By Lila Ghobady
Iranian Artist-in-Exile (Writer/Director/ Journalist)
Why didn’t I vote in the latest elections for the president of the country of my birth, Iran? Because no matter who is the president of Iran, they would stone me!
As an Iranian woman, I require big changes in order to convince myself that a change in president would mean an improvement of my basic rights as human being inside Iran.
I was among many Iranians who decided not to vote in the recent [s]election. We boycotted the sham election in my motherland and have not been surprised by the results. This puppet regime has never considered the people’s wishes and has always acted in the interests of the few who are in charge of the prison called Iran. Cheating, lying and hypocrisy are the specialties of the religious demagogues that maintain the farce that Iran is a democratic state.
Having said that, I strongly support my sisters’ and brothers’ uprising back home, but believe that choosing Mousavi over Ahmadinejad would not help Iranians except to add four more years to the life of the regime of terror and oppression that is now called Islamic republic of Iran. The massive support that Mousavi seems to enjoy is attributable only to the fact that Iranians have had no real choice and no real democracy for more than 30 years. All they have been offered is a choice between bad and worse.
Here are some simple facts that demonstrate that irrespective of who is president, I would be stoned to death in Iran:
1. As a woman whose husband refused to divorce her when she escaped the country and came to Canada as a refugee, I am considered this man’s wife as long as I am alive. It does not matter if I lived separate from him for years, have divorced him in my new country and am in a relationship with a new man. Under Iranian laws and the Iranian constitution, which are based on strict interpretation of Islamic laws, I am considered his wife and am at risk of being stoned for “adultery” if I ever go back to Iran. In fact as a woman, I have no right to divorce my husband under the country’s laws while he has the privilege of marrying three more times without divorcing me. This is the case no matter who is the president of Iran: Ahamdinejad or Mousavi.
2. As a journalist and filmmaker, I am called upon by the Islamic Republic of Iran to respect the red lines. These “red lines” include belief and respect for the Supreme Leader and the savagely unjust rules of traditional Islamic law in my country. I am expected not to write or demand equal rights. I am not allowed to make the underground films I have made about the plight of sex trade workers and other social diseases rampant within Iran, as I did secretly 12 years ago. In fact, I am not allowed to make any film without the permission and without censorship by Iran’s Minister of Culture. If I did openly do all these things in Iran, I would be disappeared, tortured and raped. I would be killed as have so many women journalists, filmmakers and activists in Iran. Among those killed include Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian photo journalist, who was brutally tortured and murdered for attempting to photograph and publicize brutalities committed by the Iranian regime.
3. I would be considered an infidel if I was born into a Muslim family and later converted to another religion or had I considered myself a non-believer who does not follow strict Islamic morality. My branding as an infidel would result in my public murder, probably by stoning, no matter who is the president of Iran.
4. I would be lashed in public, raped in jail or even executed or stoned to death for selling my body in order to bring food to my family, as so many unfortunate Iranian women have been forced to do secretly including many single mothers who have no access to social assistance in a rich but deeply corrupted country like Iran. Even the simple crime of being in love, engaged in a relationship outside of marriage, or worse yet, giving birth to a human being out of Islamic wedlock is considered a crime against humanity! The product of such a union would be considered a bastard and would be taken away from me and I would receive 100 lashes immediately after giving birth to my baby, no matter who is the president of Iran.
5. No matter who is the president of Iran, I would be denied a university education, a government job and a say in politics and it would be as if I basically did not exist if I was a Baha’i. I would be considered half a Shia Muslim if I was Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian or even a Sunni Muslim(Kurd, baluch, Torkaman) by all levels of society, no matter who is the president of Iran.
6. I would disappear and might be found dead if I were to keep writing and demanding my basic rights as a woman and an intellectual who has no say in politics (there was not even one female minister in the so-called “reformist cabinet” of Mohamad Khatami). This would be my fate had I continued to argue against and challenge the authorities about the fact that although Iran is one of the richest countries in the planet when it comes to resources, 70% of my people live in poverty. This is caused by corruption among the leaders and their generous contributions to external causes, from fanatic Muslim Hezbollah in Lebanon to the communist government of Venezuela through which they build alliances around the world. Huge numbers of children go to sleep on empty stomachs. Little girls are forced to sell their bodies in the streets of Tehran, Dubai and even China just to survive. No matter who is president of Iran, I would be jailed or disappeared for expressing myself as a dissenting woman.
7. No matter who is the president of Iran, I would not be able to be a judge or even a witness in court as a woman. This is because according to Islamic Courts, two women are equal to one man. No matter how educated and aware, I still would be considered half of a man who might be at a demonstrably much lower level of education and qualification, no matter who is the president of Iran.
8. No matter who is the president of Iran, I would be lashed if I did not cover my head and body in public in compliance with the mandatory Islamic dress code. If I was caught uncovered at a private family/friend/party or wedding taking place in mixed company, I would be harshly punished. If I was caught drinking, my punishment would be much worse. It would not matter if I considered myself a non-believer of Islam who simply does not want to follow Islamic rules. I would be cruelly punished, lashed, and raped while in custody before even getting the chance going on trial, no matter who is the president of Iran.
9. No matter who is the president of Iran, I would be killed if I was openly a homosexual. I would be denied all rights as a human being since homosexuality is considered one of the greatest possible sins under the Iranian Islamic regime. I would be considered a criminal to be killed because “there are no homosexuals in Iran!’ That’s odd, because some of my closest friends in Iran say they are gay, but stay “in the closet” (and will continue to do so) for fear of execution, no matter who is the president of Iran.
10. No matter who is the president of Iran, Iranian activists living in exile, including myself and many others who are openly opposed to the regime for its cruel human rights violations, will not be able to enter the country. We would be caught at the airport by the regime’s police forces and forced to sign an apology letter for our actions against the regime. If we refused, we would be jailed without trial for wanting freedom for our fellow people. I would be denied of my basic rights as an opposition to the regime and would be called a “spy”, jailed, tortured, raped and executed. This would happen regardless of who was the president of Iran.
This is Iran. This is what it means to live under Ayotollah Khameini and his goons. No change is possible while Iran is controlled by autocratic, fundamentalist religious despots who determine the laws of the land. There has been no real election. Candidates are all hand-picked and cleared by a central religious committee. It is a farcical imitation of the free nomination/ election process that we have pictured in the free world. There is no possibility that a secular, pluralistic, freedom-loving democratic person who loves his or her country can become a candidate to run for president (or any other office) in Iran.
Twelve years ago, we went through the same process. Mohamad Khatami became the favorite of the western media, which called him a “reformist” who spoke beautifully about freedom of speech, civil rights and dialogue between cultures. But when he became president there was a crackdown on a student uprising – a crackdown against the same students who voted for him. Many were disappeared, tortured and killed. Artists, authors and intellectuals disappeared and were found “mysteriously” murdered. The smooth-talking president Khatami, whom westerners loved, never tried to stop the violence and never showed sympathy to his supporters. Instead, he openly avowed that his responsibility was to respect the wishes of the supreme leader, Ayotollah Khameni, and to protect the security of the Islamic regime.
Now, the passionate and oppressed young generation of Iranians are going through the exact same situation. They are supporting Khatami’s friend, Mousavi. It is sad that history repeats itself so quickly in my beloved country of birth. The people of Iran were fed up with the poverty, injustice, corruption and international embarrassment that is the the knuckle-dragging, anti-Semitic, war-mongering cretin who was President Ahmadinejad. They chose to support a bad choice – Mousavi – rather than the worse choice, Ahmadinejad. However, when an election is really a selection, choice is an illusion. Mousavi is from the Islamic regime; he is inseparable from it and all its abuses and cruelties.
The reality is that Iran has not had a democratic, free election for the past 30 years. Mr Mousavi if elected will not make any changes, not because he is powerless to do so (as Khatami’s supporters claimed during his presidency), but because he doesn’t believe in a democratic state. His background shows that he belongs to the fanatic dictatorial era of Ayotollah Khameni and he believes in the same command-and-control system of government. One should not forget Khameni’s statement in one of his speeches after the revolution about democracy. He said, “If all people of Iran say ‘yes’ I would say no to something that I would believe is not right for the Islamic Nation”.
Let us not forget that Mousavi was Prime Minister of Iran in the 1980s when more than ten thousand political prisoners were executed after three-minute sham trials. He has been a part of the Iranian dictatorship system for the past 30 years. If he had not been, he would not be allowed to be a candidate in the first place. In fact, in a free democratic state someone like Mousavi would have gone on trial before becoming a presidential candidate for his crimes against thousands of freedom-loving political prisoners who were killed during the time he was Iran's Prime Minister.
A quick look at Mousavi’s political biography reveals him to be a fanatic Khameni supporter and a fanatic hard-liner similar to Ahmadinejad and others in control of the Islamic regime. His reign as Prime Minister was one of the darkest times in the history of Iran’s Islamic regime in terms of censorship and human rights violations. He is also backed up by the Rafsanjani mafia family, who have stolen oil money for their own family interests while 70% of the population lives in poverty. So ingrained as he is in a system of corruption and exploitation, how can anyone believe that Mousavi genuinely wants reform?
For these and many other reasons, I chose not to vote and instead boycotted the election, along with many other Iranians. But this time, many Iranians who boycotted the vote in the last election voted in this one because of their profound disgust with Ahmadinejad. I sympathize with them, but I believe that there exists no better option for the people of Iran than to entirely overthrow the Islamic regime that oppresses the country of my birth. I strongly support my people’s movement against the ever-present dictatorship and violence infecting my country. I will scream, along with my compatriots, ”Down with dictators!”, “Down with murderers!”, “Down with the brutal oppression that is the Islamic regime and all of its toxic, self-serving alliances!”
Long live freedom in Iran!
Lila Ghobady is an exiled Iranian writer-journalist and filmmaker living in Canada . She has been involved with human rights since working as a journalist in Iran at the age of 17 and continued her work in Canada when she arrived as a refugee in 2002. She worked as a Producer and Associate Director of internationally-praised underground films alongside fellow exiled filmmaker Moslem Mansouri before leaving Iran. Her recent film, Forbidden Sun Dance, has been well-received in several countries is a story of Iranian profecinal dancer who was forced to leave the country when dancing was banned by Islamic regime right after 1979 reveloution. As a journalist, she received the title of BlogHer of the Week for her Review piece on Slumdog Millionaire in March 2009. Lila received her Master’s Degree in Canadian/Women’s Studies from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.