I also know that Iran’s women stand in the vanguard. For days now, I’ve seen them urging less courageous men on. I’ve seen them get beaten and return to the fray. “Why are you sitting there?” one shouted at a couple of men perched on the sidewalk on Saturday. “Get up! Get up!”
Another green-eyed woman, Mahin, aged 52, staggered into an alley clutching her face and in tears. Then, against the urging of those around her, she limped back into the crowd moving west toward Freedom Square. Cries of “Death to the dictator!” and “We want liberty!” accompanied her.
As I read Roger Cohen's report, America’s own “Daughters of Liberty” come to my mind. I recall the American women who entered “into a resolve for every mother to disown her son, and refuse the caresses of her husband, and for every maiden to reject the addresses of her gallant” if any of them failed to hold fast to the patriotic position. I remember, Hannah Arnett, who in the presence of her husband and local leaders of Elizabeth Town, declared:
For me, I stay with my country, and my hand shall never touch the hand, nor my heart cleave to the heart of him who shame her . . . . Isaac, we have lived together for twenty years . . . But I am the child of God and of my country, and if you do this shameful thing (turn the town over to Cornwallis), I will never again own you for my husband.1
Looking at the beautiful, blood covered face of “NEDA” whose image has emerged as the symbol of the current Iranian revolution, I think of Hanna Caldwell of Newark. “Neda,” is the code name of a young woman who was standing aside with her father watching the protests, when she was shot from a rooftop of a house. She died on the street within a couple of minutes. Hanna Caldwell, a mother of nine, chose to stay in her home and was shot. She was not alone. “Six widows are burned out; some very aged, and others which were not burnt, were torn to pieces, entirely plundered” reported the New Jersey Gazette on July 12, 1780 following the battle of Springfield. At such tumultuous times, home no longer affords protection. Just listen to the cries heard as a Tehran apartment is invaded in the dead of night.
And how can I forget the wife and partner, Abigail Adams. She, too, has a counterpart in the current Iranian saga. Indeed, if the tragic image of “NEDA” has emerged as the symbol of the revolutionary phase of the struggle, the image of Mir Hossein Mousavi holding hand with his wife, university professor Zahra Rahnavard, encompassed its reformist phase. Iranian law forbids public displays of affection, including hand holding. Their defiance of that prohibition held the promise that Mousavi “will not forget the Ladies.“ For then, as now, economic discontent led to demands for greater democracy. Americans cried “No Taxation without Representation.” Iranians cry “Where is my Vote?”
American women fought and died in the revolutionary army. Iranian women march and die in the streets. The risk they take is just as great. Even name and connections do not offer much protection. The daughter of President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is amongst the arrested. Nobel prize winner Shirin Ebadi is still at large and, to her credit, far from silent. She has not only identified with the opposition by calling for new elections but used her Nobel fame to demand that the international community meddle:
I expect the international community to prevent the pursuit of violence by the government . . . I expect it to stop (the government) firing on the people.
In 1778, American revolutionaries raised their glasses with the following toast:
The Fair of America; may their virtues and patriotism, so much hidden by arbitrary fashion, be more publicly displayed, and they be rewarded by gratitude of every observer
The spirit of women of Iran is, indeed, much more publicly displayed, analyzed and at times, even celebrated. Consider some of the following headlines, Women in Iran march against Discrimination , Defiance of Women of Iran Brings World Attention to Crisis or Iran and the Woman question. As could be expected, some sour notes remain. Take for example, ABC News headline; Lipstick Revolution: Iranian Women Take to the Streets
There are more women in position of authority than in 1776. Thus, when Shirin Ebadi asks, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay responds with a call for Iran to rein in Islamic militia:
It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that militia members and regular law enforcement agencies do not resort to illegal acts of violence," she said in a statement.
If they are perceived to be acting outside the law, it could provoke a serious deterioration in the security situation, which would be a great tragedy and is in nobody's interests.
Angela Merkel, Germany’s prime minister steps up the plate. The same cannot be said about Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the woman Iranian often compare to Zahra Rahnavard. She was forced to prevaricate while working hard behind the scene to convince President Obama to stand by those marching in the streets. In the end, it was NEDA’s blood and the blood of her fellow Iranian women and men that did the convincing. Let me end, as I started with a quote from Roger Cohen:
“Can’t the United Nations help us?” one woman asked me.
I said I doubted that very much.
“So,” she said, “we are on our own.”
May the Iranian Daughters of Liberty meet with success and may the descendents of the American Daughters of Liberty do their utmost to aid them. It may not be enough but they are owed our best efforts.
1. The material about women in the revolutionary period is based on my article, “The Petticoat Electors” Women’s Suffrage in New Jersey, 1776-1807, Journal of Early American Republic, 12 (summer 1992)
Anne Applebaum An Overlooked Force in Iran
Roger Cohen, Iran’s Second Sex . It ends thus:
I asked one woman about her fears. She said sometimes she imagines an earthquake in Tehran. She dashes out but forgets her hijab. She stands in the ruins, hair loose and paralyzed, awaiting her punishment. And she looked at me wide-eyed as if to say: do you understand, does the world understand our desperation?