Sisterhood Blog

Why No Persian Spring?

By Gabrielle Birkner

  • Print
  • Share Share
royahakakian.com
Roya Hakakian was among the panelists at Thursday’s event.

Today is Purim — the day that we are commanded to retell the story of how a Persian Queen helped save her fellow Jews from annihilation.

It’s also International Women’s Day.

So it’s no coincidence that a group that opposes the Iranian regime, and its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons — an organization backed by the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and other Jewish and non-Jewish groups — chose this day to convene Iranian ex-pats for a panel discussion on “The Role of Women in the Struggle for Iran’s Future: From Quiet Resistance to Digital Activism.”

Despite the event’s title, and despite widespread speculation about a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the panelists — author Roya Hakakian, broadcast journalist Solmaz Sharif and blogger Arash Abadpour — spoke only briefly about women’s activism and the nuclear threat. They lingered instead on the question of why Iran, whose Green movement was a precursor to the Arab Spring, has yet to see a revolution the likes of Egypt, Libya and now Syria.

The answer, panelists agreed, was that Iran’s 33-year-old regime is smarter than many in the West give it credit for. It works overtime, in Hakakian’s words, to “predict its own doom, and fight it.” Discrediting Iranian-born bloggers living abroad and shelling out money to fund supposedly forbidden pop cultural programming, as an alternative to those shows produced by young expat dissidents, is all part of keeping at bay those who might otherwise rise up.

Iran also allows its citizens just enough freedom to make life bearable, and to instill a fear that a regime change could prove even more oppressive, the panelists said.

Hakakian, who is Jewish and has written for the Forward, noted that the regime has been effective in convincing Western human rights activists that their efforts are hurting those trying to effect change from within Iran. The idea that agitating for reforms from abroad is counterproductive is “a ridiculous argument framed in cultural relativism,” she said.

She took issue with her fellow panelists, who suggested that it was fear of government reprisals that kept Iranians from pushing harder for change; rather it is a lack of clear direction, she said. Iran’s opposition has yet to define itself beyond its rejection of the revolutionary regime, Hakakian said.

Iranians may not be taking to the streets like their Syrian counterparts, but they are taking to the Internet. Sharif spoke about the rise of the Farsi-language women’s blogosphere. Blogs like Nesvan [Women] have become a places where Iranian women, living in the Islamic Republic and abroad, use “daring language” to discuss about everything from workplace sexual harassment to the chauvinism of divorce law in Iran.

In doing so they face dreadfully slow Internet connections, and repeated government attempts at censorship. “It’s a cat and mouse game,” Sharif said.

The Iranian nuclear threat was mentioned only in passing. Abadpour said he understands why fearful Tel Aviv residents might not want “to give Iran even one more second,” and Sharif said that economic sanctions are proving effective.

“I’ve lost $50,000 because of the sanctions,” Sharif said. “It’s really hurting people.”

The panel discussion, held at the Midtown Manhattan offices of the law firm Skadden Arps, was organized by Iran180, and moderated by Anne Barnard of The New York Times.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Solmaz Sharif, Roya Hakakian, Iran, Arash Abadpour, Arab Spring, Anne Barnard

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.