UPDATE SEPTEMBER 26/16: Homa Hoodfar was released from prison.
At the end of August, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to six Latin American countries: Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, and Venezuela. On what was mainly a business tour, Zarif discussed megaprojects like the Grand Interoceanic canal. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said that “Iran has such a position that it can pick its political friends and trade partners and does not have to cooperate with a specific country or region in the world.” After the successful diplomatic conclusion of the nuclear agreement last year, Iran is pursuing a foreign policy to break the isolation that the US has sought to impose on it.
Good for Iran. The economic sanctions did nothing but harm and those in the US and elsewhere who fantasize about war with the country, after so many decades of destruction in the region, should be made to wait in frustration. Latin American countries who have suffered so much under imperialism have every reason to forge closer relations. And businesses like Boeing, currently hammering out a multi-billion dollar (perhaps $25 billion) deal with Iran for passenger planes, have no special reason to not do business with Iran, despite attempts by US legislators to stop the deal.
In recent decades, as efforts to demonize Iran in the West have proceeded, sensible people have stepped forward to try to point out some basic truths: Iran is a vast, diverse country of nearly 80 million people; These people cannot be reduced to racist caricatures about Islam; From a foreign policy perspective, Iran has good reasons to want stability in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; Western cooperation with Iran could help the region, while demonization can only do more damage.
People with an even deeper knowledge of Iran published scholarship that undermined these caricatures and stereotypes. Homa Hoodfar is one such scholar. Hoodfar is a 65-year old Iranian-Canadian dual citizen and professor at Concordia University in Montreal. A quick look at her publications shows nuanced research and careful analysis, presenting specifics of what women in the region are actually doing and the decisions they make, rather than blanket statements and polemics. Her fellow scholar, Sherene Razack, describes Hoodfar’s research in some detail in a Globe and Mail article.
Her imprisonment occurred on one of her frequent visits to the country in February 2016. Her plan was to visit family and conduct some archival research. In March, her place was raided, her passports and belongings confiscated. She spent from March to June being interrogated, and on June 6, she was imprisoned. She has been in solitary confinement. Her health is deteriorating, and she has been hospitalized. There has still been no charge, only a newspaper article on June 24 claiming that Hoodfar was “dabbling in feminism and security matters.”
The idea that this 65-year old ethnographic scholar was “dabbling in security matters” is preposterous. As for “dabbling in feminism”, that is no crime even in Iranian law. Writing in The Guardian, Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan has pointed out that “Hoodfar’s treatment contradicts Islamic legal principles. In an Islamic system of criminal justice, the accused are innocent until proved guilty, and are entitled to certain rights including access to counsel and an adequate defence, freedom from torture or inhumane treatment, and a fair and speedy trial.”
For many reasons, anti-imperialists want to see diplomacy replace warmongering, to see Iran’s isolation broken. But it is impossible to overlook something deeply rotten about Iran’s judicial and prison system. Iran is one of the touchstones for the mass executions of prisoners. Iran’s prison system is where another Iranian-Canadian woman, Zahra Kazemi, was tortured and murdered in 2003. British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was just sentenced to five years for supposedly trying to topple the regime. The court authorities have been violating Iran’s laws over the entire course of this case, doing end-runs around Hoodfar’s lawyer, ignoring bail requests, and keeping her in isolation.
If Iranian government officials want to hold their heads up in their diplomatic encounters in Latin America and elsewhere, they should stop tormenting a friendly 65-year old scholar and let her return to Canada. Anybody who is talking to the Iranian government about anything should impress upon them the need to immediately free Homa Hoodfar.