"Iran and the US Anti-War Movement," by Manijeh Nasrabadi, an American Studies Ph.D. student in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University and a founding member of Raha: Iranian Feminist Collective. The article was just published in Jadaliyya, the independent ezine produced by ASI (Arab Studies Institute).
[This article is based on a talk given at the United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC) Conference on 24 March 2012 in
The popular struggles against dictatorship known as the Arab Spring have transformed the notion of self-determination for people in the
Most recently, in the case of Libya, we saw some sections of the anti-war movement embrace the idea that Western bombs could be used to support self-determination -- at best an oxymoron and at worst a plan for more civilian deaths and the reassertion of US control over the direction of popular rebellions. In
The increased sanctions and growing threats of military intervention against
The Green Movement and the Arab Spring
To many ordinary Iranians, the link between the Green Movement and the Arab Spring was immediate and obvious. "Mubarak, Ben Ali, now its time for Sayyed Ali," was the chant that echoed in the streets of
We need to write the story of the Green uprising back into the story of the Arab Spring in order to understand the internal dynamics of Iranian society and to see clearly where the lines of solidarity must be drawn. Most media coverage hasn't made this link; instead, reporting has tended to reflect the nationalist divisions in the region and to assume there is a hermetically sealed entity called the "Arab World." Any mention of
But the reality is that when millions of Iranians took to the streets in 2009, the election results were just the latest outrage; they provided an opportunity for people to demonstrate their frustration with the overall conditions of their lives. At this time, there was already a student movement, a women's movement, a labor movement -- all struggling to survive. The popular uprising of that summer was not controlled by any politician; it was not funded or controlled by US agencies or any other outside power (accusations that Mubarak made as well, and that the Egyptian military continues to make). Imperialist countries always have their spies and covert operations, but it would be a travesty to the Iranian people, or the Egyptian people for that matter, to credit foreign governments with having that much power and to so grossly distort what actually happened -- and the lasting impact on Iranian society.
The Green uprising was a collective decision to resist, a decision to face down fear of police and prisons and torture and death, a willingness to risk everything for the chance to transform an intolerable present into hope for a very different future. It drew in people from the working and middle classes, in cities across the country, and it shook the government to its core. In response, the regime unleashed a brutal crackdown of arrests, lengthy prison sentences, gang rapes and other forms of torture, expulsions of students and faculty from universities, curriculum purges, and executions. Many activists have been forced underground or into exile.
In short, the crisis within Iranian society led millions of people to want to do, to try to do, what Tunisians and Egyptians have since done; the difference in
The Green Movement and the Arab Spring derive from the same crisis: the nation states that came to power after the decolonization movements of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s maintained class, gender, and other hierarchies and enriched a ruling clique at the expense of the majority of people. The hopes and promises of decolonization have largely been deferred, as people have had to face the double burden of national dictatorships and the relentless interference of the
Formal, national sovereignty failed to meet peoples needs and the long-deferred demands for democracy, dignity, and equality are back on the agenda. We also have new possibilities for solidarity, as we have never before had so much potential for interconnection and identification among and between our different struggles. Who would have thought union activists in
What Kind of Anti-War Movement?
In many ways, it was easy to support the uprisings in
However, this does become an issue, it seems, when the dictatorship people are resisting is not a
I want to challenge, from within the anti-imperialist left, the idea that we, activists based in the
If we don't support Iranians struggling in
At a time when Americas overseas empire is threatened by popular uprisings in West Asia and North Africa and is trying to figure out how to regain control over the region, we can no longer formulate our position solely in national terms, solely in relation to the US state; this is a cop out and it is not an adequate response to the actual demands of global solidarity.
The phrase "solidarity" is empty if we are not permitted to imagine or care about the lives of people different from ourselves, if their lives and struggles and aspirations can never become as real as our own. This is not about mapping our political programs or cultural biases on to anyone else; it is about recognizing that you may be different from me -- I may be in the belly of the beast and you may be in a country targeted by the
If we agree with this perspective in principle, we then have to think strategically about the best way to build a large and effective anti-war movement. Some people think the way to do this is to have points of unity that cater to the lowest common denominator. This is sometimes called the united front approach. But when it comes to
In 2009, when many Iranians and others in the US came out in solidarity with the Green uprising, we in Raha saw our role as doing all we could to channel that solidarity away from support for any outside intervention on behalf of human rights, or freedom or democracy. We argued for the need to free all political prisoners, from Guantanamo to the Iranian prison Evin; to end the death penalty in the US and in Iran and everywhere; in other words, to build solidarity between our movements here and the movements there. Our role was to always point out that the best way to support women's rights in Iran, for example, is to build a thriving movement for women's rights here that will then be in a position to do joint, grassroots solidarity, rather than looking to the UN or NGOs or any government. That summer, the
We believe there should be some relationship between an anti-war position and social justice. For example, Ron Paul is against war on
We need to connect with the concern and outrage that millions of people, from all backgrounds, feel about the repression in
Nothing Less Than Liberation
For ordinary people throughout the
As a feminist collective, Raha stands in another long tradition of women of color feminists, in the
The unfinished struggle for national liberation that began with movements for decolonization and that continues today is also the unfinished struggle for women's liberation. Women played a central role in overthrowing the Shah but were then told that their equality was secondary to the fight against imperialism. Over and over again, women have been told to wait. But we have seen that when national sovereignty is consolidated at the expense of women, we are no longer talking about a project of self-determination, but instead, of transferring power to a new patriarchal ruling class. Anti-imperialism has since become the cynical rhetoric of the Iranian state; thus, this rhetoric alienates the majority of the people who suffer under its rule.
If anti-imperialism is going to become meaningful again to people in the region AND to people in the
A feminist anti-imperialist perspective maintains that it is not only possible, but imperative, to simultaneously stand against all forms of outside intervention in