Middle East studies in the News
'Wonderful to be home,' Says Concordia Professor Homa Hoodfar After Return to Montreal
by Catherine Solyom
The 112 days she spent in Iran's notorious Evin prison will not stop Concordia's Homa Hoodfar from continuing her research into women and Islam, the anthropologist said Thursday — quite the opposite.
Hoodfar, thinner and weaker than she was four months ago but smiling jubilantly, told reporters gathered to meet her at Trudeau airport she would be staying put in Montreal for the time being.
But if anything the ordeal made her more determined to continue her work, "dabbling in feminism" as the Iranian prosecutor put it.
"Not only (it won't) stop me from that, but it has opened new avenues that I would not have pursued in the same way as before," Hoodfar said. "For better or worse I have always been media-shy, staying in the background. Now you see what the Iranian government has done!"
It was one of the lighter moments at a news conference where Hoodfar, flanked by her niece, Amanda Ghahremani, embraced friends and colleagues, and thanked all those who worked tirelessly for her release.
"It's wonderful to be home," Hoodfar said. "I've had a bitter seven months, and the detention has left me weak and tired."
Hoodfar, dressed in black with an orange silk pashmina, said she was grateful to the government of Canada as well as that of Oman for helping secure her release, and extending their generous hospitality since Monday to help her recover.
She also thanked the Iranian officials who helped facilitate her release on humanitarian grounds, students, family and colleagues, "and especially civil society, human rights and feminist organizations who campaigned and mobilized for my freedom."
Ghahremani, who accompanied Hoodfar from Oman and sat by her side, said Hoodfar wasn't ready to discuss how she was treated in the Tehran prison. But Hoodfar said the hardest part of her detention was the isolation:
"When I was detained in June, not knowing what was happening with my friends, not being able to communicate with anyone, especially family members, that was the hardest thing — knowing that my family was very worried."
She said her lawyer was fired, and after months of being held incommunicado she didn't even know what was happening when she was told to get ready at 8 a.m. Monday.
"I didn't feel I would be released until I was on the jet. In Iran, nothing is complete until it is complete," she said. "As they say in Iran, nothing is possible and everything is possible."
Sitting in her cell in Iran, she said she often thought about summer in Montreal. It felt wonderful to be back in a secure place.
Hoodfar's return to Canada marks the end of a long and stressful ordeal that began when she was arrested and charged with propaganda against the state and "collaboration with a hostile government."
A dual Canadian-Iranian citizen, Hoodfar had returned in February, as she had done many times, to do academic research and visit loved ones. An anthropologist at Concordia University, her recent work has focused on women's roles in public life in Muslim societies.
But in March, she was arrested by the counter-espionage service of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, set up to protect the Islamic system. Her computers and identification papers were seized, but after being interrogated she was released on bail.
She was arrested again in June, however, and imprisoned in Evin, where countless political prisoners and intellectuals have been detained, and often tortured.
In 2003, Montreal photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, also a dual Canadian-Iranian citizen, was imprisoned after taking photographs outside the prison and died there, of blunt trauma to the head. Her autopsy later revealed that she had been raped and tortured.
Hoodfar's colleagues, friends and family feared the worst, especially in the last few weeks when the scant news they received was of her deteriorating health and that her lawyer had been dismissed.
Hoodfar suffers from a rare neuromuscular disease and had a mild stroke last year. At one point during her detention she was hospitalized then returned to her cell. She also lost her husband last year, and had gone to Iran in part to recover emotionally.
"There were times when as hopeful as we tried to be, things were looking dim," said Theresa Bianco, a friend in the psychology department at Concordia, where Hoodfar's late husband worked, and a member of the university's faculty association.
"For all of us it was an assault on academic freedom. Part of our job is to ask tough questions and advance knowledge ... and it's important to have a cross-cultural perspective. This was not just about one person but about what she represents, including for women's rights."
It's not yet clear what ultimately led to Hoodfar being released after three and a half months.
Among those at the airport to greet and hug her were colleagues from Concordia's Simone de Beauvoir Institute, the department of sociology and anthropology and the university's faculty association, who together with students set up the Free Homa Hoodfar website, held street protests and kept pressure on the government to intervene. Some 5,000 academics and authors worldwide clamoured for her release.
Marc Lafrance, another friend and colleague, who prepared Hoodfar's home in Montreal for her return so she would have a comfortable place to rest, believes her release was the result of a combination of efforts from all sides.
"I'm really pleased with how the government handled it, but certainly the solidarity movement we built was a force to reckon with," Lafrance said.
By all accounts the Trudeau government played a lead role, with help from other countries. On Monday, the day Hoodfar was released, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement noting that in the absence of diplomatic representation of its own in Iran, Canada worked closely with Oman, Italy and Switzerland to secure her release.
He thanked those countries and recognized the co-operation of Iranian authorities who facilitated her release.
"The Canadian government and Global Affairs (Department) were an incredible support to the family and me especially," said Ghahremani, Hoodfar's niece. "They were there every step of the way and did everything possible to get this result ... I can't believe she's here with me today."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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