Good for You
Dear Fellow-Writer in the West,
I see the uncomfortable expression on your face in the face of the ongoing protests in Iran. I see you cannot wrap your head around the fact that the citizens of a Muslim-majority country are demanding an end to an “Islamic” regime. I acknowledge that this is a very complicated concept for you. I see living in safety and privilege here in the West has robbed you of perspective. I see you!
Here are a few facts: The Islamic Republic of Iran has a “supreme leader,” a high-ranking Muslim cleric, an ayatollah, who is also the commander-in-chief. This means all the military, police, revolutionary guards, Basij militia, and plainclothes forces opening fire on unarmed citizens in Iran are under his direct command. It means he’s responsible for this new round of bloodshed (and countless others before).
The first protest against the compulsory hijab in the Islamic Republic dates back to March 8, 1979, immediately after the revolution that brought it into being. It came in response to Ayatollah Khomeini’s decree coercing women to cover up. In a larger historical context, Iranian women have been fighting against compulsory hijab imposed on them by custom and sharia law for more than a century.
In recent months, the regime has been using increasingly brutal methods to arrest, torture, beat, and kill women who defy the hijab mandate. In these protests, you see women burning their headscarves and appearing unveiled in public. The protests against compulsory hijab have also occurred in the most religious cities: Mashad and Qom, bastions of Shiite orthodoxy, and home to saints and seminaries.
Honestly, I have been trying to understand why so many of you bend backwards to justify the Iranian regime’s atrocity in the name of cultural relativism. “Every country has its custom and laws,” you say. You’re always quick to compare the human rights abuses in other parts of the world with the flaws of “Western democracies,” as if all regimes are equally unjust and brutal. But I am sure you know the difference, as you do not plan to immigrate to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, or the Islamic Republic of Iran, even if you go hungry and jobless here. On the other hand, millions of people learn a foreign language, invest money, and risk their lives to escape Islamic regimes, knowing full well that they will face racism and xenophobia in the West.
The truth is that living under racism is far more tolerable than living under totalitarianism and Islamic fundamentalism. It is far preferable to live in countries with “flawed democracies” than to live in countries with no democracy at all. If your Erewhonian logic demands that we put up with whatever inhumane laws are imposed on us in our home countries, then the least you can do is give the same allegiance to your own system: praise your Western democracies to heaven!
And who says human rights are Western values to begin with? It is another form of colonialism to think that non-Westerners do not aspire to freedom and dignity. Such thinking betrays ignorance of the histories of struggles for justice across the world. How dare you assume we cannot think independently? How dare you assume that equality is your invention — and your prerogative only?
The morally and intellectually bankrupt claim that uprisings in undemocratic countries, especially the so-called “enemies of the US,” can happen only as a result of foreign influence implies we’re not able to judge our governments, religions, or cultures. The implication is that we’re intellectually underdeveloped. It implies that most of us are content to be kept downtrodden in the name of Allah, or any other ideology disguised as nationalism or culture. In other words, it implies that this is what we want.
Whoever thinks that way must now be in shock at seeing Iranians protesting the sharia law. They must have a hard time denying the evidence before their eyes of countless Iranian women removing their hijabs and setting them on fire.
Listen! If the choice is between Islam and freedom, we Iranians, a Muslim nation, choose freedom; in the face of danger and death, in the face of torture and rape, and in spite of your silence and complicity with our murderers. We reject the imposition of any government on us in the name of Allah. If you try to explain or make excuses for our murderers and dictators, you’re their accomplice. We will not forgive. We will not forget.[i]
I have no patience with people who close their eyes to genocides and atrocities just because they’re committed by the enemies of the US — and only because they’re the enemies of the US. Some of these enemies of the US are first and foremost enemies of their own people. Some of them, like the Iranian regime, have no qualms about massacring their own citizens over and over, and then again to stay in power.
Freud said that biology is destiny. And you imply religion is destiny. You imply nationality is destiny. You insinuate culture is destiny. You do not believe in human destiny.
People who justify oppression and violence perpetrated by Muslim regimes and community leaders are guilty of the worst form of Islamophobia. They believe that Islam is what Muslim dictators, extremists, and fundamentalists say it is. They consider Islam synonymous with oppression, misogyny, homophobia, and other human rights abuses.
Islam, for your purposes, is the Islam you consider legitimate enough to heed its threats. It’s the Islam you respect out of fear. It’s the Islam you fear because it’s the Islam that mobilizes terrorists to silence free expression. Your Islam is the Islam of mullahs and demagogues who benefit sexually, financially, and politically from suppression of dissent.
If you’re not enraged by the increasing number of limitations on freedom of expression, you deserve your new slavery: slavery to fear. You are no longer free if you cannot express yourself freely. Anyone who lets go of freedom of their own “free will” is the most pathetic of slaves.
You are bending backwards to justify your befuddled idea of diversity: you are struggling to prove that it is better to be “diverse” than “free,” as if diversity is possible in the absence of freedom. Your unprincipled diversity and tolerance has come to mean tolerating dictators, oppressors, and genocide perpetrators.
I see you as the new colonizer, secretly relishing your cultural superiority, watching our massacre from a safe distance! You have learned to bend over backwards. You have become really good at mental gymnastics. Good for you!
[i] One of the chants in the ongoing Iran protests of 2022.
*Further Reading by Bänoo Zan from the CBC: Self-exiled poet covers Iran protests as a ‘war correspondent in verse’
Bänoo Zan is a poet, librettist, translator, teacher, editor and poetry curator, with more than 250 published poems and poetry-related pieces as well as three books including Songs of Exile and Letters to My Father. She is the founder of Shab-e She’r (Poetry Night), Canada’s most diverse poetry reading and open mic series (inception: 2012), a brave space that bridges the gap between communities of poets from different ethnicities, nationalities, religions (or lack thereof), ages, genders, sexual orientations, disabilities, poetic styles, voices and visions. Bänoo is the Writer-in-Residence at the University of Alberta, Canada, Sept 2022-May 2023.
Songs of Exile https://www.guernicaeditions.com/title/9781771830874
Letters to My Father https://www.amazon.ca/Letters-My-Father-Banoo-Zan/dp/1927396107
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