Zanan silenced; outcry getting louder

Iran's women's magazine: We have not read the last page.

Published February 13, 2008 1:00PM (EST)

Every so often, at Broadsheet and elsewhere, we get into a bit of a debate over women's magazines and the contribution, positive or otherwise, they make to the social order. As you have likely heard, Iran's hard-line leaders have taken that debate to a whole new level -- meaning they've shut it down altogether. In a move excoriated by the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Human Rights First (as Tracy Clark-Flory noted here yesterday) and fans everywhere of the free press, the Iranian government revoked the publishing license of Zanan, the country's premier (if not only) women's magazine, accusing it of "threatening the psychological security of society," deliberately depicting the status of women in a "black light," weakening "military and revolutionary institutions," and, as the Globe put it, having "the gumption to claim that many of the unequal laws in Islamic countries do not have Islamic roots or justifications and hence can be rectified or changed." Sounds like a good read to me.

We've mentioned this in passing, yes -- and urged you to sign HRF's petition -- but I wanted to fill in a bit more of the back story. Zanan -- which means "women" -- ran for 16 years against all political and financial odds. It challenged the underpinnings of sharia law, offered feminist critiques of culture and addressed contentious issues such as prostitution and violence. Zanan was said to represent "the gender dimension of a growing reform movement toward democracy, pluralism, secularism, and civil rights in Iranian society at large." Yeah, you see the problem. So it's no accident, according to the Times, that the shutdown came at a time when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "and his crowd are increasingly nervous about losing next month's parliamentary elections, and next year's presidential vote." Their campaign strategy: "Keep potential rivals off the ballot and silence anyone who can give Iran's people a voice -- like Zanan."

What's interesting -- and heartening -- to me is that this story is really turning out to have strong, shapely legs. When I first mentioned it last week, I assumed there'd be a blip of outrage in international women's news circles, and then we'd sigh and say, "Well, whaddaya expect from Ahmadinejad?" and move on. But those prominent editorials saw the shutdown in its proper context: a loss and affront not only to feminist discourse but also to Iranian society as a whole. Outraged conversation continues in the blogosphere, and not just among women; now this petition is making the rounds. Seems so far that this story has not been -- and may not be -- relegated to the "Well, that's a bummer for the ladies!" dustbins. (And as far as hope that the decision can be overturned, there is at least this: The action may well have violated Iranian law.) So yeah, if we're gonna pick a fight with Iran, I recommend this one.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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