The upcoming anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan is a crucial time for activists to reflect on the urgent need for an anti-war movement that is committed to opposing systematic oppression, domination and violence. In the spirit of moving us towards this goal, we feel compelled to respond when individuals and organizations within the movement are harassing and maligning other members of the movement. We need to ask how this reflects on the political and ethical commitments underlying our activism. We need to ask when enough is enough and some kind of collective action is necessary to address an untenable situation.
There is a campaign of hostility and intimidation underway against Iranian activists in the U.S. who oppose war, sanctions and state repression in Iran. The Iranian American Friendship Committee (AIFC) has taken the lead in a series of physical and verbal attacks on Iranian activists and their allies. Enough is enough. This letter is an appeal to those who consider themselves part of the anti-war movement: stop condoning, excusing or dismissing these attacks by continuing to include AIFC in your coalitions, demonstrations, forums and other organizing events. We call on those of you who want to build an effective anti-war movement that includes the participation of those whose families are directly targeted by U.S. imperialism, and that is committed to social justice for all, to oppose the abuse AIFC has been heaping on members of various Iranian American organizations.
On June 29, 2012, Ardeshir Ommani of the AIFC circulated a public missive attacking members of Raha Iranian Feminist Collective, Havaar: Iranian Initiative Against War, Sanctions, and State Repression, Where Is My Vote, and United For Iran. This so-called AIFC “Factsheet” accused individual members of each group of harboring covert imperialist, Zionist, and pro-war agendas. Such a smear campaign should be transparent to all who know and work with us and to all those who recognize in these charges a familiar script. Ommani and AIFC are uncritical apologists for the Iranian government, proudly organizing dinners for President Ahmadinejad in New York each fall and inviting anti-war and pro-Palestinian activists to come pay their respects. They are not alone but work with the Workers World Party and the International Action Center to give left cover to the Iranian government and to infuse the anti-war movement with pro-Islamic Republic politics. They repeat the Iranian state’s position that the pro-democracy protesters in Iran are agents of Western imperialism and Zionism. And now AIFC mimics the regime by lodging such false charges against us, activists who dare to challenge their orthodoxy and who oppose the Iranian state’s oppressive actions.
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Unfortunately, it is not enough to simply dismiss AIFC’s charges as spurious and move on with the serious and necessary work of opposing U.S. intervention around the world. Ommani’s accusations of Zionist loyalties carry serious prison sentences in Iran as a crime of moharebeh (crimes against Islam or against the state). This means that Iranians who refuse to become apologists for the Iranian state cannot participate in the anti-war movement without having their reputations attacked and their names publicly identified with charges that can land them in prison, or worse, if they go to Iran. The continued acceptance of AIFC as a legitimate presence in the anti-war movement virtually ensures that the majority of Iranians in the U.S. will see the entire movement as pro-Islamic Republic and, therefore, unsafe and hostile. Forcing Iranians to have to choose between visiting their family members in Iran and joining the anti-war movement produces another form of discrimination and oppression of Iranians in the U.S.
To be clear, Ommani’s accusations in print are just the latest in an ongoing campaign of harassment and abuse going back to 2010. The brief history that follows illustrates tactics that are unacceptable to us, and that should be unacceptable to the anti-war movement. At a June 24, 2010 workshop at the US Social Forum hosted by Raha and Where Is My Vote, Ommani was disruptive, insulting young women organizers and questioning their legitimacy in speaking at the conference at all. At a February 4th, 2012 anti-war rally in Manhattan, Ommani attempted to physically knock an Iranian woman off of the speakers’ platform while she expressed her views against war and sanctions and in solidarity with those resisting state repression in Iran. At a March 24th, 2012 panel called “Iran: Solidarity Not Intervention” that was part of the United National Anti-War Committee conference, Ommani had to be asked repeatedly by conference security to stop calling members of Raha “C.I.A. agents” and “State Department propagandists” and even to allow us to speak at all. Unable to engage in any respectful dialogue with the ideas Raha members and their allies were advocating, he simply stormed out of the panel. At a conference plenary, security had to be called after Ommani poked a woman who was there to support Raha and who was waiting in line to speak. Ommani eventually had to be moved by conference security to a different part of the hall in order to prevent him from harassing members of Raha on the speakers’ line.
This conflict cannot be reduced to a matter of political differences about the nature of the Iranian state. There are certain behaviors that should be quite obviously beyond the scope of what is acceptable in the anti-war movement. These include the physical and verbal harassment of activists, particularly intimidation tactics lodged by men against women. Shoving, insulting and bullying women in an effort to silence us is outright sexism. Furthermore, the leveling of false charges that could make us targets of state repression has haunting historical precedents in the spy operations of SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police force, which hounded the Iranian student opposition abroad throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The same way that American progressives defended Iranian students from persecution by the Iranian and U.S. states in those days, we call on activists today to oppose these efforts to silence us. AIFC has consistently demonstrated an inability to follow basic rules of civility and engagement and should have no place in our movement.
Raha and Havaar oppose all military intervention in Iran. Further, we oppose all U.S., U.N., and European sanctions against Iran, and have been active in trying to build an anti-sanctions/anti-war movement. In our view, the Iranian state, the Israeli state, and the U.S. state each are guilty of repressing popular democratic movements. Standing in solidarity with others engaged in similar struggles, we will organize against the vicious and autocratic measures of these governments until we are free—from the U.S. to Iran to Palestine and beyond.