Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Writing is a Haven: The Second Part of my Article for the Literary Review of Canada


ECHOES FROM EXILE: WRITING IS A HAVEN

By Ava Homa
Literature, music and art were my friends and shelter, my hope and my salve. The rebellious poetry of Ahmad Shamlou and Forough Farrokhzad, the mystical writings of classic Persian poets Rumi and Hafez, the enchanting short stories of Hedayat, Choubak and Golshiri healed me, despite the corrosive environment in which I was living. Writing was and is a necessity of my life; more than theme and content, the beauty and uplifting nature of literature, its power to humanize, mattered to me. Literature, art galleries and the classic Persian music of Nazeri and Kamgarha helped me feel less bitter and isolated and more forgiving and compassionate. Writing was also a haven, a type of therapy; it gave meaning to my existence, it was a means of reflection, discovery and joy.
While I was studying for my master’s in English language and literature, I attended many fiction and screenplay writing workshops. After two years of weekly writing, Siamak Gloshiri, my knowledgeable, charming, but picky, instructor, singled me out to tell that I had a gift for crafting fiction, and if I continued working at it, I would make it big one day. That day was a turning point in my life. I felt blessed.
While striving to master the art of fiction, I became less engrossed in my own life and more observant of other women’s pains and struggles. I remember, for instance, that my aunt told me of the unstoppable sobbing of a neighbour who had returned home, after visiting her parents, only to find a woman living in her house with her husband. The IRI law believes any husband has “the right” to temporarily “marry” another woman if he feels like it. This is, of course, not prostitution because the temporary wife is a good Shiite divorcée or widow who needs the “financial support” she gets from the temporary husband. The permanent wife, in the meantime, has to shut up and obey. My aunt’s neighbour, whom I never met or whose name I never knew, haunted me and appeared in my stories. Because such stories, obviously, criticized one of many oppressive family laws, IRI wanted the writer to shut up.
My stories were considered “publishable” in their sophistication but “unpublishable” due to Iran’s censorship: the forbidden topics of desire and the subtle criticism of the political situation meant that I received many rejections. By the time I left the country, I did manage to get one book and five stories published, but still had two unpublished books and ten unpublished stories. I was partly surprised and partly relieved when I found out recently that some of those literary journals, such as Jen o Pari, have been shut down despite their caution and conservatism in what they published. Stories of modern Iranian women followed me to Canada and TSAR Publications published some of them here in a collection titled Echoes from the Other Land.

Minorities of the World, Unite! My article in Kurdistan Tribune


Minorities of the World, Unite!

By Ava Homa:
David Hoffman
David Hoffman
David Hoffman, the American Film Producer, Calls for Solidarity between the Kurds and Baha’is
A stigmatized Jewish child who is bullied for a religion he has only inherited and has not chosen and/or understood, David Hoffman turns into an atheist at age 12. “A God who lets people be violent towards each other in His name, either does not exist or is out of his mind,” his young, rebellious, and thirsty-for-justice mind declares. He remains a curious atheist until the age of twenty when he meets a very active American family who are Baha’is and introduce him to this religion.

“I thought it was just another group, like any other religious group but I attended their meetings anyways,” Hoffman says.
“Every person has to dig for and find their own truth rather than looking for a pre-determined one,” is the first sentence that draws David towards this religion. “In an extraordinary way,” Hoffman says, “I converted to Baha’ism after six months and I have stayed one for over thirty years now.”
Hoffman studies film at USC, marries an Iranian woman and ends up in South Carolina where he becomes a successful developer. In 2006, at age 50, he sells his business, semi-retires and starts campaigning to save Baha’is that are persecuted in Iran. He starts a project called Angels of Iran to raise awareness in the world regarding the brutal oppression of the Bahia’s in Iran, including the denial of their right to education in their own country. Baha’is have been “subject to torture, arrest and execution for refusing to recant their beliefs,” Education Under Fire announces which is a documentary co-sponsored by the Amnesty International and portrays a persecution that has been going on for 170 years now.
Soraya Fallah
Soraya Fallah
“For Kurdistan,” is a section of Education under Fire that recounts the story of Soraya Fallah, a Kurdish human right activist who is detained four times in Iran and tortured even when she is pregnant. Inevitably, her child dies in her womb.
Hoffman says that he has always been aware of the persecution of the Kurds; he believes what both groups have in common is that their very ethnicity and religion are criminalized in Iran. Even if they aren’t activist or writers, even when they do not express their identity, they are denounced, demonized, persecuted.
Hoffman who is thinking of creating another project to bring more people together says: “When people are busy with their own issues, the differences with other groups become bigger and create obstacles. When people come together for a cause, to further humanity, they automatically become united because they will discover similarities. We all need to be protected and have the desire to protect others; when we unite, we are powerful, humane and happy.”
Hoffman adds that a form of resistance Baha’is thought of has been creating an Institution for Higher Educations. This is, he believes, a much more positive and influential protest and empowerment than taking to the streets or taking up arms. Hoffman warns minorities from allowing to be turned into “victims.” Instead, we should prove our resilience and find the smartest and the most effective ways to strengthen our people and follow our cause.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Post Published in the Literary Review of Canada (LRC): Part 1


ECHOES FROM EXILE: LIVING IN FEAR

By Ava Homa
I grew up seeing lash scars on my father’s back. I was a toddler when he was incarcerated and tortured. Why? For possessing banned books, for being Kurdish, for not approving of the nefarious Iranian government. Since the only documents against him were his books, he was not executed; instead, he was left to deteriorate gradually, left to struggle with the never-to-be-healed and invisible traces of torture. The abhorrence he felt toward the injustice consumed my father; the damage turned him into a person he would not like had he met him before the imprisonment—irascible, reclusive, insufferable. Unless one has been tortured for one’s beliefs and stayed the same person as before that incident, one is not in any position to judge my father.
I was the neighbourhood’s “bad” girl in Sanandaj, in the Kurdistan province, located on the border of Iran and Iraq. I was a bad teenager because I liked to put on colourful dresses and shoes, wear perfume, walk with my friends and sing popular love songs, laugh with them and enjoy the magical nature of Kurdistan. But those actions would—God forbid—make me visible and attract a male stranger’s “attention”: what a sin, what a scandal! Good girls hide themselves from men, they do not leave home unless they have to and only when accompanied by their mothers, they keep their heads bent while they walk, and they wear dark, loose manteaus and headscarves large enough to conceal their curves. It did not matter that my bosom had not developed until well into the last year of high school; ever since grade one, I was required to comply. But I did not. I was warned repeatedly in school about wearing white shoes, a short manteau or a pony tail that would show under my scarf. I was, of course, horrified by men; why wouldn’t I be? The law would not forbid them from harassing females of every age on the streets. In fact, it is the woman’s fault if she is harassed. But good girls prepare only to become a good servant for one of these scary marauders who would turn into a husband one day.
So, it should not be surprising that I did not have a boyfriend until I was a graduate student, in 2002, and that I chose an unthreatening man: a shy, “dickless,” confused virgin who would masturbate like a maniac and feel guilty, but who left me untouched, as I wanted to remain—chaste and pure. He was kind and caring but because I was not sexually attracted to him, we assumed something was wrong with me. He later suggested that I should try women, just in case!
In 2003, I became a correspondent for Asia Daily Newspaper, the only newspaper in Tehran that published in English and Farsi. The paper was shut down for publishing the news of Maryam Rajavi’s release from a prison in France. She was the head of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), an Islamic group in opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). I had only translated the news and had no say in what may or may not be published. But when the paper was closed, while the editors were being arrested and the computers confiscated, I knew that the English version of the news was saved under my name in the intranet.
Arrests continued. Since I was living at a residence at the Allameh University in Tehran and my family was back in Kurdistan, I left for the distant small city of Zanjan. The government of Iran became so busy closing down more papers and arresting more and more journalists that they did not have the time or a plan to track down every single person working in every single newspaper.
After almost a month, I returned to Tehran to catch up with school. It was at that time that the dormitories were raided and students beaten up by unidentifiable religious groups made up of men who were twice the size of an average Iranian man. These combatants had been specially picked and trained by the government to beat up protestors. It was IRI’s way of quelling the students’ movement. For years, university students have been subtly but strongly resisting dictatorship; they had to be punished every now and then. Thanks to “Islam,” female residents were unscathed. But that did not mean we did not spend every night living in fear.