Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party ,USA
May 1, 2008
Woman from Iran
Earlier this year
Michael Slate interviewed S., an Iranian woman who traveled
to Los Angeles
to participate in the International Women’s Day action there this past March 8.
Her experience as a revolutionary began as a student in Los Angeles during the
days when the Shah was in power in Iran; as the Iranian Revolution drove the
Shah from power, she joined thousands of Iranian students who returned to Iran
to carry forward the aims of the revolution—a revolution which through twists
and turns ended up being consolidated as the reactionary Islamic Republic of
Iran. Through the years of revolutionary struggle, imprisonment, and finally
finding revolutionary communist organization again today, her story is one of
courage, vision, and determination to fight for a different world. The
interview has been edited for publication and will be published in two parts in
the print edition of Revolution. The full interview appears here.
M.S.: Let's start by you
telling me a little about your background, where you're from, what your family
was, what you did when you were in Iran.
S.: My life story is one
of the stories of many women who have lived under the woman-hating Islamic
regime. Despite my awareness of the essence of the fundamentalist system, which
is united with the imperialist world, I have been under oppression, and gone
through what one experiences under such regimes, and I have experienced this
oppression along with other women who also have experienced oppression such as
About 32 years ago,
I—with my family who have been a political family and have fought against the
Shah's regime, which was an ally with the U.S.—came
to the U.S.
and continued my education.
I was a high school
student when I came and I started in Santa
Monica High School.
And after that I went to the major of aerospace, and I applied at college for
aerospace. But because of my political activism and the amount of time I was
able to put into it, I wasn't able to continue college.
M.S.: How did you become
S.: In 1976 when I came
here, we enrolled in language classes, English language classes. It was called
'ISC,' I believe. And there, a lot of representatives from the student
confederation came into these classes and talked about their views, and that's
how we were introduced to them and to what they were doing, and that's how we
got involved with them.
M.S.: That's very good.
That's very cool, actually. So, what happened when you got involved with them?
What did you start doing?
S.: The first meeting I
attended, the topic was what to think, how to think about Tudeh
Party of Iran, and the Fedayi Party of Iran [other
left Iranian organizations], and also opinions and views about armed fighting,
armed struggle. I was interested in these topics and I attended the meeting and
I was very for the views that were represented at this meeting, and that's how
I became interested in the whole group.
M.S.: The Iranian Students
Association, the Confederation of Iranian Students, was a very powerful group,
in terms of what it brought to people, the way it organized Iranians, but also
the impact that it had on people in the United States. It helped bring a
revolutionary edge to the movement. It really meant something to see students
and people from Iran
out in the streets demonstrating against the Shah and bringing out what was
going on, but also taking up the struggle here. Tell people what it was like to
be doing that in the streets here.
S.: The first thing that
really got me interested in the group, in the confederation, was the
revolutionary ethics, and how they carried themselves as revolutionaries. Also,
the first formal course that I attended that was conducted by the
confederation, the topic was 'Materialism and Dialectics,' which got me very
interested in the whole group and the ideas.
M.S.: So your family was
here, and you had this revolutionary activity, and for all intents and purposes
you were living in the U.S.
Then there was a point when you decided to go back to Iran. Why? What
did you expect to find when you went back?
S.: The first thing that
got me wanting to go back was that I felt responsible toward this change that
was happening in Iran and I felt responsible toward the people who were in Iran
and who initiated the whole process of bringing about the change. That's one of
the main reasons that I thought I should go back. Another thing is that I
believed in the leadership of the proletariat, and I believed that if we do go
back we could participate in directing or guiding the masses there,
and somehow contribute to the change that was happening.
M.S.: What did you find when
you went back? What was it like in Iran in those days? It was right
after the Shah was overthrown. When you left Iran, it was SAVAK and the Shah and
just horrible. What did you find? What was it like?
S.: When I went back, I
faced a very open environment. Politically, it was very progressive. People
were having discussions all over the city. There were debates going on. It was
a very lively and open atmosphere at the time when I returned.
M.S.: Was that in Tehran or all through the
S.: The progress that was
going on was very prevalent in Tehran,
but there were families all around the country who were involved in political
activism, and had debates going on, whether it was in the houses or out on the
street. The debates were usually going on between a group of religious people
who were against the Shah's regime and who had helped get the revolution going
and the leftist people, the communists, who always had arguments with the
religious people, to try to persuade them that the way they were going wasn't
the right way.
M.S.: And where did you fit
in? What did you do when you were there?
S.: From what I had
learned here in the fields of philosophy, politics, and economy, when I went
back, I tried to relate my knowledge to the people. I tried to get lively
discussions, and with those going on in the universities to talk about what I
had learned and try to teach others as much as I knew.
M.S.: How long did that go
on, and when did it start to change?
S.: Within ten days after
the revolution there was an uprising of women against the idea of the hijab. And then afterwards there was the oppression started
against the Kurds in Kurdistan, north of Iran. But the whole atmosphere, the
more open atmosphere, was prevalent and did go on for almost two years after
the revolution. During those years we had a book table in one of the workers' neighborhoods, and I was the person in charge of one of the
tables to get people into discussions and debates, and show them the materials
that we had, our books and anything we had to show them and to talk about.
We had daily contact
with the Hezbollah, the religious people at the time—it's the Hezbollah people
it was physical contact or verbal contact.
They would either beat
us or grab our newspapers and materials that we had, our tables, and would get
into a fight, a physical fight.
What we saw was that
they didn't have any uniforms. They were normal people but it was known to
everyone that they were organized groups from the government.
M.S.: How long did that go
on, that you had these kinds of confrontations? When did it become clear to you
that Khomeini was beginning to consolidate his regime?
S.: First there was a huge
protest by everyone who had started to see the things that were going to
happen, and mostly the groups that had contributed to the revolution, they had
a huge protest that turned into a confrontation. There were even shootings
going on by the military, who shot some people from
the protest. And it turned into a very gloomy protest. It wasn't a peaceful
protest because of the confrontations that happened during the protest. That
was in mid-June. And right after that protest there was repression of all the
groups that had all the discussions going on, and the debates going on from
different neighborhoods. They shut everything down
and the atmosphere just got very closed afterwards.
M.S.: So what did you do
S.: We tried to organize
ourselves as an underground group, an underground organization, and we weren't
public anymore. We always had to hide when we had discussions or any kind of
activity we had, we couldn't do it out in the public anymore.
divided into two groups. One group was in charge of organizing the struggle
that went on in Amol. The group was called Sarbedaran. That's the group that organized that and
actually made it happen. I was one of the people sort of helping out with the
whole thing, as someone helping out in the background.
M.S.: Can you explain the
impact of the Amol uprising?
S.: The people in that
region where the uprising occurred were influenced a lot by what happened in
the way that they saw. They were familiar with the revolutionary ethics and the
revolutionary way that they took on. It made people more aware of Maoist
theories and the way that they took on this struggle. The North was isolated
from other parts and there wasn’t much going on. But when that happened it got
people very interested in such political activism. It made them more connected
to what was going on in other parts of the country.
M.S.: So the regime defeated
the uprising. What did they do afterwards to the revolutionaries and the
S.: The organization had
failed deeply in their plan and everyone who took part in the uprising was
executed. But then the impact that it had on the people was that people always
remembered them as heroes. It was something that was one of its kind. They'd never seen such courage, and they just
remembered them and the whole uprising always remained in the people's
memories. They always remembered the revolutionaries who took part in it as
M.S.: Did the repression
increase? What happened to you?
S.: The repression did
increase as you said. People tried to stay underground and tried to do any kind
of political activity underground, to hide and not be open to the public. At
that time, I had a baby two months old. There wasn't much that I could actually
get involved with. All I could do was sit at home and wait for news, wait to
know what had happened.
M.S.: Your husband survived
the Amol uprising?
M.S.: After the uprising,
you were at home. Did you have more than one kid?
S.: Yes, after the Amol uprising, my daughter was one and a half years, and my
son was two months old.
M.S.: How did you get
arrested? How long after the Amol uprising did you
S.: Eight months after. I
was at home. They broke into the house and took the kids from me, took them
away from me and just yelled at me and told me that I had to go for an
M.S.: And your husband was
S.: He was arrested four
months before I was.
M.S.: What did they charge
S.: Because he was a
theoretician, and he was very educated in the theories that led to the
uprising. And they said that because he had all the theories and he did the
educational part of it, he was charged with more, with a bigger of a crime than
the people who took part in it were. And his sentence was death.
M.S.: Then four months later
they came into your house. Tell me again what happened.
S.: I was taken to the
jail where my husband was being kept, and as I was taken there, I just heard
the voice of my husband for a minute and at that moment I was just so happy to
hear him, to find out that he's alive, and right after that I was taken into a
cell and kept there for eight months. It was solitary, the cell.
M.S.: What did they charge
S.: They assumed that,
because my husband was one of the leaders of the organization, I must have also
had a very high position in the organization, and had contributed in many ways.
They told me that because of that, there was going to be a death sentence for
me, too. They had charts at the time, to figure out the hierarchy of each
organization, who was the leader, and which people were operating under which
group, under which leader. And in their charts, because I had been staying at
home with my kids for about eight months before I was arrested, they couldn't
find any actual documentation as to my status, and that's why I didn't get the
death sentence that they told me about.
M.S.: What sentence did you
S.: The main sentence that
they first gave me, they asked if I had a religion, and I said I had none, and
they gave me 10 years imprisonment for that.
M.S.: What was done to you
in prison by the regime?
S.: When I was in solitary
confinement, there was no sanitation, there was no nutrition that we could
actually live off of, and we were constantly hearing the pleas of the people
who were being tortured.
Every morning they
would take us for interrogation with our eyes closed up and as we went into the
offices of interrogation, they would kick us and hit us and beat us to get us
to say what they wanted to hear. And as we were there they would make people
who had gone through tortures crawl by our feet to make us fear what was going
to happen to us.
Because I refused to
do the prayers, and I had told them that I didn't have a religion, I was kept
in solitary as the others were taken into the public cells. I was kept in
solitary, but because I had no new information to give them, I wasn't
interrogated anymore. I wasn't tortured, because really they knew I didn't have
anything new to tell them. I was just kept in solitary, though. Yet they would
constantly put me in a situation where I would hear my dad's pleas as he was
getting whipped. My father was kept in the same place. He had contributed to
the Amol uprising. He had helped them a lot in many
different ways. He was kept there also, and he was being whipped every day. He
was going under a lot of torture. And I was constantly put in a situation as to
make me hear him. And how they treated my mother, they would shout at her and
curse her every day from somewhere nearby where I was kept so that I would hear
and be mentally tortured in that way.
M.S.: What happened to your
mother and father? Did they survive?
S.: Because all the people
with whom my parents had been working and all the leaders with whom they had
been cooperating, because none of them had given in to the torture, and had not
said anything about anyone who was within those groups, the government did not
have anything against them, did not have anything solid in their hands against
my parents and so after three years they were both released.
M.S.: You said you heard
your husband's voice when you first came in. How long did your husband live in
jail, and did you ever see him again?
S.: Eight months after I
was taken into jail, they gave us an appointment for me to meet my husband
before he was going to be executed. That's the last time I saw him.
M.S.: How long did you
spend in jail?
S.: Three years.
M.S.: Eight months, and
then your husband was executed, and then they put you
in the public cell. Did they keep coming at you to get you to capitulate? Did
they keep trying to make you say prayers?
S.: There were many women
who refused to do the prayers. When we refused to do the prayers, we were taken
into an isolated room. It was room number 6, that was
an isolated room from the rest of the whole prison. It was sort of like a quarantine, and we were kept there. We were treated as
non-humans. It was like we were some sort of other animal like a dog because
even like when we wanted to wash our hands, there is a concept in Islam, that
when you are an atheist, when you don't have their religion, you are considered
M.S.: You were released
from jail after 3 years.
Where did you go
when you were freed from prison?
S.: My mother- and
father-in-law, who were taking care of the kids at that time, they were waiting
for me outside the prison. Because of cultural issues and atmosphere that was
prevalent at the time, what really happened to me was I was released from the
prison of the Islamic regime, to only go to another metaphorical prison of
where I was living with my mother- and father-in-law.
M.S.: Explain to people what
that was like. How did the country change between the time you were arrested
and when you were released? What was that like?
S.: After repressing all
revolutionary forces, Khomeini's regime had infused people with such fear, and
such contempt against any revolutionary force, that we weren't even welcome in
society anymore. We didn't feel welcomed by the people,
because there was just so much fear going on that they feared any group that
had anything to do with revolutionaries or any revolutionary ideas. People
showed much contempt for them.
And as I was
faced with so much contempt and this repressed atmosphere, I constantly kept
trying to bring about a more lively atmosphere at home
for my kids as I continuously tried to sing revolutionary songs to them and
just show the joy of such struggle. But unfortunately because of patriarchal
culture that people had at the time, I was repressed even at home by my
husband's family. And I couldn't do much to bring about another change even in
that little society that I was living in.
M.S.: When you talk about
it being a patriarchal atmosphere, what did that look like? What did it mean
for a woman like you to be living in this patriarchal society?
S.: An example of what I
mean was, because I was a widow, I was condemned to wear black for 10 years. I
was condemned to not express any opinions of myself, and I was condemned not to
have any friends around, anyone to talk to, anyone who
would sympathize with me. I was condemned to stay at home, and help out with
I did not even have
the right to take care of my children. I could not have any kind of relationship
with them that was independent of my husband's family. Within the ten years
that I was living there, what I thought I should do was to read books about
psychology, to figure out what I could do with myself, my mental situation, my
mental state at the time, how I could gain back my autonomy, my
self-confidence. I tried to work on these ideas to rebuild my strength, to
rebuild my character. After I successfully did that, I left their house, after
M.S.: Where did you go
after you left their house?
S.: My father had a
property that wasn't really inhabitable. There was a cellar at the place, and I
went to the place and I was living in the cellar, and one of our family friends
helped to find me a job, that was a very, very low-paying job, that paid very
low at the time.
M.S.: How long did you live
S.: I met a comrade who
wasn't politically active any more but he helped me take some psychology
classes, and some self-realization groups. I became involved with them and a
woman in one of these groups was very sympathetic with me and she helped me get
a job that did not require a background check, because if they did there was no
way I could get a job. But she helped me get that job, and that's how I could
move out of the cellar.
M.S.: How long did you stay
until you left? When you got that better job, did you work at it for a while,
or did you leave Iran
S.: For almost a year I
worked at that job, because I was not allowed to leave the country for about 10
to 11 years after I was released from prison. I had no passport and I just
couldn't leave the country. I kept working there. After a while I applied for a
passport and they gave me a one-time passport. I could only use it one time to
leave the country, and when I came back I was supposed to turn it in to them.
And that's how I actually left after 12 years after I was released.
The only thing that
made it possible for me to get a visa to leave the country was that I had a
job, I had documentation that I could provide for them, and I had two children
that were living in Iran, and that provided for some background based on which
I could get the visa. I got the visa for a month only.
When I went to Germany, I
still had not found the right organization for me, somewhere that I would fit
in with my ideas, my Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideas. But everywhere I went, I
would still have debate and discussions about my own ideas, about what I had
learned with the confederation here, or during the revolution in Iran. I would
always promote these ideas although I had not found an organization that had
My only belief that
always gave me hope was that I always knew, and I always was sure that such
ideology was the only way to emancipation. And now it's been five years that I
have found the right group again, the Communist Party of Iran [MLM] and have
been involved with them, have been politically active again.
M.S.: You left Iran in 1995.
Tell me about the situation in Iran
today, what's the oppression like?
S.: I think that, in the
first place, I have to say that there is a characteristic that all Iranian
women share, be it religious women, or political women, and I think it applies
to all Iranian women. They have some sort of resentment toward oppression and
toward anything that puts them down. They deeply have this resentment, even the
women who are religious, who have religious sympathies. The main problems that
they're facing is one, that the laws of society are against women, are
anti-women laws that are enforced by the government, and second is that a lot of women do not see an alternative to the way
they are living now. They don't have an alternative to their current situation.
M.S.: What are the laws
you're talking about?
S.: Laws such as women
not being allowed the custody of their children. They cannot go on vacation
without the permission of their husbands. They cannot leave the country without
the permission of their husbands. The whole system is designed in a way to
treat women as means to patriarchism.
M.S.: What about things
like 'honor killings'? Are they common in Iran?
S.: In the more modern
cities it is not seen as much but of course in small villages it is very
common, and it's even broadcast on the news. And on the news they either call
it honor killings or they say that a woman has
M.S.: Would honor killings include things like punishing women for
having affairs, or being in sexual relations when they aren't married? What
happens to women in situations like this? Are they killed?
S.: For someone to commit
these killings, it suffices for them being a father or a brother to be
suspicious of either their sisters or their wives or their mothers. It suffices
for them just to be suspicious. And it might be on no grounds, but as long as
they are suspicious, they can go ahead and commit the murder, and there is no
lawful process that this thing goes through. They just do it themselves and
it's done. It doesn’t go through a process.
M.S.: Does the state play a
role in any of this?
S.: Indirectly, the state
encourages such behavior by promoting concepts from
Islam that they preach about, or laws that make it possible for the men to
commit such murders.
M.S.: Is this what's meant
by Sharia law?
S.: What that amounts to,
the Sharia law, is how women should consider the
Islamic leadership of Iran, or the laws that they pass, as the holy laws of
god, and also the promotion of the idea that, if women are not abiding by the
restrictions set for them by their husbands, but most women do fight, even on a
personal level, with such restrictions of such laws, from within their
families, within the scope of the private life, or in the society in a broader
picture. But there's a very, very small group of women who are submissive to
such laws, and those are women who share the same fundamentalist ideas that the
government promotes. And those women, because they have the full hijab and do abide with such Sharia
laws, have no reason to get punished.
M.S.: You describe the
regime as a woman-hating regime. What do you mean when you say that?
S.: What I mean is that
the laws that they have passed and the ones that they're enforcing in the
country right now are those that are to the advantage of men in the society,
and the laws make it absolutely the case that women have to abide by all
restrictions set for them by men in this society. They have to abide, and be
obedient to men at their work or in their private lives, at their home or
society in general, wherever they are, whatever they're doing, these laws make
it the case that they have to abide by what is told to them by the men in
M.S.: Are many women still
arrested and thrown in jail?
S.: Yes. it happens daily and for any kind of accusation, they keep
them 24 hours, 48 hours, which usually ends up in the women being raped or
somehow wounded or whipped, and also some of them are just kept for longer,
without their families knowing anything about where they are or how they're
M.S.: You said that women
resist, sometimes in small ways at home, sometimes in big. Tell us what the
resistance looks like.
S.: The main group who resist in a more active way are the groups of
students who go to the main parts of cities, and organize protests along with
the male students at universities. They also plan many peaceful protests, as
well as protests that end up in confrontations. And many of those students are
arrested and put into jail without any kind of sentence or news for their
families about when they're going to get released, or why they're even being
kept in jail.
An example of
resistance by the students is just about a week ago, before the beginning of
the Persian New Year, students were passing out, in the main part of the city,
they were passing out—there's a tradition that for the new year, people set up
a table filled with different symbols, different plants or seeds that symbolize
something about their lives, or life in general. And one of the symbols is
fish. They purchase little fish and they put it in a jar and they put it on the
table. And one thing the students were doing, they were passing out black fish
throughout the city, along with a very revolutionary poem to bypassers. There is a story called “Little Black Fish” by a
revolutionary writer in Iran,
Samad Bihrangi, which is a
story about a little black fish. The fish goes on a journey. He symbolizes a
revolutionary young student who never stops and always resists, always keeps on
fighting, and although the fish was living in a very little river, he goes on
with his journey and he finds the ocean and he joins the other fish and he
never gives up in this whole process.
M.S.: You're involved in
this campaign around the oppression of women, opposing both the regime in Iran and U.S. imperialism. Can you tell us
about this campaign?
S.: Over the years after
the revolution, women have come to know that change is not going to happen
without them directly intervening and taking initiative to directly cooperate
with any kind of change that is promised or that they see coming. And we have come
to know that even socialism will not happen without women playing a very
important role in the process of bringing about this change. We believe that
socialism and the women's movement are complements of each other.
M.S.: People are told there
are only two ways to go here—do you want to be part of the Islamic
fundamentalist revolution or the U.S. imperialist fight for
democracy. What are you saying about this, and what are people in Iran thinking
about this? Can you talk about this other way, and how people in Iran are
S.: We try to show the
real face of both of these outmoded regimes and we try to convey the picture of
a third pole, and alternative that is available to people, and alternative that
does not take the side of either of these outmoded regimes and it determines
its own—a third pole that is against war, that is anti-war and that no matter
how small it is we have to promote it among people and we have to develop it
into a bigger alternative that includes more people and we have to show that
this is the only way—we have to promote our anti-war belief before a war
happens against Iran. We want to show this alternative to the people of Iran and to
women in general. But the organizations that get into our way by trying to get
people to somehow go for reform of the Islamic regime, it is our responsibility
not only to show the real face of these two regimes, but also show these
reformist groups, what their ideologies will lead to and to show that, as
happened to the revolution in Iran, such ways will go astray also.
I just want to say
that in the past month when I have been here, and I have gone to many
universities, many high schools, I have really enjoyed what I have witnessed,
the passion that young people have shown—how many young people I have met have
shown passion for learning about revolution—for bringing about change, how to
make a new world—and it has encouraged me so much to continue this way. I have
gained so much strength and I have learned so many lessons that I know I will
return to Germany much more stronger than when I came, with much hope of a
M.S.: Tell us some stories
about your experiences here, going to the high school classes, and what
S.: These are some
examples of questions that high school students in Watts had for 'us, about Iran and
revolution. About the situation of women and young girls in Iran.
M.S.: [reading] What does the typical family consist of? What are the duties
of the house? What level of education are girls allowed to have?
Did people ask you
questions about what it's like to be a revolutionary woman in Iran?
S.: There were three
students at this high school in Watts whom I
have pictures with. They were really interested in the issue of the tree that
was cut down. Because of that they were very passionate. They kept asking
questions about how one could be a revolutionary, how one could form an
organization to get involved with and to do the kinds of things that revolutionaries would do.
M.S.: When you told your
story to the students, how did they respond? Because you have a very powerful
story, and I'm sure it's something they haven't heard before.
S.: They really
sympathized with me and had a belief in what I was telling them, especially the
African American students, because of their own struggle and what they have
witnessed in their own society and the way they've been treated in their own
society. They really sympathized with me, just wanted to know more and showed a
lot of interest and sympathy.
M.S.: Give me an example of
the experiences you'll remember the most.
S.: The march itself on
the 8th of March, was great to see the combination of
so many different people, and the diversity of the group that was present
there. So many native-born Americans, so many African
Americans and just many different people who were present and who showed
support and who took the initiative to come to this event, although it wasn't a
huge crowd, it was of great quality and I really enjoyed that day. What
I concluded from that day, from what I saw, is that we cannot achieve our goal
if we do not unite with each other, stand side by side, next to each other.