Dear Azar and Homa,
We write this letter to you as friends and political comrades. We are great admirers of your long-term work and dedication to the struggle for women's freedom and equality. For the past several years, the signers of this letter have been promoting your work and the work of WPI members in various ways. We have done radio programs on WBAI Community Radio in NYC, a station that reaches three states and is heard worldwide on the web. We have written articles, published your writings, organized solidarity demonstrations, hosted speakers, raised money, produced and circulated leaflets and facilitated an email list for people interested in supporting and learning more about women's and workers movements in the Middle East.
It is because of our admiration for your work and our own commitment to secular socialist movements in the Middle East that we write you this letter expressing our shock and deep dismay about your decision to be featured in the right-wing neo-conservative magazine Front Page. Front Page is a rabidly racist and anti-feminist oracle of the right-wing neo-conservatives in the United States. Its agenda is the polar opposite of socialists and feminists. In fact, those behind it are some of the fiercest opponents of left movements. To name one of many examples, they have an organized campaign to destroy WomenŐs Studies departments throughout the country and systematically target any and all university professors who espouse a left of center point of view. The ONLY reason they are interested in the issue of women's rights in the Middle East is justify their position of US domination over the Middle East and Israeli domination over the people of Palestine.
By appearing in the pages of their magazine, you are wittingly or unwittingly, finding common ground with a right-wing agenda. You are allowing your work and your name to be used, out of context, to support an agenda that serves the interests of patriarchal capital and the ruling elites. Finally, you are blurring the line between the left and the right that will have terrible repercussions for all who seek to support and show solidarity with women's and workers' struggles in the Middle East.
We, in the US, have worked very hard to show the differences between our secular left positions and those of the neo-conservatives. There is real confusion about this, not just on the part of Islamist apologists, but among the general masses of progressive people. When progressives hear the anti-Islamic rhetoric of Middle Eastern leftists, especially in the absence of any condemnation of the US war, it sounds very much like the rants of new-conservatives.
These interviews will not only add to this confusion, they will actually bear out the accusation--that we frequently run into-- that you are promoting a right-wing agenda. Many people in the US are still unfamiliar with your work. Now that these interviews have been published, if someone were to do an online search of Azar or Homa in an attempt to learn more about the women's rights struggle in Iran, the first thing they will link to is Homa and Azar on the cover of Front Page magazine! This association with the right will have many negative repercussions. It will damage your credibility as leftists; it will make it much more difficult for us to build support for the workers and women's movements inside Iran, and it may even damage our own credibility as leftists who have closely aligned ourselves with your work.
If your intent was to debate neo-conservatives: we very much wish that you had. But neither of the interviews come off as debates. Homa doesn"t express a single word of disagreement with her interviewer nor bring the reader's attention to any of the differences between the right-wing politics of Front Page and her own as a leftist. A reader unfamiliar with her work can only assume that she shares the same politics as the magazine. Even a reader who knows her work, might very well interpret this article as her conscious shift to the right.
And while Azar states her disagreements with some of the interviewers's outrageous claims, she is continually cut off, patronized as "my friend" and told what she is and isn't supposed to be talking about. The interviewer gets the last word on every point, including the final point in which he makes a despicable defense of the US bombs dropped on Japan and denies Azar the opportunity to respond. If this were a "debate" Azar would not be continually cut-off while the interviewer is allowed to go on ad-nauseum. If it were a debate, it would take place on neutral ground with both sides agreeing on the points to be discussed. If it were truly a debate, it would not end with the interviewer stating, "Aside from some of our disagreements here today, we stand together against radical Islam and for a free Iran." These disturbing final words point to the real intent of the interview, which is not a debate, but an effort to seek common ground.
Even the use of the word "we" is jarring here. We? We, the left and the right? What common agenda do we have? What does it mean to have a "free Iran?" Are we talking about socialism or capitalism? And what about radical Zionism? Or the fact that Israel itself is a religious state? Or the multitude of other areas of disagreement never mentioned here, such as the rights of immigrants to exist and to be free of the racist hatred spewed at them by neo-conservative bigots? The overall effect of this interview is not a confrontation of two people with polar opposite politics, but two people who politely agree to disagree on some issues, while agreeing on others.
Far from confronting the right, these interviews add legitimacy to their cause while undermining our own. We are all for challenging, confronting and debating the right. But such a confrontation must be done on our terms, not theirs, or at the very least on neutral ground. It must clearly state the fundamental difference between leftists and neo-conservatives, and take into account the limited knowledge most Americans have of secular left movements in the Middle East. In short, it must be a chance to promote our agenda, not theirs!
We doubt you would find it acceptable if US leftists decided to appear in a publication of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in which they were interviewed about their opposition to the US government. Would you not denounce such an action as seeking common ground with Islamists and bolstering the legitimacy of the Islamic regime? Would you not dismiss the Islamic Republic's claim to be "anti-imperialist" as a political ploy and hypocrisy? Appearing in Front Page is not very different; it is a well-oiled political organ of the right, serving and promoting the interests of the Bush regime. It's designed to whip up hatred of oppressed and marginalized groups and viciously smear any progressive movement that seeks to defend them. Their claim to be defenders of women's rights is utterly bogus and hypocritical. Women's rights activists have an obligation to expose and condemn their hypocrisy on this issue.
Once again, let us say that we have the highest regard for your brave and important work. Because of this, we urge you not to let it be used and twisted by a right-wing oracle like Front Page. We urge you not to promote and circulate these interviews on your website or through your list-serves. Although the damage is already done, it is not too late to challenge the editors of Front Page to a real debate, in which the sides are clearly drawn and all the issues are on the table. This would allow you not only to promote your work, and reach a wider audience, but at the same time, expose the neo-conservative's right-wing agenda as just as harmful to the women and workers of the world as political Islam.
Yours in struggle,
Jennifer Fasulo: (former) founder & member of Solidarity with Organization of WomenŐs Freedom in Iraq (SOWFI)
Fran Luck: Executive Producer of Joy of Resistance: Multi-Cultural Feminist Radio, WBAI; (former) founder & member of SOWFI
Allison Guttu: Feminist Organizer; (former) member of SOWFI
Bill Weinberg: Editor of World War 4 Report & Executive Producer of Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade: Anarchism for the Global City, WBAI radio