by Janna al Kadri, first published at Al Maydeen, here: https://english.almayadeen.net/news/politics/the-iranian-hijab:-a-working-class-symbol-in-an-anti-imperia
The manipulation of human rights in Western media has long been used to push for an agenda of regime change. This article explains why Iran’s revolution constitutes the true basis for the emancipation of Iranian women and women’s rights.
For the West, the sad death of Mahsa Amini came as an opportunity to fuel Iran-phobia and Islamophobia. A load of fabricated news and cyber propaganda accompanied Western-affiliated media coverage. Fake Twitter accounts were being created at high frequency in what amounted to a concerted ideological war against Iran. Such is not surprising given the long-standing US threat and actual assaults against Iran. Indeed, every national war against colonialism or neocolonialism overlaps with a class war. And in the class struggle, classes take the forms of ideas and symbols against the other’s ideas and symbols. The Iranian Hijab is a symbol of the working class in its struggle for autonomy against the ongoing and impending assaults of imperialism.
Despite the narratives of the West, which not only created representations of passive and oppressed women but also portrayed them as being held hostages in their own country, the memory of Western repression remains alive in Iranian memory. Iran has been under draconian US sanctions for a time long enough to cripple any country’s economy. The sanctions, which were first implemented in 1979 and refortified in 1987, could be described as nothing less than a war on the people of Iran, with unemployment, inflation rate soaring, and the purchase of medicines from abroad made inaccessible. By the cui bono principle (who benefits), it is unthinkable that Iranian authorities would have provoked or condoned what happened to Amini, especially as they are pushing to restore guarantees on the JCPOA deal.
Yet, the worrisome side of this war of symbols is its resemblance to an unimaginative UNDP Human Development Report in 2002 that contributed to the justification for the occupation of Iraq. In that report, a deficit in Arab women’s rights became one of the cultural alibis for the dehumanization of the Arab and the invasion of Iraq. It so appears that such déjà-vu is a replay of that liberal adage that dates back to the justification for chattel slavery by prominent enlightenment philosophers, especially, John Locke: the other is “too tyrannical and must be enslaved or decimated”, otherwise, “the barbarians will attack the West”.
The Western media overlooks the fact that women’s rights are primarily products of class rights, which can only be gained through anti-imperialist class struggle. That is not to say that the feminist agenda should be discarded. It is to emphasize that when imperialism is about destroying developing nations to control their resources, it is the destruction that must be stopped. These paid peddlers miss the point that class struggle in the developing world is a struggle against the extension of the Western bourgeoisie against Western ideological clones spawned on the developing national territory to aid and abet in the destruction of their own nations. Classes by definition are cross-border social relationships. There is nothing national about people of Iranian origin whose wealth grows and is reproduced by the dividends they reap from imperialism. It is well known that class struggles must co-align with national struggles for autonomy from US hegemony in order for working people to grow materially and culturally. Equally, the peddlers of war neglect the fact that classes win by the dominance of their ideas and cultural symbols because every war is first a war of ideas.
One ought to take heed from the current case of Lebanon with its emaciated masses that still look to the IMF to restore its economy. Here you have a vivid example of how US-absorbed ideas govern without US soldiers physically occupying the country. The simple rule that capitalism governs by the hegemony of its ideas is not entertained by so-called feminists for the simple reason that they have become a principal apparatus propagating US’ dominant ideology. Western feminism and media provide cover for US hegemony. They contribute to the war against an anti-imperialist nation like Iran and, worst still, implant defeatism in the social imagination masses. Such is no aberration since both institutions are funded by US capital to serve the US strategic interests. The case may be that the success of the media in driving self-blame upon the masses and diverting attention away from the US aggression is a bigger weapon than the actual weapons of the many US-supported regimes and military bases circling the globe.
What the US offensive visited upon the region intends to do is not only to build the cultural superiority of some Western power, or to re-assert Western chauvinism, it more foundationally intends to thieve the resources that would otherwise support better livelihoods of the region. Poverty and life expectancy are already dismal in much of the globe on account of the dominance of the US and its ideas of free markets, which incidentally channel much of national resources to its safer dollar market. Nationals whose wealth is stored in the US and circulates under the thumb of the US Treasury have little interest in the betterment of the national economy. These are more integrated into the US-dominated financial sphere, and they practically form together with the Western financial class the ruling class of the planet. Compradors belong to the US.
The real losses of the peoples in the region, the actual and forgone development as a result of US wealth usurpation, are immense. These losses migrate legally to the West when the ideas of the West prevail. To keep increasing the flow out of the region, the US needs to translate the state of the partial defeat of the regional masses into ideological capitulation. This occurs through transference between the US’ superior firepower represented in its many military bases, including the Zionist entity, and the footwork of its ideological cronies, their media, NGOs, and Western educational institutions. The nexus between gun power and ideological power is aimed at having the peoples of the region willingly surrender their wealth and resources. In other words, to tighten the US-ideological grip upon working peoples’ minds and void the struggle against the instrumentalized knowledge diffused by US imperialism. Such is the real loss of the Muslim and developing world.
In the war of ideas, which remains the principal war, it is not difficult to win against the US. Let us recall the US culture of rape grown at home and exercised upon the children and women of Iraq under US occupation. If that is not enough to expose the US, one may remember Julian Assange, the person who uncovered some of the US crimes and who remains behind bars. In the bigger picture, one may focus on US prisons overpopulated by minorities whose longevity is on average at least ten years less than that of the white population. The inculcation of rape conjoined with racism in the US are living examples of the commodification of men and women. This US’s rearing a criminal domestic policy is part of the US war preparedness when its soldiers and NGOs migrate South to instigate the wars that dislocate refugees, cheap workers and moneyed wealth to the US. Western media is silent on turning the bodies of women into objects on sale. It is silent on the production of gun culture, porn, and similar venues, which reduce people to disposable things; and so on. All in all, Western liberalism has its roots in the notion that whites were born equal but not others. So, while the US’ foreign policy mirrors its domestic policy, the repression exercised abroad in the Third World is way more severe.
Theoretically, the US’ arsenal of utilitarian ideas governs as a surrogate of social class. For instance, although the US army ended its combat mission in Iraq, US ideas instilled into its formal and informal economic and legal structures still govern Iraq; ditto for much of the developing world after colonialism. Class, however, is not just a higher or lower socioeconomic plateau; it is how people relate to each other to reproduce their conditions of life. Working peoples united live a better life and vice versa. Class supersedes national or any other identity. The US concocts many identities bereft of class to undermine working-class unity. Women may be without Hijab in Haiti, but US politics in Haiti had made sure that Haitian women live on average at least twenty years less that white US women. Just like it politicizes cultural entities and urges conflicts between ethnicities or social groups over what remains of the drained surplus after it goes to the Western hemisphere, the US also creates gender identities devoid of class to split the working class and consume it in in-fighting.
The manipulation of human rights in Western media has long been used to push for an agenda of regime change. The demonization of Iran is built on narratives of human rights violations. Its purpose is to subdue an autonomous Muslim state that speaks for the historical rights of Arabs in Palestine. Given the reach of “Israel” at the behest of imperialism and its involvement in fomenting wars across the globe, the Palestinian issue is an essential concern for the emancipation of humanity. The strength of Iran in opposing the US is the strength of the working classes in the region and throughout the world.
In this unambiguous struggle, siding with the liberalism of the Western world is siding with the enemies of the global working class. Moreover, in this lopsided context in which the power of the US and its allies is overwhelming, it is not possible to speak of the rights of women in Iran without referring these rights to their global class context. Class as I said above is after all transnational, and it is visible in the dominant ideas that govern the channeling of resources. Peoples are poor because they internalize the US’s faux science of markets, development and social rights. In fact, these dominant ideas of the West have not only depleted humans, but they also depleted the planet.
Rights cannot be divided like cakes and the totality of rights of the working class to its resources is the context to which any partial truth must be “referred back to” before arriving at a more concrete understanding of truth. Can any rights for any gender or any people be gained when US banks absorb much of the wealth of the world leaving many developing countries without electricity and potable water? The answer is clearly no.
The history of modern Iran was shaped by a long series of struggles against feudal dictatorships and foreign powers. Capitalism in Iran is synonymous with oil and its curse. Ever since the discovery of oil in 1908, imperialists positioned themselves to grab this resource, pretty much halting its drive for saner modernization. Although the Shah industrialized, his infrastructure served the interests of narrow groups and imperialist forces. Even though relations among Iranian people looked to be steeped in pre-capitalist traditions, overall societal development was subject and was steered by the laws of capital. Under capitalism, nothing escapes capital’s guns.
Though Iran attempted a Constitutional Revolution early in the twentieth century, with specific aims to challenge the aristocracy and introduce land reforms, it failed to do so because of the petty bourgeoisie’s-maintained dependency on imperialist powers. Following a coup, the rule of the Shah established itself in 1925, replacing the Qajar dynasty. In the second half of the twentieth century, Iran’s hastened process to modernize further deepened the cleavages between its comprador and disenfranchised masses. Such is the standard in modernization overseen by US imperialism, as opposed to industrialism that breeds the conditions for all-round development.
Since birth, the Islamic revolution came under attack and sanctions. In the first years that followed the revolution, Iran fought back against an imperialist-sponsored war and still followed a difficult path toward developing its national resources. Its economic plight caused by years of sanctions has resulted in developing its own productive capacity by indigenous means. In later years, the Iranian government managed to establish itself as a popularly backed institution. But the true gain of the revolution is the autonomy of Iran, which is anathema to imperialism and must be protected at all costs. Its stability and victory will filtrate into social progress for the region. It is wrong to assume that Iran is an all-socially perfect country, especially as it struggles to muster resources against the ongoing US offensive, encirclement, and imminent attack. The social issues of Iran do not resolve analytically on the pages of academic books or magazines. They emerge from the defeat of imperialism whose social repression is a money-making business. Foremost, it is inaccurate to assume that a pro-imperialist Iran will redress the deficit in women’s rights. Many Islamic countries, especially Afghanistan and Iraq, are examples of what capitulation to the US does to women. Repressing women is the business of capital because it is essential to the labor process, which is the cornerstone of wealth making. Without cheapening women, capitalists do not make profits. This is an arithmetic certainty. Without an autonomous Iran confronting the US-Israeli alliance and hegemony over the strategic Gulf, not only women, but everyone will also be worst off.