Interview with the Iranian writer, living in Sweden about the current protests in Iran and about the importance of literature and feminism for their resilience
Mrs. Soleimani, how would you present yourself?
I am Rana Soleimani, a writer living in Stockholm. Since I left Iran in 2014, I have not returned to my country.
Since childhood, I always dreamed of becoming a writer. I studied economics at the university, but later due to my great interest in literature, I was able to become a member of the Iranian Literature Center.
My first book was a collection of stories (Lorca on Fereshte Street) was not allowed to be published because there were many problems with censorship and the Ministry of Guidance in Iran. After a period of two years, the book was published by removing many words and concepts from the book. For example, it is forbidden to refer to the sexual relationship between a man and a woman in the story, or to bring the word dog, alcoholic beverages, and also to infinity.
My second book was published in Stockholm and is called You Know, and the other one called Ulysses Syndrome, which is a novel, was published in London. The next book is called Zendebad Zendegi (Viva la Vida), which is the story of four women who are in Evin prison, and each of them is accused of a different crime. They are in prison and all four women are waiting for freedom and the subject of the book was very bitter and dark because it is about execution and women in the Islamic Republic of Iran. And the next book to appear is called One Day with Seven Thousand Elders, which is also about women and immigration.
What is the exact condition of Iranian women today? There are Iranian women professionals in many areas – police, civil pilots, engineering, theatre, medicine. Most of the students in Iran are women. To what extent do these educated and capable women need protection and saving? And in what sense exactly is correct to speak about oppression of women in Iran?
The Islamic Republic of Iran is afraid of the women of Iran. Because we women have become more aware and act in a broader context. Our perspective has changed and we are looking for authority and rights.
As the whole world has become aware today, there is a huge gender gap in Iran.
For example, the most important issue is money. Women’s dowry is half of men’s dowry, why is this possible? Today, women also work side by side with men in the community, and many of them are also heads of the family, but a woman’s allowance is half of a man’s allowance.
Or that other oppressions and injustices that are practiced in a patriarchal and misogynistic society are that women should hand over the right to divorce, the right to study, the right to leave the country, the right to housing, the right to work, the custody of children, etc. after marriage.
Women are not allowed to leave the country without their husband’s permission. When a married woman applies for a passport, she needs her husband’s signature to leave her husband’s passport and have a separate passport, or after marriage, it is the couple who can determine the place of residence and the wife must comply. Or that they take custody of the children from him after the separation.
Isn’t this funny and strange for a person living in this modern world?
Another major legal problem of women today in Iran is the difference in inheritance. As mentioned in the law, siblings do not have equal inheritance and the brother’s share is twice that of his sister’s, and a woman whose husband dies, the wife’s share of inheritance will be only equal to one-eighth of her husband’s property. And also, there are many, many injustices that are applied to women, and today the Islamic Republic can no longer stand up to us women. We are standing against this deadly virus of Islam and patriarchy.
The current protest movement in Iran was described by you as a feminist revolution. What are the characteristics of this movement?
A movement has formed among the women of contemporary Iran. A movement with women’s challenges regarding the legal inequalities between women and men.
Among the women of Iran, an organized movement has been formed with the aim of improving the living conditions, including efforts to reduce the legal inequality between men and women, a realistic assessment of the nature of the two sexes (without feminist orientation) is one of the characteristics of this organized movement.
What is the role of female writers and intellectuals in the current revolution?
In general, the authors are in favor of unconditional freedom and gender equality
In recent years, women, while achieving an undeniable position in Iranian literature, have been able to help the society in identifying the emotions, needs, feelings, abilities, rights and concerns of the lives of their peers. Contemporary women writers, especially their newer generations, with their vast knowledge and insight, have been able to consciously defend women’s rights and display the coordinates of their utopia in front of the audience. An urban ideal where women play an equal role with men in society and have equal rights
The presence of women is extremely high-quality and women have left so many great names in art and literature that no one can hide their power.
Today, we have women writers who write with clearly visible literature, independently of men, have their own world of writing and use their own language and literature.
Considering that social variables, including gender, affect the mind, thought, and language, and the style of writing originates from the mind and language, therefore, we can consider the existence of a feminine style. There are some topics that a female writer can write about better because of the feeling she has, but usually male writers cannot develop this feminine feeling.
In Iranian history, there have been wise and cultured women like Tahira Qura-al-Ain, the first female rebel executed in the two hundred years of Iran’s history, Mezin-ul-Sultaneh, one of the female journalists of the Qajar era.
Bibi Khanam Estrabadi and Sediqeh Dolatabadi are among the writers and journalists of the constitutional period, Roshan No Dost, the founder of modern education and training in Iran, and intellectuals and writers who tried to awaken and raise awareness in women’s society through art and literature, including Forough Foroughzad, Shahrnoush Parsipour, Simin Behbahani and hundreds of other militant women artists who fought for the liberation of women and society in general throughout their lives
What is your position on the Islamic feminism, represented by some figures in Iran such as the wife of the former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi – Zahra Rahnavard?
We do not have an Islamic feminist movement at all.
Zahra Rahnavard, she is the main figure of the idea and process of compulsory hijab after the revolution of 1979. She later joined the reformist faction in the body of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Her husband Mirhossein Mousavi, the prime minister in the years when the massacre of political dissidents in prison was carried out by the regime, never accepted his responsibility and he and his wife are still not against the entire Islamic government, but only against a part of it. They have not taken a position completely and they are strongly religious
Evin prison in Tehran was set on fire in the middle of October. What should we know about this prison?
Evin prison is one of the most feared prisons in the world. It has been a very violent prison since ancient times, and many people fighting for freedom have lost their lives in that prison. Whether as a result of torture, rape, beating or execution. And in these last four weeks, at the same time as nationwide protests in Iran, Evin prison has been the scene of sit-ins and protests by prisoners, and both male and female prisoners chanted slogans such as “Death to the dictator” or “Women live for freedom.”
We know that the prison itself is a small community. After the prison was set on fire, public concern was aroused. Because, along with the criminals or criminals who are serving their prison terms, there are a large number of intellectuals, educated people, pious people, elites, athletes, writers, workers, religious minorities, political ideologues, students, and now students, both men and women, old and young, children, and even Fetuses are trapped.
Pointing out that the security forces are “monitoring and controlling” the streets around the prison, the governor of Tehran asked the people not to pay attention to the calls of “foreign media” to gather in this place.
The prosecutor of Tehran also said that the conflict in Evin prison has nothing to do with the “recent riots” and behind it, the son of the former monarch – Reza Pahlavi, in response to the news of the fire in Evin prison and the sound of explosions from this area, wrote a statement on Twitter saying that: Evin prison should be lost, with the person of Ali Khamenei and his demonic regime. Some of the brightest minds and bravest hearts of Iran are unjustly kept in Evin. We will hold Khamenei and his regime accountable for any harm that befalls them. And the spokesperson of the US State Department announced in a tweet: “We are following the reports from Evin prison with urgency. We are in contact with the Swiss government as the guardian of American interests. Iran is fully responsible for the security of our citizens who have been cruelly arrested, and they must be released immediately.”
But one thing that is clear to everyone is that the fire in Evin prison was not a natural fire because the government is afraid of intellectuals, lawyers and intellectuals of Iran who are imprisoned. The news that reached us shows that they (prison authorities) started a fire, the prisoners came to escape from the smoke and fire, and they opened fire and even fired mortars.
My book Viva La VIda is about the execution of four women in Evin prison. And I myself, who was the author of this book, I have never had the life experience of the prison, but it is as if I have lived there for a lifetime, because in order to create this work, I spent all my moments reading the memories of the prisoners or talking with those who had the experience there. I shed tears and hoped and died and died there with each and every character in my story.
The motto of Iranian women is women, life, freedom. Is it inspired by the second wave of feminism?
During these years of blackness and misogyny ruling Iran, statistics and figures show that the highest rate of self-immolation of women in the Middle East belongs to Iranian women. As we know, suicide is a cry for help. A person who commits suicide says: I can’t do anything for myself in life, someone help me.” But now these women are standing and trying to set fire to the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran by setting their scarves on fire. Women are standing firm. It goes without saying that this is not a feminist revolution, but women are pioneers. We are all fighting together so that we can win over this darkness, because the only way to achieve excellence in any society is for each person to achieve their rights. And of course, this legal inequality between men and women is rooted in cultural values and the biased and inferior attitude of society towards women, which requires an endless and tireless struggle against lack of culture, stupidity and cruelty. Because we don’t want ax, sickle, acid, dagger, and death anymore, we want security, love, freedom, and equality.
What do you expect as results from this protest movement?
As we know, a revolution is taking shape and this transformation is happening, and we must be strong and maintain our ally and slogan, which is the life of freedom, so that we can overthrow the foundations of this corrupt system of the Islamic Republic.