Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Women Who Fight for Freedom

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When I first read Anna Politkovskaya, I was almost startled by her no-nonsense prose, her preoccupation with facts, whether they were about Russia's crimes in Chechnya or Vladimir Putin and corruption in the prime minister's regime, brutality and boorishness against Russian citizens or even the shortcomings of the Russian people whose rights she so ardently defended. She spared no one, not even her allies. The poetry of her prose was matched by her passion for truth. Her facts were lovingly gathered and made to march, leading us to the terrible truth of the realities she revealed. And it was that single-minded commitment to truth, and her demand for justice, that made her so dangerous to the tyrants in her country and inconvenient to leaders of western democracies. This love for truth links her to the former recipients of the Raw in War Anna Politkovskaya award, Natalia Estermirova, and Malalai Joya, and this year's recipient – to be announced this evening – they come from different backgrounds and nationalities and speak different languages, yet they share a universal language that is the basis of both freedom and justice. Once we know of atrocities we cannot remain silent, and knowledge inevitably leads to an urge to protect the innocent. These women have recognised that their own fight for freedom would be meaningless without empathy for others and that the best guarantee of their security and freedom lies in a guarantee of security and freedom of others.

The award is given each year in the spirit of that common humanity, one for which Politkovskaya and the first recipient of the award in her name, Estermirova, gave their lives, and in celebrating those lives while mourning their untimely deaths we have to acknowledge both their love of truth and their empathy for others. Women in the country of my birth, Iran, are great examples of the universality of this urge. For more than 30 years the Islamic regime and its apologists have tried to dismiss women's struggle in Iran as part of a western ploy. They claim that the repressive laws against Iranian women are part of their Islamic and Iranian heritage. Thus the regime has deprived Iranian women not just of their present rights, but also of their history and their past. The regime's victims are not only atheists, secularists, or people of other religions and faiths, but also Muslims, those whose interpretation of their religion is based on different principles, those who disagree with the Islamic Republic's views have been punished and deprived of their most basic rights. Those in the west who dismiss the repressiveness of laws against women in countries like Iran, no matter how benign their intentions, present a condescending view not just of the religion but also of women living in Muslim majority countries, as if the desire for choice and happiness is the monopoly of women in the west. (Read more...)