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!
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • 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.