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Repression in Iran: “The result of the fusion of the State and the clergy”

An interview with Chahla Chafiq, writer and sociologist.

Translated Wednesday 18 August 2010, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Is the Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani affair part of a regression in women’s rights?

Chahla Chafiq: The international impact of the sentencing of Sakineh to death by stoning has put the spotlight on a situation that has gone on for years. Brazil says it wants to accord asylum to Sakineh, but it has not reflected on the causes of such a sentence. If women’s rights are never respected in Iran, it’s because Islamic law is enforced. Among Muslims themselves, there’s a discussion of these laws, but the government does not want to give the impression of backing off on Islamic law. Because, in Iran, religion and the State are one. One cannot hope for an improvement in women’s rights as long as the fusion of the clergy and the State continues. From the moment when Islam becomes Islamism, and hence an ideology, there is a fusion of sin and crime. And the female body is perceived as a place of sin. Stoning becomes a way of showcasing this ideology. In Iran, all legislation insists on the inferiority of women’s rights. Among those who are sentenced, many are also charged with murder. The fact is, they are forced to live with a man whom they did not necessarily want. These women can only obtain a divorce with difficulty, unlike men, for whom it is (more easily) possible to repudiate their wife. The tragedy of stoning conceals other dramatic political and social situations, which affect relations between men and women. Ali Larijani announced on August 11 that the stoning of Sakineh would be commuted to the death penalty. But the problem is to put an end to this punishment, and hence to religious law — that is to say the implementation of Islam for political and social motives.

Is the woman question a means for the government to reinforce its influence?

Chahla Chafiq: Women are becoming an important issue. Ahmadinejad is under pressure from his own allies. Historically, when they find themselves in a crisis situation, all Iranian governments do something to underline the fact that they are Islamic. The vast popular protests of last June, which are continuing in various forms, have been sharpening the crisis more than ever.

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