I received the following letter from 'a group of students from Tehran University the other day. They wrote: 'We are a group of Iranian students at Tehran University. We found about your group activity two years ago when you held an event on 10th of October 2008 (International day against the Death Penalty). We all were very interested in your group since most of us inside Iran hate any religion ruling us, we are all born in Muslim families but hate Islam more than any other religion so we are also ex Muslims. But we were very disappointed when we realized that you use our cause and suffering inside Iran to achieve your goals such as one law for all in Britain. For example this year you are planning to use Neda’s anniversary to rally against sharia law. Neda, Ashkan, Sohrab and those of our friends who died in Iran and those who are in prison, are paying a price for the freedom of Iran. Don’t mix things; don’t use our suffering to achieve your objectives. You can have separate rallies for your problems in Britain, and if you care about Iran (which I am sure you care) have a rally for Iran but with all the respect to England, we don’t like you to use the name of our dearest Neda, the symbol of freedom in Iran, to achieve your goals in Britain. We would like to concentrate our effort to free ourselves. We were very very disappointed that the communist ideas of your group are more important to you than freedom of Iran. We want freedom and democracy and None of us know what happens to us in our next demonstration on days of June 2010, some of us may die or end up in prison but we are happy to pay the price for it. We don’t want any religion or communist ideas to come and rule us. We are tired of being used. In a free Iran, we do not want atheists mullahs and communists to come and rule us with different form of fundamentalism.'
My response follows:
Thanks very much for your email. I appreciate receiving your comments. I would like, however, to make the following points:
* Neda's murder has affected all of us deeply - not just those of us living in Iran or exiled but ordinary people everywhere. I think this is mainly because her cold-blooded murder was seen by many across the world in a way that countless murders by the Islamic regime over thirty years have not been. How could anyone not be moved? But also I think it is because her demand for freedom against all odds - her desire to live a life worthy of the 21st century - is really a demand for people all over - irrespective of where they were born.
So I think it is actually quite apt for us to remember Neda in our battle for equal rights in Britain or wherever we happen to live and whether we are Iranian or not. It is not 'using' her but holding her dear and not allowing the world to forget her in the fight that still lies ahead. I mean were civil rights activists in America 'using' Stephen Biko (killed by the apartheid regime of South Africa) when promoting equal rights there?
Rather, showing solidarity - mobilising towards it - across borders - means being able to show the real links between people in Iran and those living in Britain and elsewhere.
Reducing the protests and resistance of Neda and people in Iran (and those of us in exile who have fled because of our activities, lost many a loved one and continue to be threatened with death and have our families in Iran harassed by the regime because of our activities abroad) into a national sort of suffering that only those still in Iran are privy to misses the point.
* Moreover, Neda is linked to the issue of Sharia law in more ways than one. Sharia law is not 'Britain's personal problem' and Neda is not 'Iran's problem.' They are both the result of the rise of the political Islamic movement of which the Islamic regime is a cornerstone. In fact Sharia law in this country came into being in the late 80s after the establishment of the Islamic regime of Iran. The fight for a different and secular society in Iran is intrinsically linked to the fight for a different and secular one in Britain.
* You say you hate Islam more than any other religion but in my opinion religions are all alike. If given political power they will do what Islam has done and have in the past. A ‘kinder’ religion is only one that has been pushed in a corner and out of the public space. Islam only seems worse today because we are living through an Islamic inquisition. And this Islamic inquisition like the Christian one in centuries past must be pushed back by a new enlightenment that is being shaped in my opinion in Iran.
* So I do think actually that it is important to 'mix things.' The fight against Sharia in Britain is an important front in the ongoing battle of the people of Iran against the Islamic Republic. Also, Sharia law has been used by the far-right to promote its anti-immigrant and racist agenda. They want no Sharia in Britain but don't mind the Church of England's role here nor care a whit about people struggling elsewhere or even in the ‘Muslim community’ here with similar problems. ‘Mixing’ the two - whilst standing up for people everywhere and showing the humanity of us all - also attacks the cultural relativism and racism that is rampant and excuses gross violations in the name of culture and religion for the 'other.'
* Finally, One Law for All or the Council of Ex-Muslims are not communist organisations but I am a communist. You may not want or like my communist ideas but I do. And I believe strongly that worker-communism is a humane and much-needed movement (that has proven to be so over several decades and been at the forefront of everything from opposing the death penalty, refugee rights, secularism to equality not just in Iran, and also when many such issues were not fashionable in the Left). I have a right - as you do - to promote my ideas and debate them. In a 'free Iran' as you call it - whilst you many not want ‘fundamentalist’ atheists and communists alike, we must have a right to speak and organise and mobilise support as all other political groups and ideologies.
Otherwise it wouldn't be very free would it? And both you and I will have to let people in Iran choose and decide what they want. I believe that in free and fair elections they will choose us but again for that we will have to wait and see...
Let me end by saying that I sincerely wish you all safety and success in your activities.