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Free speech

Heterosexist Haji
Not a cry for censorship, but an appeal for journalistic responsibility

By Choob Dosargohi
April 17, 2003
The Iranian

Please read the following and consider publishing it. I prefer to remain anonymous, but if being "known" is a condition for being published, I will give you a name.

A friend sent me a link from iranian.com, along with a note that read, "have you seen this?" Eager to know what was awaiting my curious eyes, I clicked on the link, only to see an image of a headless naked female body, holding a sign that read (in Farsi), "lesbians going back to Iran to sell sex and do whatever we want to do."

Enraged by the message of this cartoon, I searched the archives of the Iranian and found another cartoon where the cartoonist, Hossein Hajiahga, materializes his distorted fantasy about lesbians through his drawing: Two female students lying to their parents, doing drugs, and having sex and confessing that they learned to be "hamjensbaaz" in their school. Hajiagha named this cartoon "The gift of the West to Iran."

As you can tell from my previous letter to iranian.com ("A Response to Responses to War"), I am dissapointed by the way that the dialogue on this destructive war exerts violence on female and queer bodies. This proliferation of homophobic language and imagery in the pages of iranian.com compelled me to write about what freedom of speech, as exercised by iranian.com, means to me.

I appreciate the fact that you are providing a forum for dialogue among Iranian diaspora. As a doctoral student in anthropology, I know how American nationalism has created a culture of fear that silences us in academic circles where any dissent leads to threats of being terminated or to loss of funding.

My letter to you is not a cry for censorship, but an appeal for journalistic responsibility. As Iranians and displaced people in the U.S., many of us can testify to the ways that violence of censorship breaks our pens and sticks duct-tapes on our lips. I understand your commitment to freedom of speech and am not asking you to silence impassioned voices of those who may think differently than you do.

On the contrary, I truly appreciate the Iranian, especially when all we see and hear through mainstream media is the masquerade of violence against Iraqi people under the guise of "liberation" and "freedom". There are those who voice their opinions in mainstream media without having to work hard to this end.

For these reasons, I value the fact that iranian.com has been a forum for people to express their dissent when their voices are lost in the drama of "public polls". I also appreciate seeing voices that repeat the dominant rhetoric of war on Iraq (albeit my disagreement with them). If nothing, these voices show that there is a lot of work to be done and a lot of questions to be asked.

Having said this, I hope that you do not take my objection to Hajiagha's heterosexist cartoons as an advocacy for leaving untouched, things deemed "sacred". If any thing, I think heterosexuality has taken the place of the "sacred" norm and needs to be questioned in cyber-pages of the Iranian. I am concerned that cartoons such as Hajiagha's are informed by a hegemonic knowledge that equates hamjensgarayee with drug addiction, deception, and perversion.

Hajiagha's obsession with lesbianism says something about his personal motivations and his deep hatred towards lesbians. But, I do not want to single out this cartoonist for his homophobia, for the problem is larger than him. What concerns me is that Hajiagha's cartoons that may provide a comic relief in these agonizing times of war, work along other texts within and without the Iranian to inscribe violence on the lesbian body.

This way of representation, constructs the lesbian Other as the "westoxified" abject without whom the existence of the "normal" and "authentic" Iranian heterosexual is impossible. This is where I think the freedom of speech reaches its limits. Speech is no longer a neutral utterance (it never has been), but an act of constituting subjects in accordance with complex workings of power.

Thus, while I understand your commitment to an open forum, I hope that you demonstrate your commitment to a critical questioning of discourses that have material consequences. How many more queers are going to be targets of hate crimes before we feel a sense of responsibility to our readers?

Mr. Javid, I know that this would perhaps be preaching to the converted if I told you that there is no necessary connection between being a lesbian and drugs use, hatred towards men, and/or being "westernized." This may not be news to you, if I told you that lesbian teachers and parents do not make lesbian students (As far as I recall, my parents and my teachers throughout my k-12 education in Iran were heterosexual. And look at me now! No, Mr. Hajiagha, I did not learn to become a lesbian in the U.S.; my desire for women extends to years back before my displacement).

But, dear Mr. Javid, you host a major on-line magazine and that puts you in a critical position. I know you like personal ways of writing, so here it goes: I expect you to be responsible to me and other queers who continue to read your magazine. I expect you to be responsible and create an alternative forum where not stereotypes, but creative dialogues are produced. There is no shortage of homophobic language out there in the world; no need for the Iranian to join in and allow hateful language.

At the end, I would like to encourage you to keep Iranian's committment to the questioning of the "sacred". In the light of this committment, let's rethink the concept of "freedom" as sacred. Let's think about how freedom for some entails material violence against others. Let's think about "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and let's think about "freedom of speech." Isn't there an irony in the way words are resignified?

Isn't there an irony in the violence that hides behind this "sacred" word, "freedom"? Yes, freedom comes with a cost, but who pays for whose freedom? Let us in our committment to write and speak against all that has suffocated us, think about those who die and those who get hurt in empty quests for "freedom".

At the end, I hope that you post both of my letters on your site... if nothing, in the spirit of "freedom of speech."

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