No Hejab No. 1 Interview with Hamid Taqvaee
Mach 8th is approaching and Worker-communist Party of Iran has decided to welcome it with the slogan “No to Sexual apartheid !” as well as with efforts aimed at the international isolation of Islamic Republic as a regime of Sexual apartheid. Why Sexual apartheid? What is it that makes Islamic Republic a regime of Sexual apartheid ?
Hamid Taqvaee: I believe all Iranian people, especially women, have a clear perception of what we mean by Sexual apartheid. You see, women are subjected to oppression and discrimination, and viewed as second-class citizens all over the world. In Iran, however, Islamic Republic is anti-woman in a peculiar way. It is, indeed, a misogynist state. Saying that women in Iran are deprived of their rights cannot, by itself, convey the whole truth about their condition. The Iranian state is officially, or legally, against women. It is a state with laws and regulations in which women are expressly and explicitly defined as unequal with men. Subjugation and degradation of women is part and parcel of this Islamic state’s judicial system, as well as an ideological pillar of it. It is a state that separates women from men in social life, in assemblies, in group activities, and even in private parties and gatherings, in schools and university classes, buses, sport fields, swimming pools, parks, on public routes, on the beach, at recreational places, mourning ceremonies, wedding parties; in short, in the social life as a whole, men and women must legally, that is, as far as the state is concerned, be kept apart. That is the reason why this state is a state of Sexual apartheid in the explicit and strict sense of the word.
Does Sexual apartheid just mean the separation of men from women, and vice versa? Generally speaking, what dimensions can apartheid take on in society at large, and to what extent can it have an impact on the people, i.e., both men and women’s, lives?
Hamid Taqvaee: Separation is only a part of the problem. This is a separation, not in the sense that social possibilities are divided fifty-fifty between men and women, or in that both sexes are equally subjected to the laws. It is a separation best conceivable if you remember the regime of racial apartheid in South Africa. In Iran men and women are kept separated, not as two equal parts of society, but as a superior and an inferior, or second-class, part. In the racial apartheid system of South Africa blacks were not even considered people. They were deprived of rights. The society was defined as a white society and, as a result, blacks were considered second-class citizens. It is the same under Islamic Republic, but in regards to women. Here the society is defined as a man’s society, in which only men are considered people, or members of the society, and women are defined as subjects of men, as “half-of-men”, if you like.
A symbol, or representative, of this system of apartheid in Iran is the Hejab. Hejab is not an item of clothing, or an outfit, but a wall, indeed, that separates a woman, as an individual, from her surroundings. Why is that so, you may ask? Because, from the point of view of Islam and therefore an Islamic state, women are sex objects, or sexual commodities, as it were; a sexual commodity that, within the context of reactionary, religious, Islamic morality, is thought of as beguiling. Within such a context, a woman is a commodity that, while still unmarried, belongs to her father, brothers, and other men in the family. Once married, she becomes the property of the husband; and now it is he who has the monopoly ownership right to her. That is the logic behind Hejab: shrouding a woman in black in order to protect her from the naamahram (non-kosher) glance, as they themselves put it; or, in other words, in order to ensure that the commodity remains the property of the person who has acquired the monopoly right to its use through proper religious channels.
Hejab, in my opinion, explains very clearly what we mean by Sexual apartheid. The Sexual apartheid in Iran is even more depraved and inhuman than what existed in South Africa. Because there blacks were not viewed as a beguiling force in whites’ lives and they could, as individuals, at least dress as they wished, and the colour of exposed parts of their skin would not beguile anyone! In Iran, however, women are the counterparts of blacks in the racist system of South Africa, while they are even deprived of the right, as individuals, as women, to reveal their identity, i.e., their face and/or their hair.
The existence of Hejab in and of itself declares that the society is patriarchal. It is the declaration of the fact that when it comes to social activities, social presence, sport and recreational activities, ranks and positions, and so on, they all belong to men, and women’s existence is a function of that of the men’s. From the standpoint of Islam and an Islamic state you are, not a woman, not an individual, but a man’s daughter, or a man’s sister, or a man’s wife, and, generally speaking, your rights and social status are defined relative to those of the men’s. In a patriarchal society, therefore, women must behave in such a way as to not cause any disruption in the status quo, and thus not make ‘sin’ fall upon it. And this, I believe, goes far beyond discrimination against women or depriving them of their rights. It is degrading them expressly and explicitly. It is insulting women through denying their human identity. That is why I think the term “Sexual apartheid” expresses women’s condition in Iran - the blatantly insulting, degrading discrimination that the Islamic state subjects them to - more clearly than any other term.
I must also emphasise here that the system of Sexual apartheid is not only against women, but insulting and degrading to men, or society at large, as well.
Men also suffer from the wall that separates them from women, and are insulted by it. Sexual apartheid is an anti-human system in general which imprisons the whole society and should be condemned by all progressive people.
What’s the significance of presenting Islamic Republic to the world as a regime of Sexual apartheid ? It is the regime of imposing Hejab as well as the regime of robbing women of dozens of other rights. Why do you put a special emphasis on “the regime of Sexual apartheid ”? Is Hejab, or depriving women of some other their rights for that matter, not more comprehensive than Sexual apartheid? Do you not think that placing so much emphasis on Sexual apartheid would overshadow the people’s struggles against Hejab; struggles that are carried out on a daily basis in the streets on a vast level?
Hamid Taqvaee: These two are not separable. As I have already said, Hejab is a symbol, a token, of Sexual apartheid. It is apartheid on a personal level. Through Hejab a woman is forced to separate herself, as an individual, from the rest of the society. That is the function of Hejab. So, when we emphatically demand the abolition of Sexual apartheid, we do not mean we are following a different policy or a different slogan. Hejab is a specific form, an outstanding feature, of Sexual apartheid, and the slogan “unveil!” remains our emphatic slogan this year too. Taking off the Hejab or unveiling is a field in which women can individually take action, stand up against Sexual apartheid, and practically bring down the wall of Sexual apartheid .
However, we should also bear in mind that if we focus solely on Hejab, and agitate only against it, by so doing we will not have presented and attacked the issue on its more extensive levels, that is, in its entirety. True, imposing Hejab is one of the most blatantly depraved forms of discrimination against women and of Sexual apartheid. But, Sexual apartheid is not limited to Hejab. As I have already mentioned, separating women from men at schools, universities, sport and recreational facilities, and even in private parties and gatherings, and so on, these are all concrete examples of Sexual apartheid, of humiliation and degradation of both women and men, and must therefore be abolished.
There is another point, another policy, which is also nothing new to us, but, on the contrary, something that we have always insisted on, and that is making every effort to get the Islamic Republic of Iran isolated and banned from the rest of the world as a regime of Sexual apartheid. The phrase “Sexual apartheid” expresses, almost comprehensively, the fact that it deprives women of their inalienable rights, and reveals its misogynist character to the people across the world; particularly as the world still vividly remembers the racial apartheid system in South Africa and its reactionary nature. One of the things that at last caused the fall of the racist regime was that progressive people of the world rose up against it, and even forced other states to boycott and break their relations with it. It was as a result of a global awakening, as well as an international mobilisation, that the South African regime was defeated and brought down. This background, this historical parallel, will also help us call on the people of the world to mobilise and raise their voice of protest against the regime of Sexual apartheid in Iran. This regime is in no way less anti-human and anti-humanity than the former racist regime in South Africa. That is one of the reasons we believe we must focus on “Sexual apartheid”, and expose the Islamic state in Iran as a gender-apartheid state.
In the direct anti-regime struggles of the women in Iran, Hejab will, of course, continue to play a pivotal role; and our emphasis on exposing and standing up against the regime as a regime of Sexual apartheid should, therefore, make us all the more determined to mobilize against Hejab, so that women unveil on March 8th as a symbolic action. Our call on women shall remain unchanged; while our demand for abolition of Sexual apartheid and condemning the regime as a regime of Sexual apartheid is something that we pursue on a world scale, and are hoping to be able to increasingly draw the attention women’s rights organisations, as well as progressive, humanist, secular and human rights institutions, trade unions, etc., to that issue, and ask them to condemn the Islamic Republic, exert pressure on international organisations such as UN, etc., demand that they condemn the Islamic state in Iran, and break their political ties with it.
What is the outline of activities necessary for exposing and isolating Islamic Republic internationally as a regime of Sexual apartheid?
Hamid Taqvaee: As I said, when we start from standing up against the Iranian state as a regime of Sexual apartheid, we can deduce that a chief demand of this year’s March 8th, both inside and outside Iran, should be abolition of Sexual apartheid. This should be one of the fundamental slogans. A practical and decisively significant step in this direction will be putting aside the Hejab. Unveiling, as it were, on March 8th as a protest gesture and for a limited span of time is quite feasible. Let us not forget that the women’s liberation movement in Iran has been active ever since the day the Islamic Republic came to power, and has continually protested against Hejab as well as other aspects of Sexual apartheid. According to the regime’s own statistics, during the past few months, more than a million women have been arrested for wearing “improper Hejab”, that is, for their practical protest against Hejab. The women’s rights movement in Iran is a vital, dynamic, and expansive movement, and is quite capable of taking a step forward by taking off the Hejab.
As for our activities outside Iran, we will make every effort - through leafleting, protests and so on - to, as I said, have the Islamic Republic condemned by women’s rights organisations, trade unions, progressive forces, etc., as a regime of Sexual apartheid. We will try to hold up the examples and instances of this apartheid before the eyes of the world. We will endeavor to show the people of the world why this state is not much less depraved than the previous racial-apartheid state in South Africa, and how it legally and officially considers half the population of the country as non-human. This must be shown, and our activities hinge on it.
I should add that March 8th is only one of the occasions for calling for the banning of the Islamic Republic from the world community. Calling for its isolation is not an occasional campaign of ours, but a pivotal policy of our party which we pursue earnestly and consistently. I hope on March 8th this year we will be able to present the world with the hideous, inhuman face the Islamic state in Iran more extensively than ever before.