by Sepideh Jodeyri
What does it mean when you say someone has quisled? And to whom do you refer as a “quisling”? It is little wonder that you, the western reader of this piece, have not heard of a phenomenon such as Vidkun Quisling for decades. He was a Norwegian politician who collaborated with the Nazis in invading Norway during World War II, and his surname has been used as a synonym for traitor ever since. Even if we were convinced that the Germans manipulated Quisling’s motives for gaining power in Norway, there is no doubt that nowadays none of your compatriots would let any aggressor manipulate their opposition to your government in order to invade your country. Nevertheless we see the same situation today regarding Iran and some Iranian opposition groups abroad.
You may consider Iran a different case. It is governed by a tyrannical theocracy; its execution number is shocking; the government’s critics are jailed, exiled or even executed, and the government is intervening in other Middle Eastern countries’ affairs. Therefore, you may see fit and right to undertake any action which weakens the Iranian government. But, may I invite you once, forever, to listen to those Iranian activists who have not let the western powers manipulate them to gain their interests in the region?
The problem is that pro-war and pro-sanctions Iranian activists abroad as well as hardliners in Iran have dominated all the tribunes so that nobody can hear the independent voices — the other voices. Therefore, no wonder you are not informed that not only many exiled Iranian activists, but also some political prisoners in Iran such as Farhad Meisami, Bahareh Hedayat and Narges Mohammadi have spoken out against Western governments’ warlike policies—for instance, the unjust sanctions reimposed by the U.S. government against Iranian people.
The truth is that these sanctions effect not only ordinary citizens, but also the civil rights movement in Iran. We have to consider that activism is mostly not permitted, or at least it is not considered to be a job in Iran. The civil rights activists are voluntarily taking part in such actions. When even the middle-class has to work three shifts a day under the economic crisis, how can people have the opportunity and time for voluntary activities? Under such conditions they would logically focus on the jobs that earn them income, not the voluntary ones.
That’s why the majority of people in Iran believe in changes that can take place by themselves, not through sanctions and war. It is easy to understand. Imagine your country was ruled by such a government. Would you let other countries starve and bomb your people to bring freedom and democracy to them?
That’s the point. All I want to say is that there are more similarities than differences between you and us, but only the Iranians who insist on the differences have voice on both sides.
Let’s see why some Iranian opposition groups abroad favor sanctions and war on their own homeland. There are numerous Iranian human rights organizations, campaigns and projects in the U.S. and Europe that are mostly sponsored by the U.S. and Israeli governments; consequently, the activists who work for them may sometimes have to follow those governments’ policies. There is no foreign government who sponsors activism against your country’s interest, is there? However, this is how the western governments behave toward my homeland.
It may sound hilarious to you if you hear that Iranian women’s rights activists meet Western politicians with anti-feminist records to discuss the violation of women’s rights in Iran and ask for support, but that’s exactly what the Iranian anti-compulsory-Hijab campaigner Masih Alinejad did in her February meeting with the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo’s extensive anti-choice record is clear to every women’s rights activist in the US and in the world. Afterwards the campaigner got a lot of backlash for it, not just in Iran, but also among Iranians in the U.S.
But I have little doubt that you have rarely heard of the backlash. You just watch the trendy showcases that our Zainab al-Suwaijs have provided to justify the “Regime Changes” the U.S. has perpetrated or will perpetrate in the Middle East and in the so-called Third World. You may even not know that in Tehran’s biggest demonstration of anti-compulsory-Hijab, on May 13th at the University of Tehran, people carried signs reading, “Alinejad va Ershad: Erteja’ va Enqiad” (“Alinejad and the Morality Police: reactionary and domineering”). On May 17th, a group called “Justice-Seeker Teachers” in Iran issued a statement to support the May 13th demonstration, mentioning that both of Masih Alinejad and the Islamic Republic TV host Ehsan Alikhani were censoring and falsifying the news of the protest to represent the independent university students and civil rights activists as pro-violence groups and repressive groups as the victims.
These stories show that the Iranian civil rights movement wishes to stay independent of any pro-war and pro-sanctions groups abroad. While the U.S.-Iran conflict was coming to a head, in her article, “The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are terrorists — I’ve seen evidence with my own eyes” for The Independent, Alinejad disrespected the Iranian martyrs of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war by claiming that Iranian children were “brainwashed” to cry for those martyrs’ “heroic and selfless sacrifices.” According to valid sources, the war was started by the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. It was named by the Iranian authorities as a “forced war” at the time. In any part of the world, people pay respect not to the aggressors but to the martyrs who have risked their lives to defend their land. Whereas through this the article tries to represent the defense as a worthless act, I suspect that it might be written for justifying the possible invasion of Iran by the U.S. army.
Hopefully now you can imagine to what extent the manipulation works. It makes people deny every humane aspect of their own homeland.
Unfortunately, the Iranian activists who willy-nilly act like Zainab al-Suwaij are numerous overseas. They even concentrate on the character assassination of Iranian opposition leaders such as Mir Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi who have been under house arrest for more than eight years and are among the only hopes for changing conditions in Iran. However, the quislings don’t seek change, they seek money, power and fame.
Whereas one of the Iranian Green Movement’s leaders, Zahra Rahnavard, as a well-known artist, author and academic figure has published 14 books so far, recently I asked PEN International to begin a campaign for her freedom. I had asked the same for freedom of a few Iranian writers before and PEN had always accepted my request and done it for them. They even led a campaign for Rahnavard’s freedom in 2013. But this time, they replied that due to the political nature of the case, they were afraid that they couldn’t work on it at this stage. Now this is the question: what has Rahnavard done since 2013 other than being under house arrest for six more years? I suspect that PEN’s recent decision about this case might be affected by the character assassination that those Iranian opposition groups have perpetrated against Rahnavard during all these years for the reason I mentioned above. But why does an independent organization such as PEN have to listen to them and not to us? I am wondering to whom we can explain our sufferings, when there is no listener.
Sepideh Jodeyri is an Iranian poet and feminist activist who has published 10 books. She lives in exile in Washington and is a critic of the Islamic Republic.