Op-Ed: It’s Time Ottawa Supported Iranian Feminists Instead of the Ayatollah – 2018

aleksandar mijatovic /

It is time Ottawa considers pivoting from its ill-considered opposition to Bill S-219, which would tie the lifting of existing nuclear-related sanctions against Iran to a requirement that the regime improve its record on human rights and terrorism.

by Danny Eisen and Raheel Raza

Just recently, Liberal MP Iqra Khalid raised the issue of women’s rights in Iran in a hearing conducted by the Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

She specifically and correctly asked for concrete policy recommendations that could be of assistance to the women of Iran within the framework of “Canada’s feminist international development policies.”

It might be useful to consider Ms. Khalid’s question in the context of Prime Minister Trudeau’s newly minted Feminist International Assistance Policy.

The initiative, which has been referenced to in recent public discourse on various issues, is noteworthy for its blunt ideological framing.

Going beyond more normative generalized human rights language, the policy is presented as a distinctively feminist doctrine.  It declares “feminism,” a term left undefined, as a Canadian value, and the word “feminist” appears no fewer than 34 times in the government’s online explanatory materials. But these excessive protestations feel artificially imposed, making no practicable contribution to the substance of the policy itself.

This forced linguistic branding was also on display in a statement recently issued by Ottawa, condemning “the increasing and deliberate attacks against innocent girls, boys, women, and men in eastern Ghouta.”

The statement inverts the more standard phraseology, perhaps considered misogynist, placing girls and women before boys and men in the listing of those being slaughtered in Syria.

The adjustment contributes nothing to the statement and is inconsequential to any policy objective regarding those who are dying or those doing the killing. It rings awkwardly in this context, only distracting the reader from the import of the issue – the slaughter of civilians.

While linguistic engineering of this sort is at best superfluous, it is certainly useful for highlighting the prime minister’s self-defined feminist brand.

It is therefore not surprising that these foreign policy statements, directed to a domestic Canadian audience, are inundated with feminist context and subtext. But the same cannot be said of the government’s public statements to foreign regimes that, as a matter of principle, visit the most egregious abuses upon the women of their society. This has been particularly notable in Canada’s recent responses to Iranian excesses.

While the Liberals featured a woman donning a hijab in their International Women’s Day messaging and were quick to condemn a purported attack on a Canadian girl for wearing a hijab, Ottawa seems conspicuously unmoved by the two-year prison sentence recently imposed on a woman in Iran who publicly removed her hijab to protest the regime’s treatment of women.

Known as the “Girl of Enghelab Street,” this woman gained prominence for sparking what is now known as the “White Wednesday Protests” by her public defiance of an Iranian theocracy that does not hesitate to fine, imprison and lash females who offend its sensibilities.

At least twenty-nine women have been arrested for taking off their hijabs, but, once again, our government has remained staunchly anemic in its response.

Yet it would be unfair to ascribe the government’s reticence to misogyny.

If nothing else, Ottawa is to be credited for staying loyal to its egalitarian creed – remaining equally muted, regardless of gender or ethnicity, in its response to the tens of thousands of Iranians who have suffered at the hands of the regime’s vast industry of mutilation and execution.

This silence, in stark contrast to the noise generated by Canada’s recent sanctioning of Russian and Venezuelan officials, begs the question of increasing importance:Why is Canada so noticeably absent on Iranian violations while many of our Western allies are now exploring more stringent measures against that regime?

The answer is likely to be unedifying. Perhaps Ottawa has simply been too busy facilitating a reported $100 million sale of Bombardier aircraft to Iran – despite plentiful evidence that the regime regularly uses civilian planes to commit war crimes and support terrorism throughout the region.

But given its feminist bravado, Ottawa might want to reconsider its truancy. It could start by pondering what the #metoo hashtag would mean in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

#metoo – I too am one of the thousands of Iranian women who have been raped by Iranian prison personnel with the consent of government authorities.

#metoo – I too am one of the thousands of Iranian women who have had the skin torn from my back by floggings for supposed crimes of “inappropriate” behavior.

#metoo – I too am an Iranian woman or girl who can be murdered by male relatives with almost complete impunity under Iranian law.

These women are not fighting for “inclusiveness” or “fairness” but for their lives, and for the most basic of rights related to the word “human.”

They have displayed the dignity that Trudeau’s Feminist International Assistance Policy has identified as a goal for the women it aims to help. Canada should now display the same.

It is time Ottawa considers pivoting from its ill-considered opposition to Bill S-219, which would tie the lifting of existing nuclear-related sanctions against Iran to a requirement that the regime improve its record on human rights and terrorism.

The Liberal government has opposed this bill, claiming Iran “would likely respond negatively” and that S-219 might impede Ottawa’s goal of re-engagement with Tehran.

But the hurt feelings of the Ayatollahs cannot be our moral bellwether, any more than our most basic principles can be hostage to a policy of re-engagement that is consistently sabotaged by Iran’s belligerence and continued imprisonment and torture of Canadian citizens.

Canada can no longer remain opaque in its response to Iran’s treatment of its own citizens or ours, and our government must adjust the volume of its response accordingly.  It is a shift that is long overdue. After all, it is 2018.

This article was written by both Danny Eisen who is the co-founder of the Canadian Coalition Against Terror (C-CAT), and Raheel Raza a human rights activist and the President of Muslims Facing Tomorrow.

First Appeared in the Post Millennial