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Profile: Maryam Namazie

The situation of women living in Islam-stricken societies and under Islamic laws is the outrage of the 21st century. Burqa-clad and veiled women and girls, beheadings, stoning to death, floggings, child sexual abuse in the name of marriage and sexual apartheid are only the most brutal and visible aspects of women's rightlessness and third class citizen status in the Middle East
- Maryam Namazie

The Blanket will feature a biography of each of the 12 signatories of Manifesto: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism, along with each of the Danish cartoons their number represents.

This is the fourth in the series.

Anthony McIntyre • 3 April 2006

Maryam Namazie breaks the stereotypical mould that immediately jumps to mind when we think of what has come to personify Marxism. A committed Marxist, she is a million miles removed from Screaming Wolfie Smith and the comrades who thrust their weekly toilet paper in the faces of those cursed with enough bad luck to trip over them outside some event or other. Whereas Marxism has become a joke by dint of association with the Wolfies, in the hands of someone interested in struggle rather than squabble, such as Maryam Namazie, it takes on a new vitality. Observers then come to see that Karl Marx fathered ideas, not idiots.

For her commitment to a Marxism that values human rights above paper selling she has become the bane of those 'right-thinking, left-leaning people' who Nick Cohen in the Observer claims have backed away from her because she is just as willing to tackle their tolerance of oppression as the oppressors themselves.

Born in Tehran, Maryam Namazie left Iran in 1980 shortly after the murderous Shah was deposed and replaced by a theocratic regime. Before studying for her university degree in the US she lived in both India and Britain. When she completed her studies she went off to Sudan to work with Ethiopian refugees. While there an Islamic government was established and it soon threatened her for having established a human rights organisation.

Shortly after she fled Sudan and returned to the US she became the executive director of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees. It had branches in almost twenty countries. She is a member of the Organisation of Women's Liberation Central Council where she campaigns against stoning, the veiling of children, Sharia law, executions, sexual apartheid, and women's rights abusers.

A respected commentator, most of her energy is devoted to defending women's rights. She has been hosting a weekly programme on the London based TV International which according to Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society in Britain, 'focuses on issues pertaining to the Middle East from a progressive, left-wing perspective.' She is also Director of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran's International Relations Committee and has served in Amnesty International.

On one of the great political questions of our day, the war in Iraq, she views the US led occupation of the country as brutal. Arguing that one pole of terror in the world today is political Islam she asserts that the other 'is US state terrorism - an example of which can be seen by looking at the situation in Iraq.' While she acknowledges that the failure of Arab nationalism helped fertilise 'political Islam', the bulk of culpability she places firmly at the door of the West which used it as an alternative during the Cold War. Political Islam is a 'monster created by Western governments' which since 9/11 has 'moved beyond its control and the West is now moving to contain it.' But she insists Western governments want only to contain aspects of it - those that are moving outside of the region. They have 'no problem leaving it contained in the region to continue its reign of terror.'

A frequent broadcaster and commentator she often uses International Women's Day as a platform to highlight the many injustices faced by women at the hands of theocrats. At this year's event she proclaimed:

On International Women's Day, we commemorate 23 year old Hatun, murdered in cold blood in Germany by her brothers for 'dishonouring' her family, for divorcing a man she was forced to marry at 16, for unveiling, and for dating German men. Hatun's death outrages us not because her murder is a rare tragedy but because it is so common. There are millions like her living under sexual apartheid, veiled, gagged, bound, burnt, hacked to death, hung, decapitated, stoned... Millions like her refusing and resisting and demanding a life worthy of 21st century humanity. Millions like her demanding to live a life of their own choosing.

When an Iranian judge literally became the hangman for a sixteen year old girl sentenced to death for having sex Namazie organised worldwide protests. All the while she remains steadfast in her challenges to those 'apologists for Islam', some of whom have fashioned an 'Islamic feminist' perspective in order to avoid having to confront the theocrats. This interpretation is: insult to our intellect and cannot be taken seriously. Islam has wreaked more havoc, massacred more women, and committed more holocausts than can be denied, excused, re-interpreted, or covered up with such feeble defences. Misogyny cannot be interpreted to be pro-woman even if it is turned on its head just as fascism, Zionism and racial apartheid cannot be interpreted to be pro-human.

Her stance on cultural relativism is equally uncompromising, which she has lambasted as 'this era's fascism.'

It promotes tolerance and respect for so-called minority opinions and beliefs, rather than respect for human beings. Human beings are worthy of the highest respect, but not all opinions and beliefs are worthy of respect and tolerance. There are some who believe in fascism, white supremacy, the inferiority of women. Must they be respected?

She flags up a range of practices that reveal a nefarious dimension to cultural relativism alongside the cynicism with which Western governments rely upon it for their own self-serving ends. In Germany a court treated with leniency an Islamic wife slayer on the grounds that he was practicing his culture and religion. In Holland cultural relativism has been cited in defence of the forcible deportation of asylum seekers. Iranian prison conditions are by such relativist measurements 'satisfactory for third world standards.'

Cultural relativism serves these crimes. It legitimizes and maintains savagery. It says that people's rights are dependent on their nationality, religion, and culture. It says that the human rights of someone born in Iran, Iraq, or Afghanistan are different from those of someone born in the United States, Canada or Sweden. Cultural relativists say that we must respect people's culture and religion, however despicable. This is absurd and calls for the respect of savagery.

She ridicules those cultural relativists who seek to conceal their tolerance for oppression by arguing that universal human rights are a western concept.

How come when it comes to using the telephone or a car, the mullah does not say it is western and incompatible with an Islamist society? How come when it comes to better exploiting the working class and making profits, technological gains are universal? But when it comes to universal human rights, they become western?

As a secularist she complements the stance towards religion taken by Taslima Nasrin that Islam itself is the problem rather than what are termed fundamentalists.

Apologists for Islam state that the situation of women in Iran and in Islam-stricken countries is human folly; they say that Islamic rules and laws practised in the Middle East are not following the true precepts of Islam. They state that we must separate Islam from the practice of Islamic governments and movements. In fact, however, the brutality and violence meted out against women and girls are nothing other than Islam itself.

Namazie also sees political Islam attempting to impose restrictions on the rights of women in Western societies and argues that women who have escaped theocratic regimes should be protected in the West from the very practices that led to them seeking political asylum in the first place. 'People fleeing political Islam must be given asylum, full stop', is how she sums up her position.

Here the Islamists are generally more 'civilised'. They cannot hang the likes of sweet 16 Atefeh Rajabi for "acts incompatible with chastity" as in Iran, stone the likes of Amina to death for adultery as in Afghanistan or beat doctors for treating female patients as in Basra. Instead, they demand the 'right' to veil for women and children in France when in the Middle East they impose compulsory veiling by throwing acid in the faces of those who refuse and resist. In Britain, they cry racism and Islamophobia against anyone who speaks out against Islam and its political movement, whilst in Iran and its likes they hang 'apostates' and 'Kafirs' from trees and cranes. In Britain, they demand the prosecution of those who 'incite religious hatred' when everywhere it is they themselves who incite more hatred and violence than can be articulated or imagined. In Europe, they call for tolerance and respect of their beliefs, when it is they who have issued fatwas and death threats against anyone who they deem disrespectful and intolerable.

Her views on racism strike at the heart of the pseudo anti-racism that sections of the left dabble in but which in essence amounts to little more than providing a shield for theocrats and misogynists. She feels that many on the left apologise for the political Islamic movement and are attempting - similar to what they are doing in Ireland without much success - to silence all criticism of theocratic regimes as 'racism' or 'Islamophobic.'

Criticising Islam is not racism … You cannot be racist against an idea or belief or ideology. Racism is distinctions, exclusions, restrictions or preferences based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin of individuals - of human beings … you cannot attribute human qualities to a belief system and institutions in order to rule out and deem racist any opposition or critique.

Her Marxist views leave her scathing of some on the left who argue that exposing reactionary beliefs is also racism. Her riposte:

...opposing the rape of a nine year old girl who is forcibly married does not serve racism … opposing the sexual abuse of a child even though the Islamic Republic of Iran's court says the father was forced to abuse the child because his wife did not satisfy him, does not serve racism - just like opposing anti-Semitism doesn't make one a Zionist.

She demands to know how it is racist to condemn a 'vile political Islam' which has passed the death sentence on women for adultery whose 'crime' was to have been raped and which has blamed mothers for not satisfying husbands as the cause of child sexual abuse.

Criticising beliefs is not racism. Is it racist to condemn fascism, nationalism, capitalism, sexism, religion? Does a critique of fascism, nationalism or racism promote abuse against fascists, nationalists, and racists? … This is the pathetic whining of reactionaries who want to silence defenders of women's rights and frighten them into inactivity and submission.

Employing a strategy of discursive reversal she slaps the racist label firmly onto those who are most wont to scream 'racism' each time someone steps forward to defend women's rights against the theocrats.

Labelling women's rights activists as racists is a dim-witted ploy to justify and excuse women's status under Islam and political Islam, and deny women and people living in the Middle East and Iran universal rights and freedoms.

As a committed anti-racist she urges that the people in the Middle East, just like people in Europe, have a right to universal standards. Those who say otherwise:

do so because they want to maintain Islam. They want to justify it. Excuse it. They have an interest in safeguarding religion and political Islam. Or at best, they believe women in Iran and the Middle East are sub-humans who actually enjoy being segregated, veiled, stoned, flogged and dehumanised.

With the same anti-racist fervour she dismisses demands for apologies being made of those who published the Danish anti-theocratic cartoons, and in defiance of the fascistic mindset, boldly stated, 'in defence of free speech, secularism, and 21st century values, I too am reprinting the caricatures. I urge everyone to do the same.' She argues that ridiculing is a form of criticism, resistance, and a serious form of opposing reaction. She will hardly have missed the paradox as pointed out by Slavoj Zizek in the New York Times that, 'Muslims' only real allies are not those who first published the caricatures for shock value, but those who, in support of the ideal of freedom of expression, reprinted them.'

I'd like the offended Islamists - from the Islamic Republic of Iran to Islamic Jihad to the Saudi government to apologise; not for their backward and medieval superstitions and religious mumbo jumbo but for their imposition of these beliefs in the form of states, Islamic laws and the political Islamic movement. If any of them want to apologise for the mass murder of countless human beings in Iran and the Middle East, and more recently in Europe, for veiling and sexual apartheid, for stoning, amputations, decapitations, Islamic terrorism and for the recent brutal attack on Tehran bus workers and so on and so forth, just email me direct.

For those who have despaired of Marxism in the face of the cults and sects who hide their reactionary perspectives behind little red flags, Maryam Namazie's position comes as a breath of fresh air. A genuine Marxist committed to universal human emancipation, who measures progress in terms of lives saved and not papers sold, she has tormented oppressors in a way unimaginable to the sectarian ponds of quacking ducks. Her place has been at the coal face where she intends to remain and not amongst the paper sellers of the quack pack.


See also:

MANIFESTO: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism
Freedom of Speech

Maryam Namazie
Taslima Nasrin
Irshad Manji
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Freedom of Expression: No Ifs and Buts
Manning the Firewalls
Ulster Muslims' Fury at Web Cartoons
For Freedom of Expression
Muslim News Interviews The Blanket
Who Fears to Speak
Cartoons and Caricatures: An anarchist take on the cartoon row
Taslima Nasrin (2000)
The Clash of the Uncivilized
Misunderstandings Abound
A Vital Question Not Easily Washed Away
Zen and the Heart of Blasphemy
Closer to Home
The Right to Offend
Wrong to Claim Freedom of Speech
The Parameters of Free Speech
Unreal Paradigms
Cowardice on Cartoon Controversary

Controversy over the publication of cartoons
Stereotypes Must Be Challenged Openly
New Convert
About the Possible Posting of the Muslim Cartoons
Well Done
A Muslim's Response
Straight Talk vs Orthodoxy

One Man's Terrorist is Another Man's Prophet
Christ Collage
An Eye for An Eye
Glad to See Someone is Not Afraid
There Are No Sides to Peace
Rights and Responsibilities

Censorship: The Blanket's first article (2001): Silence is Not Golden; It is Complicity



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

4 April 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Interview with Michael McKevitt
Forum Magazine

Catching the Monkey
Anthony McIntyre

Policing the Status Quo
Mick Hall

John Kennedy

T.W.A.T and the problem with Leopard spots
Eamon Sweeney

Bigotry Imperils the Union
David Adams

'Fury over British PM bigot remarks'
Michaél MhaDonnáin

Then Why Is My Colour On Your Flag?
Derick Perry

Exorcise the Ghosts to Revive the Party
Dr John Coulter

How the Irish Screwed Up Civilisation?
Seaghan O Murchu

Play Ball
John Kennedy

Cumann Frithdheighilte Na h-Eireann - An outline
Fionnbarra O'Dochartaigh

Irish Prisoner Suffering Extreme Medical Neglect in English Prison
Paul Doyle

Profile: Maryam Namazie
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Expression: No Ifs and Buts
Maryam Namazie

Manning the Firewalls
Anthony McIntyre

Ulster Muslims' Fury at Web Cartoons
Elham Asaad Buaras

Freedom of Speech index

26 March 2006

Profile: Taslima Nasrin
Anthony McIntyre

For Freedom of Expression
Taslima Nasrin

Muslim News Interviews The Blanket

Who Fears to Speak
Richard O'Rawe

Dr John Coulter

Cartoons and Caricatures: An anarchist take on the cartoon row
Jack White

Taslima Nasrin (2000)
Anthony McIntyre

Who Said
John Kennedy

The Key
John Kennedy

Getting Away With Murder
Mick Hall

Will the Real Army Council Please Stand Up
Geoffrey Cooling

Upcoming New York Events
Cathleen O'Brien

The Letters page has been updated:

Freedom of Speech index



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