Don’t attack Iran

Campaign against sanctions and military intervention in Iran

Article in the Campaign Iran blogspot

Speech at ULU on 19 September 2006 for Campaign Iran

Why should Iran be so savagely punished?

Ancient heritage, youthful people

demoThe people of Iran have made immense contributions to the development of ideas for millennia. They have registered these ideas not only in writing as recently as 600 B.C. in tablet form and in mountain carvings, but also in forms such as architecture, sculpture, plaques, seals, and vessels made up of diverse materials in bronze, alabaster, bitumen compounds, and terracotta around 4000 B.C. in Susa and Luristan. In the basement of The National Museum in Tehran, and in more elaborate museums such as the Sackler Galley in Washington DC, The Metropolitan Museum in New York, and nearer to us at the Vatican and other illustrious locations in Europe, I have seen examples of cultural artefacts in fired clay made by the Iranian people, and dated as early as 6000 B.C. by multi-national institutions and scholars. Such significant heritage and contribution to world civilization must not be viewed in terms of the past only; indeed it is part of the shared and common cultural heritage of humanity.

Despite a recent history of political turmoil and socio-political limitations and isolation, at the beginning of the 21st century Iran has a youthful face and an ambition to sustain her cultural heritage into the future. Nearly three quarters of Iran’s population is under the age of 30. According to the 2004-2005 national statistics published by the Ministry of Education’s Educational Programme, 15,815,638 individuals are engaged in primary and secondary education. From this figure over half a million are adults seeking literacy, 8 million are boys and 7 million are girls. Additionally, there are 3 million students in higher education including vocational training, many of whom have entered urban spaces from remote towns and villages for the first time. Significantly over 60% of this student body are female.

It is this layer of society in contemporary Iran that I would like to draw your attention to, the youth. I invite you to imagine their ambitions and aspirations, their struggles and uncertainties, and their longings and strife to construct lives and be part of the world at large. I invite you to recognise them as valued members of the global society whose growth and development must not be interrupted. These young people and their families, friends, and relatives, 75 million Iranians, must not be bombed. Their homes, their schools and universities, the sources of their livelihoods must not be shattered; their aspirations and their future must not be ruined. In no way must any sanctions be imposed on them. Many are already economically vulnerable. We simply cannot afford to view these young individuals in abstraction, for they exist and are real and at large with critical and reflexive minds. They must be allowed to claim their space, they must be given space to find paths to develop, to reflect on ideas, and to take those ideas forward in order to continue to make contributions to the future of the world. Any form of military action or sanctions on Iran is detrimental to their development and their future.

In order to acquaint you with the Iranian youth I present edited extracts from extended interviews given to me by art students from Tehran University and Al-Zahra University for Women.

“The Socio-political boundaries in our society promote us to be less than truthful … We develop a profound sense of duality in our character without even realising it, but we see it in others… There is no debate…What does it mean to be good or bad? It’s not clear… We don’t want to be good all the time, we see things differently to our parents, we want to think for ourselves, explore ideas, including sexuality and drinking … Must we be viewed so differently from our peers around the world?”

“The power systems in the West seek to enslave us. Did you know that the Americans have already been to the countries north of the Caspian Sea and secured all rights for the future pipelines and the gas in the region? The gas which is still deep underground and not yet been decided for, or its extent fully clarified by the indigenous people in the region?

“You question me about autonomy and art. Let me tell you about your celebrity ridden autonomous art, your worship of anything that is driven by money. When Christo wraps mountains in cloth, like a record in its sleeve, when he covers a skyscraper in Berlin and stands on top to be worshiped as the object in space, he is ruled by capitalism, and the money it depends on. Just think about the sponsors…. Money, probably the oil money, the money we cannot have, the money we need to spend on a thousand and one things to improve lives here, and to secure futures here… If you want to interview me, consider these issues, what other chance do I have to speak to that world of yours?”

Yes I like to paint images of my own body, sometimes without clothes, despite the ban on nudity and erotic art. Well it is only a body and we all have it, don’t we? My body, your body, it is a common language of communication, that’s all.”

“I love painting the nude and I have compiled its history since the Renaissance in one hundred images… I love art history, all of it, it is ridiculous to separate West and East too much. I am a citizen of the world, a member of the global village. If I am to be an artist, all of art history is my heritage. I have become really good at theory and I write all my boyfriend’s essays; can you imagine I studied the whole history of divinity in Indian culture, they have so many gods and goddesses. I helped my boyfriend with his ideas. He is doing art too.”

“My father did not think much of studying art, in fact he wanted me to do computing, but I persevered. He is a tailor so I have seen all sorts of needles throughout my childhood. For my installation I constructed two parallel white walls creating a very narrow path or passage… I pierced these walls with hundreds, I think a thousand large quilting needles. But for a kind of symmetry, I placed matching numbers of, soft, fresh, young leaves at the end of the path awaiting the feet…inviting the feet…. Just like life. I think I have found a voice through studying art, I comment on life. You register your voice by making art, don’t you? I won a prize for my installation, and now even my father approves of art education.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, the young generation in Iran is alive and kicking, it is upon us to keep it that way for they have much to contribute to cultural continuity globally.