Your View

An Open Letter to SOAS

Regarding the conference: Thirty Years On, the Social and Cultural Impacts of the Iranian Revolution

Islamic Republic’s Sponsorship will discredit the conference

As one of the designated conference speakers, I would like to express my utmost disappointment with your last-minute decision to accept the Cultural Centre of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a conference sponsor. In many ways, this decision is in sharp conflict with the stated aims of the conference. The conference is set to research and analyse the profound contradictions existing in Iranian society between the dominant state ideology and the aspirations and the will of the people, 30 years after the Islamic regime came to power.

According to the description of the conference, however restrained and diplomatic the wording may be, one is to infer that this conference must focus on the opposing dynamic between the state and the people and between the state and social movements and cultural trends. It is a well-known fact that the Islamic Republic is a religious dictatorship that brutally suppresses any opposition. Moreover, this regime is misogynist to the core and crushes not only any effort by women’s rights movements to change misogynist laws and practices, but also clamps down on any individual act of disobedience by women. We are talking about a state that imprisons and beats girls and women for not observing the veil and official dress code, for wearing makeup or even boots; a regime that has established a system of gender apartheid. This regime is known for its atrocious violation of civil rights, worker rights and human rights regarding child execution, the stoning of women and men for having sex outside marriage, execution of gays and the arbitrary imprisonment and torture of workers, students, and activists for civil rights, human rights and women’s rights.

Inviting or accepting such a state as a sponsor for a conference that aims to analyse the social and cultural conditions that prevail under its rule is both disturbing and confusing. By taking this decision, the organisers of the conference are either, compromising the outcome of the conference and undermining its credibility from an academic and scholarly point of view; or one is to assume that there is a hidden political agenda behind the organisation of this conference. The organisers are indeed promoting the Islamic Republic as an open-minded entity, interested in science and academic research into its own socio-political practices. How far from reality this portrayal is. This regime cannot even tolerate the mildest criticism and does not allow any research or scholarly work that may undermine its religious dogma. All who decide to act contrary to its dogma and rules are brutally suppressed. This decision will also send a disappointing message to those members of Iranian society who are struggling to change the state of affairs.

With deep disappointment, I must give notice that I will not participate in a conference sponsored by the Islamic Republic. To do so would grossly compromise my principles. I expect to be challenged by the argument that this collaboration is with the Cultural Centre of the Islamic Republic, with the implication that the word ‘cultural’ mitigates the scandalous nature of this association. To this argument, I respond that the Cultural Centre of the embassy of the Islamic Republic is its legal and official representative and its cultural ambassador. The funding they offer to the organisers is approved and allocated by the Islamic regime. Whether sponsorship is offered by the cultural, commercial or political section of the embassy, the fact remains that the sponsor is the Islamic Republic. Moreover, in a religious dictatorship that not only dominates all aspects of people’s social and cultural lives, but also intervenes in their private lives, the function of a cultural centre is as political as its embassy.

Finally, I regret the fact that the participants were not even informed of this decision. For my part, I became aware of it by a mere accident.

Sincerely yours,

Azar Majedi

Chair of Organisation for Women’s Liberation