| This is based on Azar Majedi’s speech
made at a conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in commemoration of 8th
of March 2003.
When Nahid Riazi asked me to make a speech on the theme of the
conference, “the good, obedient and pious woman”, I thought to myself
how this topic is irrelevant to Danish women. Maybe in the 18th
or 19th century you would make such a speech here in Denmark but
in the 21st century? Then I realized that we are talking about women
who are born in the East, or Islam ridden countries. This contrast
made me think that at one time in history there was a universal
image of such a woman. Once, this topic was relevant everywhere,
be it Scandinavia, France, or Iran, and Egypt. But social upheavals,
political revolutions, cultural movements succeeded to change this
image in the West. In the East however, the story is different.
The West moved into the era of capitalism faster, the era that brought
about massive social movements and political revolutions, equal
right movements, civil liberties, women’s rights, and socialist
movements. In the West, too a great deal of effort and struggle
were needed to change the prevailing image of the obedient woman.
Here in the West, too, women were burned and stoned to death.
They were as rightless as a piece of property. Great movements and
upheavals, such as the Great French Revolution, The October Revolution,
The women’s liberation movement of the 60s and 70s were needed to
change this patriarchal- sexist view of women.
In the East, in what I call Islamic ridden countries, the social
movement and political upheavals to transform this image were crushed.
One dictatorship after the other with help of the west was imposed
upon the people. And recently we have been witnessing the rise of
political Islam in the Middle East and North Africa, which owes
its existence completely to the western aid, especially the USA.
11 September brought the cruel and brutal capacity of political
Islam to the attention of the world. Before that for two decades,
we the first hand victims of political Islam exposed its reactionary
and oppressive nature relentlessly, told the world of countless
attacks on human rights, women’s rights, of murders and torture
committed by this movement. Our stories, our accounts, our witnesses
were at best brushed aside by resorting to the racist concept of
What is cultural relativism?
Cultural relativism is a racist concept, with a fancy name. It justifies
two sets of values, rights and privileges for human beings according
to a subjective, arbitrary concept, such as culture. To put it bluntly,
according to this concept, because of my birthplace, I should enjoy
fewer rights relative to a woman born in Sweden, England, or France.
I should be content with my second- class status, because I was
born in a country, which is under the rule of Islam and because
a reactionary, misogynist government is in power. It goes even further
and the second generation also becomes victim of this racist policy.
They, too are discriminated against because the birthplace of their
The defenders of cultural relativism have told us repeatedly that
we have to respect our so-called culture, our so-called religion
and silently and respectfully accept the fate they have assigned
to us. We are told that all this brutality, deprivation, oppression
is our culture - that we should be subjected to the most brutal
form of misogyny, to sexual apartheid, to lashing and stoning, because
it is dictated by our culture. I always wonder: is that what they
think of us? Do these people think we belong to a nation of masochists?
That we like to practice “our culture” not out of free will but
by being subjected to imprisonment, torture, lashing, hanging and
Have you ever asked yourself if this is people’s culture, which
has been chosen freely, and is practiced voluntarily, why is such
a sophisticated system of oppression necessary? Why are Islamic
states brutal dictatorships imposed upon people? Why do Islamist
groups resort to terror, and as a matter of fact their only method
is terrorism? Have you ever asked yourself why in Islamist communities
women are so rightless? Why are they kept in their place by the
threat of knife, acid, beating, and honorary killings? The ones
who dare to question this rule and the so-called culture are punished
by the “brave” men of their families, and the silent majority suffers
alone? These are some very simple but valid questions that we have
to answer. We have the moral obligation to answer.
Terror has always been the main weapon of political Islam. This
force has committed countless crimes both where they are in power,
like the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Mujahedin and the Taliban
in Afghanistan, in the Sudan, and in Saudi Arabia, and where they
are in opposition, as in Algeria, Pakistan, and Egypt. Terrorising
the population is the policy and strategy of political Islam for
11 September and its aftermath thrust political Islam and Islamic
terrorism onto the center stage of world politics. In its present
form and shape, political Islam as a powerful force in the mainstream
of political conflicts in the Middle East, is a product of the West.
Everyone knows how Bin Laden and the Taliban came to power, and
gained political influence. It is a commonly known fact that stoning.
But this terrorism did not remain confined to that region. It paid
a home visit to the West too.
Women are the first victims of political Islam and Islamic terrorist
gangs. Sexual apartheid, stoning, compulsory Islamic veiling and
stripping women of all rights are the fruits of this reactionary
movement. Political Islam must be relegated to its rightful place,
to the margins of the societies they have been tearing apart. It
must also be subdued in the Islamist communities in the West by
upholding the basic principles of freedom and equality, by respecting
women’s rights and its universal nature, by upholding children’s
rights and secularism.
Going back to the issue of culture, I must emphasise that this
is not the culture of the people living in the Middle East or so-called
Moslem countries; this is actually the culture and politics being
forced upon these people by the West spearheaded by the US. The
dominant culture in any given society is the culture of the dominant
But suppose, only suppose that this assumption were true, and
these atrocities were part of the culture of a given people, My
question is, is this sufficient reason for turning our head around
and stay indifferent to what seems, to our so-called culture, brutal,
discrimination, sexism? Does the word culture sanctify any forms
of brutality, oppression, violence and discrimination? Why is it
that the concept of culture is so glorified, that overshadows any
sense of justice, liberation, and human rights? These questions
too, must be answered. All freedom loving, decent human beings with
any sense of devotion to justice, equality and freedom must find
the right answers.
Our movement has upheld progressive, libertarian and egalitarian
values, To us a culture that is oppressive, that degrades women,
advocates inequality, violence, misogyny, that promotes sexual apartheid
has no sanctity, is not glorified and it must be changed. This is
our response, this is our struggle. Secularism is part and parcel
of this culture.