Homa Hoodfar, a professor of anthropology at Concordia University, is currently held in the infamous Evin prison charged with “co-operating with a foreign state against the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Her family hasn’t been allowed to contact her and received no explanation about the charges brought against her. The same goes for her lawyer. While Ottawa is insisting that the case is a priority for them, they have been tight-lipped about it.

The Iranian born anthropologist has been living Montreal for thirty years, and was traveling back both to see family and for professional purposes. Relatives stated that she “was in Iran conducting historical and ethnographic research on women’s public role. Her visit coincided with the elections in Iran, during which many new women candidates were elected to the parliament.” Professor Hoodfar is a leading expert on gender and sexuality in Islam.

She was intercepted by the counter-intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary guards in March, a few days before she was set to leave the country. Her passport, her personal computer and her cellphone were confiscated. She was released on bail and her family had been trying to get her out of the country since then, to no avail. In the months that followed, authorities repeatedly interrogated her without a lawyer present. Three days ago, she was arrested again and sent to the Evin prison.

Evin House of Detention in Iran (image: WikiMedia Commons)
Evin House of Detention in Iran (image: WikiMedia Commons)

Nicknamed Evin University because of the high number of scholars, students and journalists detained there, the Evin prison is famous for the torture and inhumane conditions it subjects its detainees to. Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian freelance photo-reporter, died there in 2003, after being raped and severely beaten. It was one of the first cases to bring international attention to the horrific human rights abuses in Iranian prisons. Hoodfar’s sister declared to The Guardian that she is especially worried because Hoodfar suffers from a rare neurological disease (Myasthenia Gravis) and needs constant medication.

Crackdown on Dual Citizens

Although Homa Hoodfar is of Iranian, Canadian and Irish nationality, she has been refused consular assistance because Iran does not recognize dual citizenship. The hard-liners of Iran’s Islamic system distrust foreigners, especially dual citizens, who can travel to the country without visas.

In fact, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards – a national police force tasked with protecting the country’s Islamic system- had been systematically targeting them for several months. Analysts believe it’s an effort to undermine President Rohani’s policy of opening the country’s borders.

Hadi Ghaemi, from the New York-based international campaign for human rights in Iran (ICHRI), has no doubt that “these arrests are politically motivated.” He told The Guardian that “Ms Hoodfar is a very respected academic who has hugely contributed to the Iranian civil society by her research and trainings. [The arrest] reflects a security and intelligence apparatus out of control in Iran. They are snatching and detaining people without cause and with total impunity, creating a virtual quarantine of Iranian society so that they may more firmly hold it in their grip.”

A Diplomatic Mess

Some experts believe that the detained dual citizens could serve as bargaining chips for Tehran in eventual prisoner swaps. Last January, four Iranian-Americans (including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian) were released in exchange for seven Iranians charged in the U.S for violating sanctions.

Iran has been demanding for years the extradition of Mahmmoud Reza Khavari, an Iranian who took refuge in Toronto. Iranian Ministry of Justice suspects Khavari of participating in a two-million dollars finance scandal. The minister publicly reiterated the extradition demand, shortly after Hoodfar’s case was made public.

Canada had cut all diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2012. In a controversial move, Canada lifted long-standing economic sanctions against Iran last February, but the reopening of an embassy could take a couple more years.

Foreign Affair Minister Stéphane Dion said that Canadian officials “are working closely with our like-minded allies in order to best assist Dr. Hoodfar.” His spokesperson added that they couldn’t give details on the government actions due to confidentiality concerns, but asserted that they were “actively engaged” in the case.

According to CBC news, Hoodfar’s niece, Amanda Ghahremani, doesn’t share those “confidentiality concerns.” As a fellow at the Canadian Centre for International Justice, she would have preferred the government be more open about the actions in progress.

But apparently, the government wanted to keep even this bit of information out of the public eye. When the professor’s family first got in touch with Canada’s Department of Global Affairs, they were reportedly advised to keep the story out of the media. Meanwhile, the Department would try to repatriate Hoodfar via “some back-door channels.”

Two months later, Hoodfar is in jail. Understandably worried that the back-door channels aren’t working, the family issued a press release on Wednesday.

This doesn’t mean that we have to sit on our hands while we wait to know more about Ottawa’s progress. The impact of public attention and pressure on human rights abuse cases should not be underestimated. Amnesty International’s 50 successful campaigns of 2015 testify to that.

A petition was started to “call on the international community, including the Canadian Government, the United Nations, the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, as well as Canadian NGOs to pressure the Iranian government in order to secure the release of Professor Hoodfar.” You can sign it via Avaaz.

What is nonviolent resistance? Is it actually better than violent resistance? These two questions are at the heart of the documentary Everyday Rebellion produced by the Riahi Brothers. The very first quote in the film sets the mood for the discussion:

“Throughout the history of mankind, people have been fighting for their rights. But contrary to popular belief, violence is not the most successful method in this struggle. Nonviolence is.”

You might think that this is a very bold statement to make. How do you stand against a system, whose tools of control have been designed to monopolize the means of violence, by pacifism? Non-violence does not necessarily mean pacifism, though. It doesn’t mean that you respond to violence with passivity. Instead, non-violence encompasses a broad range of acts that can serve to obstruct the balance of the status quo.

One of the main messages of the documentary is that even the smallest act can trigger a change in the way people think. Small victories build up and eventually you might actually achieve something. According to the documentary, for instance, the Arab Spring in Egypt had been in the making for ten years before they actually managed to topple Hosni Mubarak.

To put the political theorizing aside, the documentary follows the multiple stories of everyday resistance. These stories include the Occupy movement in the United States, the Indignados in Spain, the Femen movement, the Arab Spring, and Iran’s Green Movement. In between the narratives, the documentary presents social scientific facts about the effectiveness of non-violence.

One of the strengths of this documentary is that it actually tries to advise people as to how to conduct non-violence most effectively and efficiently. The people who talk directly to the camera are activists and community organizers. The tone is educational. You can tell that they want to teach you how to bring down the system and give power to the people.

What is really amazing is that these people are from all over the world. It may seem like they are fighting for different causes, but in essence what they are doing is standing up for themselves. A narrator whispers at some point: “The priorities of any advanced society must be equality, progress, solidarity, freedom of culture, sustainability and development, welfare, and the people’s happiness.”

Trying to understand the global interconnectedness of these social movements is the main purpose of this documentary. These movements communicate with one another, share tactics, and learn. In that sense, this documentary does an excellent job in continuing that work, by allowing others to directly see what goes on within these movements. It can be daunting to attend a protest and risk getting arrested, but there are other things you can do.

So, if you wish to learn about non-violence, direct action, civil disobedience, organizing, and a lot more, Everyday Rebellion is what you’re looking for. Cinema Political will be screening this documentary on September 1, at 9 p.m. at la Place de la Paix, as part of Cinéma urbain à la belle étoile. You really shouldn’t miss it.

The winter of 2012 is still less than a month old and if you had turned on a television since the New Year, you’d have found two seemingly different stories being covered on the news networks. The first being the Republican Primaries that got underway a couple weeks ago, the other would be Iran.

In the past, I would have said that sabre rattling and a looming American election went together like peas and carrots. From the invasion of Iraq, to the liberation of Kuwait, from the invasion of Grenada and beyond, war has played an important part in American politics since the onset of the Cold War.

Is there a difference this time around? That would depend on who you ask; Barack Obama favors bleeding them dry, preferring sanctions over military action, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney would bomb them back to the Stone Age and it would appear Ron Paul wouldn’t do a thing even if Iran attacked Canada.

With all the War the United States has waged in the last decade I would think all but the biggest hawks are weary of never ending conflict, Iran though might be the exception. Other than the USSR, the United States has had no greater enemy over the last thirty-three years and, of course, the USSR is no longer a problem.

Iran/US relations started weakening quickly after the people of Iran overthrew the Shah, a “King” the United States helped to install. It deteriorated completely less than a year after the Iranian (Islamic) revolution when a group of students took hostages at the US embassy. The students accused the embassy’s personnel of being CIA spies who wanted to overthrow the Islamic Republic just as they did to democratically elected Mosaddegh in the 50s. Ayatollah Khomeini backed the students 100%.

The rise of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979

Relations haven’t changed much since those days; aside from the Iran-Iraq war of the eighties both countries have all but ignored each other… until 2002. In President George Bush’s State of the Union Address that year he labelled Iran, Iraq and North Korea part of an Axis of Evil. The following year Bush invaded Iraq as he deemed it to be the greatest threat of the three.

After this threat backed up by the use of force, North Korea quickly developed nuclear weapon capabilities as a deterrent to what they saw as American aggression, Iran I would imagine is trying to do the same thing. While some people say that Iran’s military might is a threat to Israel as well as its neighbours, Iran’s military budget is only 2% compared to that of the United States. A nuclear weapon is therefore its only defense; even so Iranian officials still claim its nuclear program to be strictly for energy and medical purposes (an argument most of the west, including myself, does not believe).

Assassinated Nuclear Scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan

In the past few weeks, Obama has introduced harsh new sanctions that aim to cripple the Iranian economy and its oil exports; we’ve seen another assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist and continued tough language coming from western countries. Tehran in the same time span has begun to enrich uranium in an underground bunker, threatened briefly to close the Strait of Hormuz and sentenced an Iranian-American citizen to death on espionage charges.

I am by no means a supporter of Iran or their cause; in fact I despise any country that uses religion to guide its policies, democratic or otherwise. I worry though, when a man gets backed into a corner and has nothing left to lose, this man won’t necessarily give up and die. Desperate times call for desperate measures and autocratic regimes never give up so easily. Iran just might be lured into starting a war it had no intention of fighting.

So, I’m still left with an unanswered question: Is Barack Obama’s sudden tougher stance on Iran just to help his re-election aspirations or is the Iranian threat a clear and present danger? Perhaps it’s just good timing? I’ll leave the answer to you and time will tell. One thing is certain however, if war breaks out not much good will come of it.

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