(WOMENSENEWS)--Hugo Chavez, one of the key figures in the left populist movements spreading throughout Latin America, has publicly lauded and embraced Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Moments like this show just how little women's lives matter in the world of nationalist politics.
Of course Venezuela and Iran have strategic political and economic interests in each other based on their roles as oil producers.
And one expects Chavez to condemn all U.S. military threats against Iran.
But there is no excuse for declaring solidarity with a theocratic regime that treats women like sub-humans. By embracing Ahmadinejad, Chavez is adding steam to the growing and dangerous alliance between left-wing and right-wing anti-imperialism.
In this equation, the only thing that matters is opposition to U.S. military power. Women's rights, worker's rights, student's rights--the things that are supposed to matter to socialists, progressives and people of conscience--be damned.
Chavez appears not to have noticed that the current government of Iran has turned Iran into a country where gender apartheid and hatred of women are enshrined in law.
Regime of Violent Repression
This is a country where women are stoned to death for the "crime" of adultery, buried up to their necks and pelted in the face and head with stones until they die, where women have no right to divorce or child custody, are legally forced to veil under threat of physical beating or imprisonment, can't travel without the permission of a husband or father, where their testimony in a court of law is considered half that of a man, and where political dissent of any kind, for women and men, is punishable by imprisonment, often torture and death.
This is the government that Chavez compares to his own as a "heroic nation," one which he even deems "revolutionary."
Chavez's lack of concern for women's rights in Iran is all too common among male leftists. Among too many of them, the status of women is often simply not on the radar screen. If it does get mentioned, it's often dismissed as an issue of "culture."
The insidious use of the word "culture" implies that women are brutally subjected not through force and violence, but because they or their "culture" wants it that way, and therefore it's OK.
Aside from insulting the human spirit, which never passively accepts subjugation, this attitude ignores the actual conditions and historical facts in Iran.
People Are in Revolt
A cursory investigation of Iranian society will show that the Iranian people are in utter revolt against their despotic rulers, with women leading the way.
For 27 years women have resisted and defied the regime's persecution of them, often at great risk to their lives. Along with an inspiring women's movement, there are strong, secular workers and student movements, all of them opposing not only the Islamic Republic, but also U.S. threats of military attacks and sanctions on Iran.
How can Chavez--a declared socialist and defender of the downtrodden--align himself with the leader of such a reactionary regime, rather than the inspiring socialist and feminist movements which are fighting against it?
It is a terrible political choice that he need not make.
Chavez can and should renounce his solidarity with Ahmadinejad and place it with the people of Iran where it belongs.
He should be standing, not by the side of the executioner, but by the side of the unjustly accused and condemned, like 17-year-old Nazanine Fatehi who awaits execution for the crime of defending herself and her niece from a gang of rapists.
Or Kobra Rahmanpour, who also awaits execution and writes in a public letter, "I have suffered enough . . . Please help me! I don't want to die. But right now I am more like a lifeless body who has forgot happiness and laughter in the scare from the execution rope . . . My only hope lies in people and my fellow humans."
How must Kobra and Nazanine feel to see Chavez throw his arms around their executioner?
Chavez's stance needs to be condemned by all progressive forces within the international community.
One group that has already issued such a condemnation is the Worker Communist Party of Iran. In a Sept. 14 statement they write, "We see the attempts by right-wing pro-America forces to overthrow Chavez and we value every bit of positive reform by the Chavez government in the interest of deprived and hungry people, but defending the murderous and terrorist leaders of the Islamic Republic, rolling out the carpet for them under the guise of anti-imperialism is nothing but throwing dust in the eyes of the people and covering up the brutal reality of the Islamic regime."
The WPI--a leading leftist group in Iran that emphasizes human freedom and prioritizes women's rights--goes on to challenge the very notion that the Islamic Republic is an anti-imperialist force.
"We must make it clear to Chavez and Castro that the Islamic current, without the support of the U.S. government and Western powers, could not have come to power; and without their help could not have stayed in power." (This refers to various deals made between the United States and Iran, such as the Reagan administration's secret arms deals with Iran known as "Contra-gate.")
Some Credit Due
Chavez deserves credit for the things he's done to improve the lives of poor people and curb the abuses of capitalism in Venezuela.
He has pushed economic initiatives for women and has recognized the financial contribution of women's unpaid labor in the home. Recently, he initiated and signed a bill that would compensate women for their unpaid housework, something that socialist feminists have been fighting for several decades.
None of this, however, erases the fact that he has been criticized for his authoritarian leadership, including by the Venezuelan women who are pushing him to make good on his promises.
Critics point out his strong anti-abortion stance. He even attempted to put an anti-abortion amendment in the constitution, but strong resistance forced him to back off. And among feminists, the issue of paying women for housework is not clear-cut. While some argue that it will help raise women out of poverty, others believe that it will further institutionalize women's place in domestic servitude.
All of these issues deserve to be reconsidered in light of Chavez's alliance with an anti-feminist fundamentalist like Ahmadinejad.
After the recall election in which Chavez triumphed over efforts by the opposition to unseat him, he declared, "God has spoken."
But to some of us, that is more like the sound of demagoguery. The true ideals of justice, equality and human liberation are better represented by the brave activism of those in Iran who are fighting to save women's lives and chart a third course between U.S. domination and right-wing opposition to it.
Now, more than ever, we must stand up and defend them.
Jennifer Fasulo co-founded a solidarity group in support of women's liberation movements in the Middle East. She is also an assistant producer for Joy of Resistance, Multicultural Feminist Radio on WBAI 99.5 FM in NYC.
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For more information:
"Two anti-U.S. nations heap praise upon each other":
The International Committee Against Executions:
"Ebadi: Surely They Will Not Come for Me":
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