Fariba Hachtroudi : “Islamic feminism shouldn’t be an excuse to deny the universality of women’s rights”

Journalist, writer, activist and feminist, Fariba Hachtroudi wear many hats and can be considered as one of these “admirable women” who fight to change the world. Though she spent most of her life in France, her adopting country, she still remains deeply influenced by her Iranian roots. Balancing between both cultures, she defends the idea that feminism is not a relativist notion and fights for a universal idea of dignity and equality.


I met Fariba Hachtroudi during a conference she held last year in Dubai about “Admirable Women in the Islamic World”. She was counting with passion the inspiring lives of the Yemeni Queen Arwâ and the Iranian mystic poetess Qorrat ol-Eyn, two free women who held distinguished lives far before the first feminist claims happened in Europe. Fascinated by noble causes and extraordinary destinies, Fariba is this type of women who seems to escape from the prosaic realities of the material world. Wild, eccentric, inflamed, she has this passion and this vivacity of thoughts that characterizes free spirits. Coming from an important Iranian family of scholars and intellectuals, everything in her manners, in the way she talks or the way she stands, indicates this nonchalant nobility of the ones who don’t have to prove anything anymore.


The incredible destinity of a family


Born in Teheran in 1951, she is the daughter of Moschen Hachtroudi, great mathematician and epistemologist, and granddaughter of the religious leader Cheik Esmaik Hachtroudi. Since her childhood she has been established as the heiress of a long lineage of enlightened men, freedom-loving democrats, and human rights defenders.


“I didn’t have the time to know my grandfather very well. He died when I was very young. But his memory, his presence was deeply marked in the family long after he left us. He was mentioned all the time, and I know his story by heart. ”


Cheik Esmail Hachtroudi was what we can call a “great man”. He fought along with Azerbaijan revolutionaries in 1906. Member of the first and second Persian Parliament in 1909 and 1910, he committed himself all his life long against obscurantism and religious dogmatism. Following the example of his father, the young Moschen Hachtroudi, father of Fariba, defended an enlightened vision of modernity, denouncing the abuses of Pahlavi monarchy and claiming the equality between men and women. He is the one who made Fariba Hachtroudi so passionate about women’s condition throughout the world and who helped her growing up with the feeling of having the same freedoms and potentials as a man has.


“There is no distinction between East and West for women’s rights”


Having been raised between France and Iran, Fariba has transferred all the French history of struggles for women’s rights to the Iranian context. “I have always been between both cultures, passing from one to the other. My family who sent me to France thought I was too Western in the way I was thinking and acting, and my French friends, that I was too Oriental. Actually I was none of them as long as I was both. For me there is no distinction between East and West for women’s rights. This way of splitting the world is very masculine. It is a manner of justifying the differences of treatments by cultural differences. Cultural diversity can’t be used as an argument for women’s domination in Muslim countries. Freedom and dignity are universal values that are worth fighting for throughout the world, without any distinction of religion and culture.”


“Women are not freer with or without a veil”


As I asked her opinion about the possibility of another form of feminism in Arab countries, and especially about the raise of an Islamic feminist movement today where women use the Koran and religious precepts to defend their rights and claim the possibility to be a feminist while being a good Muslim, Fariba raised her eyebrows in sign of skepticism.


“There are different feminist movements in the world, with different claims. The feminism is a very modern notion, the term was employed for the first time only in 1872 by Alexandre Dumas son. Since then it showed very different aspects around the world: for example American and French feminisms are not the same. But all these versions of feminism can’t be separated because they all fight for the same thing: a certain idea of dignity. I agree with the Islamic feminism who claim for the right to wear the veil without being judged. Women are not freer with or without a veil, because even in the other way, when the Islamic veil creates hysterical reactions like in France, it is always the women’s body and the possibility to control it that is in stakes. But further that the simple question of the veil, the problem with an Islamic feminism is that it relies on the Koran, and we know that the religion establishes a fundamental separation between men and women. I think Islam needs a reform as Catholicism had. Arguing that women should not have the same rights in Arab countries than women in the West just because of Islam is the wrong way to make things move on. Religious institutions will always want to preserve the traditions. As the French feminist Elisabeth Badinter said, a laic state is the major condition for freedom and equality of women with men. By expelling religion out of the public life, we destroy the religious base of the political and economical domination, and the idea of a natural superiority of the man on the woman.”


“A laic state is the major condition for freedom and equality of women with men”


Of course, no need to be an expert of Iranian politics to understand that Fariba is referring to the theocratic regime set in Iran since the revolution of 1979, and that dramatically weights on women’s daily life since then. If women’s condition in Iran has never been easy, even during the supposed modernist period of the Pahlavi monarchy, the Islamic Revolution has completely locked any possibility of improvement by passing all its reforms and policies under the name of the shari’a, the Islamic law. It is often the Iranian regime in itself that Fariba directly denounces through her fight for women’s rights, and she paid the heavy price for her political commitments. Banned from the Iranian territory, she risks her life if she tries to come back. But stubborn and determined, she doesn’t want to hide herself anymore. “Even if I denounce all its shortcomings, I feel I belong to this country. I am working for the moment on the project to come back to Iran very soon, maybe next year. I can’t stay in France for ever. The fight is occurring there, everyday, and I want to fight.”


For the moment, Fariba Hachtroudi just published this year her new novel “Le Colonel et l’appât 455”, a love story taking place in the harsh atmosphere of the sadly famous prison of Evin, in Iran. After the great success of “Iran, Les rives du sang” who made her famous in 2000, Fariba Hachtroudi tells today the story of another women who meets again her torturer after fleeing away from Iran. She always keeps the same themes running throughout her novels: incredible destinies of strong and free women, revolt against the oppression and passionate love.





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