former South Africa, sexual apartheid demands that women and girls be veiled, sit at the back of buses, and enter via separate government building entrances. Yet despite 31 years of this brutality, women continue to refuse and resist, including by unveiling or 'improper' veiling, even though they are arrested, fined and harassed daily. This resistance is why every now and then leading clerics like Sedighi feel the need to intervene and blame women for some calamity or another. Acts of real human solidarity like yours helps to mobilise opposition to this misogyny whilst strengthening and encouraging the women's liberation movement in Iran.

We look forward to working closely with you from now on and know you will continue to support our efforts.
Excerpts from Fault-Lines and Hem-Lines, by Samira Mohyeddin, an Iranian-Canadian feminist and activist wrote writes at
What Brainquake conveniently fails to acknowledge is that preacher Pat and the 700 Club, do not run the United States government. However, Mr. Sedighi’s comments are the hallmark of the regime in Iran, a system of governance that has mandated that all girls, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike must cover their hair and dress in a modest manner from the age of nine on! Let’s talk about that! Let’s talk about the sexualization of pre-pubescent girls! These are not social constructs in Iran, this is the law for the past thirty-one years. Women’s bodies in Iran are legally not their own: women have no freedom of mobility, nor freedom to clothe themselves as they see fit. Brainquake’s churlish comparison between a woman’s CHOICE to show her cleavage and FORCED hijab is irresponsible and a further slap in the face to all those women being subjugated under such misogynistic and patriarchal laws. It is as reprehensible a comparison as breast augmentation would be to female genital mutilation.

[...] Boobquake was rightly making a mockery of a comment made by a moronic cleric in the Islamic Republic. Brainquake’s - HEY EVERYBODY WE HAVE BRAINS! – project is further unpalatable because of its pandering to a challenge that women should not even be engaged in; we should not have to sell ourselves and our accomplishments, we should not have to sell our boobs or our brains; if after more than a century of struggle for our inalienable rights we are still shouting these banal and insipid statements as women - perhaps it is us and our movement that needs a shaking at the core, and not mother earth. You see, I am not interested in being invited to join the Islamic Republic at its table; I want to cut its legs off.

[...] I am most proud of growing up and living in a society that did not try and shame my body, and that did not fascistically attempt to shape my mind. I am proud that I do not need the written permission of the male guardian in my family to board a train to Montreal. I am proud of my Masters in Women and Gender studies from the University of Toronto. I am proud that I am allowed to ride my bicycle throughout this beautiful city and I am proud that the country of Canada, for the past fifteen years has recognized my inalienable right to go topless, should I so choose to do so. But what I am most proud of is my ability to distinguish between something that is chosen by me and something that is physically forced upon me.
Excerpt from Women and earthquake: comedy or tragedy? by Khalil Keyvan:
Dear Jennifer

You, I and millions of people laughed at the Mullahs uncontrollably. Subject of ridicule, they have been for the past thirty one years; a rich source and inspiration for many original jokes. They have always been marginalized and hated characters in the community. However, no one could imagine that such social creatures could one day decide the fate of a people. Today, more than ever, these guys are hated for their unimaginable cruelty.

And who would have imagined that a stupid Mullah's remarks about earthquake and veil would get such a broad coverage in the media. Seldom have such satires reverberated on such a scale across the world and united people in such a way. Your creativity and initiative has set in motion a truly global movement to combat the Mullahs and support the cause of women’s liberation in Iran, and this is much appreciated.

We all laughed together. However, my laughter is bitter too. As I laugh, the human tragedies in the past 31 years of Islamic rule in Iran is reviewed for me like a movie. This comedy reflects a massive human tragedy for a population that has borne the brunt of this savagery. For thirty one years we have ridiculed these Mullahs, while at the same time crying our hearts out. I remember my friends, tens of thousands of people who were executed by these thugs, my young friend who wished to play with his father who was hanged by the same people, and my own child who was born in prison and because of the unhygienic environment only lived for one month.

We know these clerics well by their nonsense but also by their associated brutality indicated by the unmarked mass graves, prisons and tortures. Mullahs, for us, mean women with absolutely no legal rights, compulsory veil and religious police. They are serial killers representing God on earth fighting enemies of god. We remember the men and women who were raped in the ghastly Kahrizak prison so as to break their spirits. And we are reminded of the thousands of men and women who are presently in the Islamic Republic's prisons, under pressure and torture, and with some at risk of execution.

[...] The reason for writing this letter is first and foremost to express my appreciation of your hard-hitting ridicule of the mullahs in Iran and of religious fanaticism and your support of women’s rights. Women and all of the people in Iran need friends like you all over the world in order to free themselves from the hell they are stuck in.
Here are some public comments left on my blog by Iranians:
From farzam: I am an iranian and im totally familiar with theses lunatic comments. these idiots are uneducated and as you may know blood thirsty as well. anyway what you've done so far is just fantastic. i thank you from me and majority of iranians who just laugh at bubble head mullas. good luck with boob quake "movement"! wish someday everybody can live free!

From Mahsa: I am writing from Tehran. I love your boobquake idea...It's good to see people care about the repressions in Iran.

From Irani: Dear Jen, you may have no idea yourself, but with this post you have served the cause of freedom for men and women of Iran in a very concrete and powerful way, and, as an Iranian, I want to thank you for that and to let you know that we owe you a great deal. It seems like you are also getting media attention for this, which makes me happy to know -you deserve every bit of that! Once this crazy regime of the apes is gone and Iran hopefully finds a chance to experience peace and freedom, you should come to Iran to see for yourself what you have contributed to!

From Nima: Hello and Salam and Hallo, I am an Iranian from Germany and I want to thank all you cool girls for this reaction to this dumb gouverment. Thank you. Peace through science and knowlegde.
And finally, media coverage from BBC Persia, for any of you who speak Persian:

1 comment:

  1. Well i believe that women should be free to express themselves in any way they can. I respect women that are one with their bodies and that are responsible enough to undergo plastic surgery. My sister is a lady wise beyond her years and i think that her decision to go for plastic surgery in Perth should be applauded.