Sunday, January 10, 2010

Zahra Rahnavard, Intellectual

When Foreign Policy announced the name of one hundred women thinkers and intellectuals with Zahra Rahnavard as third on the list, I said well! A few lines further I noticed that she is the number one thinker and intellectual in Iran too. Well, that was something else, I said, "Well, well." I scratched my head, I cleared my throat, and again scratched my head. No, nothing helped. I left a message on Facebook and asked my friends on how this happened. Alas, no help. A few friends, Green friends, were as surprised and as puzzled as I was. A few days later Radio Farda had an interview with the editor of Foreign Policy. No, she did not help either. Colorful geometrical big handbag and floral headscarves under her conventional black chador were all that the editor could come up with to justify her choice. Oh yes, I think she said something that I think we should call an argument. If I’m not mistaken it goes like this:

Every movement needs a leader and even though in this Green Movement the people are the leaders, it seems Mousavi is the leader and therefore his wife, who appears with him in public everywhere, even though she got involved in the race very late, should have had an undeniable share in his success.
Wow! Am I convinced? NO, I’m not. This is unlike me; I do give in so easily, but never to a bad argument.
God bless I started my research. First the resume: BA, MA, and Ph.D. (disputed by Ahmadinejad, who claimed that she got into the university without passing an entrance exam. Dismissed! Ahmadinejad is not a good judge when it comes to honesty.) Plenty of floral headscarves, almost in every single piece, plenty of walking hand in hand with her husband (actually it happened only once), sitting next to him, shaking hands with another women in public, and talking to the crowd of some 12,000 in Azadi Stadium. And finally, references to her paintings and fifteen books, the three daughters she raised, and the sculptures by her stuck here and there around in the city.
Well, educated women in Iran are not such rare entities, neither are women artists or mothers or academics, or those articulate enough to address more than twelve thousand. I press my mind to recall something about her. Nothing comes but a vague rumor of her and her husband’s associations with Hamas or Hezbolah or both. And a statue she carved to the occasion of Mother’s Day in Iran, which is not the universal Mother’s Day in Iran but the birthday of the Prophet’s daughter Fatemeh Zahra. The first time I looked at it I thought what is the Virgin Mary doing in the middle of a square in Tehran.
I ran across an interview with Safinaz Kazem, an Egyptian activist. I think this single interview would expose some of Ms. Rahnavard’s ideas and philosophies.
I need not go any further to discuss her views, her ideas and her convictions. I should give her credit for making it very easy for us all to see her inside and out.
However, I need to say that the interview is dated 1987 when her husband was the prime minister of Iran. It is very likely that Ms. Rahnavard’s political, and philosophical ideas, have evolved, changed and developed since. It is quite possible that during these past twenty years she developed a little love for Iran and Iranians (the names she never referred to in this interview.) It is quite possible then, as the wife of the prime minister of an Islamic country, that she might have exaggerated her religiosity. But it is quite possible that none of this have happened and she, like many, has remained unaffected by the course of life.
But whether she is changed or not, surely by 1987, during the years her husband was prime minister, the Islamic Republic of Iran committed quite a number of murders. It seems in those early years that she was not even touched by all those massacres, executions, unlawful arrests and imprisonments. It seems that in those days she thought Iran was a quasi-paradise on earth. Otherwise she could have mentioned at least one of those unfortunate events, just in case.
I happened to watch a clip of a documentary film by Rakhshan Bani-Etemad made just shortly before the June 2009 election. The documentary focused on women activists and their demands from the presidential candidates. Off and on, the camera would move to show the audience, limited to the presidential candidates and their companions, to catch a glimpse of their reactions.
The reaction and the body language were remarkable. It seems it was the first time they had been confronted with “women issues.” “Yes women issues are very serious, indeed we have to do a lot about them.” “Yes, of course women have lots of problem.” “Yes the women…”
All through the film, even when the discussion started, Ms. Rahnavard had bent her head to her chest, giving the impression of taking a nap. Though, I thought she was just thinking. It seemed she had either skipped through all the process or was trying to gather herself together and get ready for a new role she had to play. Or maybe she was simply recalling her past images that she portrayed as a zealous woman of faith, suitable to the politics of the early revolution. Maybe she was trying to find a way to stitch her past to the present. But wow! She should try hard! Noushin Ahmadi and Shadi Sadr and Mansoureh Shojaii are not exactly Ms. Dabbagh or Safinaz Kazem!
I was wondering what she had in mind when she told Safinaz: “Egypt should be proud of Islambouli,” Sadat’s assassin? That it is “heroic to kill?” Could it be that she was just thinking about her association with terrorist groups? The rumour so strong that she volunteered to explain without being asked “as American and Zionist’s plot who wanted to destroy Islamic Republic by attacking the Prime Minister’s wife.” [sic] Could she give the same explanation to these women in the film? These very women who have been in jail so many times, even when her husband was the prime minister. I’m sure she needed more time to ponder.
She came to herself and said: “Yes, women’s issue should be dealt with from all angles. It is like a massive mountain that must be exploded with dynamite from every side.”
Ms. Rahnavard did not even mention one of the issues discussed by the women activists as something that should be given priority; neither did she give her own preferences of the issues which must be dealt with. She could have mentioned at least what she had said recently in one of her recent speeches (shortly prior to the election) urging people to vote. She said that Mousavi’s government “will not have political and student prisoners” and would “remove discriminatory laws against women.”
“Men and women are like “two wings,” she told the Tabriz University crowd at a rally on Tuesday. “A bird can’t fly with one wing or with a broken wing.” But she didn’t. Very likely she remembered that the quotation is from a forbidden Bahai text:
“The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights of real attainment.”
No, she could not possibly admit that she had read the text even as a passing curiosity.
Indeed, as the author of some not-so-feminist poetry, she could not possibly have mentioned anything more specific. In Tehran’s feminist’s camp one of her poems was blasted by the activists:

If the father is death
His gun is still left behind.
If the tribesmen are death,
The sons are sleeping in wooden cribs.

Yes, if men die, the mother should wait for her son to grew. It takes only some twenty years! Any problem?
Of course, she was not obliged to answer any of these questions, and her response was not worse than the others’, but I think the editor of Foreign Policy had rushed a little to announce her as the most intellectual women in Iran.
To read the rest, click here.