Part 1 of this interview was published in the December 2022 issue. The text has been substantially shortened and edited.
Public i: I want to shift the discussion to the US now, and ask what can or should the US government be doing in this situation? In the context, of course, of a very conflictual historical relationship, and especially with the on-again, off-again negotiations about the nuclear program and the sanctions.
Faranak Miraftab: I don’t have the expectation of the American government doing anything. I never thought that they are the ones that I would go to for help. Because if anything they and other Western allies are the ones who have brought these Islamic States to the region, first with the 1953 coup in Iran and then with Afghanistan, Mujahideen, and the rest of it in the 1980s. The US state is not the one that I would trust or think has the interest of people, neither the people here, nor there. But I don’t think there’s any point in negotiation because the Iranian leaders don’t respect it.
Pi: There’s no point in the negotiations?
FM: I don’t think so. And in negotiation, they get things from the other side, and whatever privilege they get, if it’s financial or whatever, they will just use it to oppress their own people.
Pi: What about ordinary US citizens, especially readers of the Public i, do you have any messages?
FM: I have a lot of friends that feel anxiety or fear. Is this a Western/US interest in bringing down the Islamic Republic, which has in its rhetoric of being anti-US some sort of claim of anti-imperialism? And are we then helping basically the enemy of the enemy, that will feed into an Islamophobic, reactionary movement? And if we support the opposition, we are then weakening an anti-imperialist voice, and that is not good. To them I want to say: you are wrong! This is not an anti-imperialist state, the same way that if Putin curses and says horrible things against the US, Putin is not an anti-imperialist. So the Islamic Republic says down with the US and burns a US flag, but it’s not humanist or anti-imperialist or progressive, they are capitalist to the core. The sanctions have helped them even more, the closing of their doors to the West has allowed them and their cronies and their children to loot as much as they want, and do so without competition from any other company from anywhere else. They are sexist, capitalist neoliberals, they represent every toxicity that we can think of, it’s neoliberalism dressed in clergical clothes. These are not spiritual people, they use religion as a cover for their greed. And we should not treat it like this is the religion of the people, and this is their representation, that is not the case.
If you want to know who they are, see how they came to power, who brought them to power? Remember the meeting of Guadalupe, where the US, Germany, France, and England met a month before February, 1979 to decide what to do about Iran, because it was getting radicalized. And they were worried that it will go to the Left, and Marxists would get stronger. It was the peak of the Cold War. So they supported the Islamists within the movement to create an Islamic belt around the Soviet Union. They created Mujahideen in Afghanistan and supported Khomeini in Iran. This Islamic state was not the outcome of the Iranian people’s revolution against imperialism. Actually these are anti-revolutionaries that are in power. They hijacked our revolution of ’79, so we are now making a revolution against people who stole the revolution.
Mahbubeh Moqadam: As an activist believing in the power of transnational solidarities I think a real anti-imperialist position now in the US means listening to protesters in Iran, rather than taking no action by saying that the Islamic Republic is anti-imperialist. Listen to people’s voice. What’s their disturbance? It’s about freedom, equality for all, and having a democratic society, right? How can we speak about an anti-imperialist state while they apply neoliberal economic policies, privatize national industries, and oppress the labor movement’s activists? We can ask is it anti-imperialist in terms of the economy? No. In terms of democracy, they are attacking protesters from different walks of life, from teenagers to old people, for what? For reclaiming the right to life. At the moment [early November, 2022] many of the protesters are just chanting that they want their rights to their body and destiny back. They want their dignity back. And they want to live in a democratic society. These are all embedded in their main progressive slogan “Woman – Life – Freedom.” But governmental forces attack them. So the silence of the ordinary US citizens by no means would strengthen an anti-imperialist democratic state in the Middle East. On the contrary, it causes harsher oppression of citizens of Iran who are struggling for a democratic country with a secular state. And as the audience may know, a democratic state in Iran would have tremendous influence at different levels in the region. We see how the slogan of “Woman – Life – Freedom” is now being chanted by women in several countries in the region.
FM: So the US government should stay out. For the people of the US, stay in as much as you can. There should be the kind of anti-apartheid solidarity, where there was global sympathy for the struggle. Because they want people not to know, like in 1988 when they went into the prison and just killed thousands of people without a peep. They did it in groups of a hundred at a time over five months and there was complete silence around the world. There was no word of it outside Iran; we know about it, but people outside never talked about it, so we don’t want that to continue. And anybody outside who is apologizing and trying to smooth it over and say no, they are not that bad, is not getting it. Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet lasted 17 years. Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was 40 years. These bastards for 43 years have been terrorizing, brutalizing people. The Iranian Parliament just signed a letter saying that the protesters should be treated as spies that would get the highest punishment, which is execution. So the fact that this time people are posting and saying we know, we are watching you, we know that you have threatened to kill protesters, that helps.
MM: We should work on building and strengthening a global solidarity grounded on social values such as justice and equality if we want, claim, or dream of a different world. That wouldn’t be possible without people supporting each other internationally and beyond national states’ socioeconomic policies, which are usually determined by global neoliberal relations. And this is historically possible. Look at worldwide happenings of the sixties and seventies and even now look at Latin America and South Asia. If we don’t support people who are fighting for freedom and justice, how we can call ourselves freedom warriors? Activists here can ask these questions, put more effort, go deeper, dig into news, find alternative media, and talk to people from Iran if they know any. Women’s progressive struggle and astonishing resistance can inspire women’s rights activists in the US. We need each other. US citizens may also put more pressure on their governors or people in the parliament. Even a few people here, if they raise their voice, can help. Because we know when more people all around the world know about harsh governmental operations happening in a country, the cost for that state to oppress the protesters’ voice will be higher.
FM: Now activists put the names and pictures of jailed protesters out and they want to make it global social-media viral, because those names of individuals who are under risk, when it circulates globally, they are less likely to execute that person. It won’t stop them but might limit the numbers of executions. There are several more in line.
Update: as of January, 2023, in Tehran alone, four of the arrested protesters have been hanged, a fact publicized by the regime and its media to instill fear.
Faranak Miraftab teaches Urban Planning, Women’s Studies and Geography UIUC. She left Iran in 1982, receiving political asylum in Norway. Her research concerns urban movements and grassroots organizing in cities of the Global South.
Mahbubeh Moqadam is a Ph.D student in Sociology at UIUC. She studied in Iran and Turkey before arriving in the US right before COVID-19, getting her Master’s in sociology and certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies, both at Syracuse University. Her research is on the formation of modern states and social movements in the Middle East.
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