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Interesting Reactions to the Campaign

Friday 20 July 2007


By: Amir Yaghoub-Ali

Translated by: Sussan Tahmasebi

Note: The followng article was written by Amir Yaghoub-Ali about his experience of collecting signatures in support of the Campaign. Amir is a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign and is active in the Men’s Committee. The number of young men joining the Campaign which aims to promote equality between men and women under Iranian law is on the rise, demonstrating the commitment of this younger generation of Iranians to human rights, justice, and equality. Amir was arrested on July 11, while collecting signatures in support of the Campaign. After several days in police custody, he was transferred to section 209 of Evin prison, where he remains prisoner. Amir turned 20, on July 17, while in Evin prison. Read the news about his arrest.

It was the first time I wanted to discuss the Campaign and collect signatures in support of its petition among a group of strangers. Discussing the Campaign, among friends and family and acquaintances didn’t seem so difficult, because you could ahead of time, assess the many possible reactions and prepare for them. But to take up the issue for the first time among a group of strangers, in my language class for that matter, seemed a difficult task.

Kaveh and I had discussed how to go about brining up the issue of the Campaign in our language class, but I was always hesitant. Every time the subject came up, I tried to dissuade Kaveh. "There is no time." "Let’s do it after the next class or we can do this on another day. …" But finally we decided to broach the subject. After the class had come to a close, Kaveh asked students to stay a bit longer. About 8 or 9 students took up his invitation and remained after class, though they had an obvious expression of surprise on their faces. Kaveh extracted the educational booklets from his bag, and explained that he did not intend to take up too much of their time. He explained that he wanted to discuss the "One Million Signatures Campaign" with them. All of a sudden one of the young women in class explained in an excited tone, that she had seen the booklets of the Campaign on the internet and had signed its petition. Well, it seemed that this was a good start! It was interesting for us to see that she had heard about the Campaign and its activities, and her history with the Campaign energized us. We knew that at least one person from among this group was on our side.
We started explaining the history of the Campaign, from the peaceful protest in June 12, 2006 (22 khordaad) in Hafte Tir Square, which was followed by the start of the Campaign. When we finished with the background, we started reading from the educational booklet which explains the laws. Everyone was listening and there were no reactions from the students. When we finished reading from the booklet, one of the young men in the class, who mind you, is Armenian and therefore Christian objected by stating: "we can’t change these laws, because these laws are based on Shari’a law and as such the work of the Campaign is against Islam!" We started to laugh and were stumped as how to answer him. From all the people who were present and involved in this discussion, the only person who objected was a non-muslim, someone who we assumed wouldn’t have a problem with the changes we are proposing. Complicating matters more, was the fact that his objections were based on what he assumed was a contradiction of the demands of the Campaign to Islamic law. Others present in took the lead in responding to these objections. They explained s explained that Iranian laws are based on particular interpretations of Islam, and as such, the Campaign does not oppose Islam, rather it is calling for new interpretations that promote equality between men and women. Our Armenian friend did not seem convinced, but at least he was dissuaded from continuing the discussion on these grounds.

Another student objected to the Campaign, by explaining that: "these kinds of activities will not bring about change." He went further to explain that he believes that activists involved in the Campaign are not in contact with the grassroots and want to "bring about change through coffee shops." Kaveh and I found it interesting to see that this person, who based on his own confessions, does not believe in social or political action, but still professed to be a radical, chose to criticize our work from this perspective.

When our presentation come to a close, one of girls who had not participated in the discussions and had only observed our interactions, suddenly lit the way, and volunteered to give us our first signature in support of the Campaign’s petition. After she signed, almost all those present agreed to sign the Campaign’s petition, which asks for changes in discriminatory laws against women. Two of the students present asked to review the booklet of the Campaign, explaining the laws, before deciding to sign the petition. Of course, our Christian friend, on the grounds that our demands are contradictory to Islam, refused to sign the petition!

****

We leave the classroom and while reflecting on the course of events, Kaveh and I start to laugh. First we are amused by our initial fear about broaching the subject of the Campaign with our fellow students and we have a chuckle when we recall the two opposing reactions of the students to the Campaign—the Christian student who was concerned about contradiction with Islam, and the student who objects to the lack of radicalism used in the approach of the Campaign, who agrees with the content of the petition and signs it in support, but acts all along as if he is in fact doing us a favor.

****

We had an examination during our next language class. Kaveh and I had forgotten who had signed the petition and who had not, and were surprised when one of the girls who had not signed, came up to us and expressed an interest in supporting the work of the Campaign. The previous week, she had asked for some time to review the booklet about the laws and to think about whether she wanted to sign the petition. After signing the petition, this girl explained that she had discussed the Campaign with her family and that they wanted to sign the petition as well! We exchanged emails, so that we could discuss with her how she could join the growing number of Campaign volunteers.

In all, this was an interesting experience for me. Mostly I found the responses of the students to questions raised by their fellow students of interest. But most impressive for me was the realization that the Campaign had so easily seeped into different social groups and families. Of course, I don’t view the equality of men and women as solely related to changes in the law, and don’t think that those involved in the Campaign view the issue in this way either—that with changes to discriminatory laws against women, equality between the sexes would be established. But what makes the Campaign important for many of us, is its capacity to penetrate society. The Campaign has been able to accomplish a goal which we have all been aiming at for a long time: transferring the sense of commitment to gender issues and social resistance, from among women’s rights activists to the general public. There are few who can claim this accomplishment as either simple or small!

Read the article in Farsi.

 

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