Middle East studies in the News
Iran's Imprisonment of Homa Hoodfar is Outrageous and Worrisome
by Geneviève Rail
On June 6, my colleague, Concordia University professor emerita Homa Hoodfar, was arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. She has since been detained at the notoriously dangerous Evin Prison in Tehran. Her lawyer and family have not been allowed to see her.
Only on June 24 did the Tehran Public Prosecutor made the accusation public and announce that Homa was being investigated for "dabbling in feminism and security matters."
My colleagues at Concordia University's Simone de Beauvoir Institute and I are outraged, but we are also deeply concerned, given that Homa has had serious health challenges over the course of the last few years.
Our institute stands in solidarity with Homa and has joined her family, Concordia University and its faculty association (CUFA), 70 other faculty associations in Canada, as well as countless professional and scholarly associations in Quebec, Canada and the world in the #FreeHoma campaign.
For us, feminism and research on women are not crimes, but rather, important ways of improving the lives of women. As a world-renowned anthropologist, Homa has travelled for 40 years to study the role of women and the family in Muslim societies. She has challenged Western anthropologists over their ways of looking at "Third World" women and perpetuating stereotypes about them. Researching and writing with wonderful insight, respect and generosity about women in Iran and other Muslim countries, Homa hears their voices and sees them not only as women, but also as social beings, thus contributing to the decolonization of her discipline, the debunking of myths about Muslim women and the charting of the emergence of woman-centred secular perspectives as well as Islamic scholarly ones that contest conventional gender visions often presented as "Islamic."
Homa's past and present students (and especially her graduate students) miss her dearly, and 124 of them so far have signed a statement in her support. They attest to "her passionate and engaging teaching style, along with her wealth of real-life experience." They also underline how her "dedication and generosity go unsurpassed" and how she "cares deeply about her advisees on a personal level, going above and beyond the conventional limits of a supervisor to see them succeed."
Her Concordia colleagues, I among them, have also benefited from her thoughtfulness and have come to know a kind-hearted woman who is deeply attached to her homeland. After meeting Homa, one wants to know more about Iran: not the government or the Revolutionary Guards, but about ordinary people, the culture and the traditions. In a world filled with sexism and Islamophobia, Homa is playing an important role in improving Western comprehension of Muslim women. At the same time, and notwithstanding the views of those who may have seen her as being too complacent about Iranian policies or conservative Islam, she is documenting the lives of Muslim women in their own contexts, bringing nuance and deep understanding to help them improve their own lives and societies.
Homa is an incredible asset to Concordia University, Quebec, Canada and Muslim societies. She has published extensively on poverty, development, women in the labour force, family law, immigration and refugees in many countries in the Middle East, Canada and South Asia. She is known for highlighting Muslim women's ability to claim their rights within an Islamic framework. More personally, she has this inner beauty and this openness to others around her. She has the capacity to appreciate differences and diversity, and to encourage students and those around her to share this appreciation.
An academic petition is circulating with over 4,720 signatures by scholars and authors from all around the world, including Nobel laureates. Prominent scholars of Islam have also penned an open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, asking him to intervene to ensure Homa's well-being and speedy release, as well as the dismissal of all the baseless accusations against her.
Together, we can make a difference. Please join the worldwide campaign (homahoodfar.org) to support academic freedom and bring about Homa's immediate and unconditional release.
Geneviève Rail is a professor at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute of Concordia University.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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