Interview: Homa Arjomand

Protecting Women and Children From Sharia

By Jamie Glazov | Monday, December 31, 2007

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Homa Arjomand, the Coordinator of the International Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada. She was recognized as Woman of the Year by Gazette Des Femmes in 2005. In 2006, she received the annual Toronto Humanist of the Year award and the HAC (Humanist Association of Canada) Humanist of The Year Award.

FP: Homa Arjomand, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Arjomand: Thanks for giving me this opportunity.

FP: You are originally from Iran . Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you ended up leaving Iran ?

Arjomand: I was born and raised in Iran . At the age of 17, I started my social/political activities with a group of medical students and became a dissident against the Islamic regime. I studied in England with the sponsorship of the National Iranian Oil Company. I returned back to Iran and worked as a teacher in various colleges and universities.

In the winter of 1989, I fled Iran through the mountains because my life was endangered by the Islamic Regime. I have lived in Canada since 1990 and have attended and organized countless meetings, international conferences, panel discussions and forums on issues related to women’s, children’s and gay and lesbian rights. I did many interviews with leading newspapers and TV programs in Europe and North America defending secularism.

When the Ontario Arbitration Act allowed family disputes to be resolved by faith-based arbitrations, as an advocator of secularism I formed the International Campaign against Sharia Court in Canada to oppose Sharia Court and the restrictions that political Islam was imposing on women and children and all other faith-based arbitration.

In Toronto, I ran a social talk show on Rogers Cable which dealt with such issues as children’s rights, women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights and elder abuse. Right now I am working as transitional counselor for women experiencing domestic violence.

FP: Tell us about the International Campaign against Sharia Court in Canada .

Arjomand: While living in Iran I saw the rise of political Islam and with it the application of Sharia law.

The rise of Political Islam pushed back the women’s liberation movement in Iran and lowered the standards of that society by legalizing gender apartheid and by enforcing religious family laws that openly discriminate against women and children.

As the power of political Islam grew in Iran , I witnessed the execution of all my fellow activists for their belief and work in human and women’s rights issues in Iran .

I know for a fact that discrimination and gender-based persecution in areas of marriage, divorce, child custody and so on are reasons why many women flee the societies which are ruled by Political Islam and seek refuge in Canada and the West.

For the past 12 years I have worked as a transitional counselor for abused women in Canada . Many of my clients come from so-called “Muslim communities.” I help these women and children to escape abusive and often dangerous family situations and to start a new life in a safe and secure home.

In my work I often see the unfair treatment of women and children when they use faith-based arbitration. Most of these women receive very little in the way of financial support and often have no right to see their children. Sometimes after a divorce, the father will send his children — particularly the girls — back to his home country to be raised by a family member and then push them to marry at a very young age even though they are Canadian Citizens.

On October 23rd, 2003 , Mr. Syed Mumtaz Ali, President of the Canadian Society of Muslims, announced the opening of the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice. In his announcement, Mr. Ali said that to be a ‘good Muslim’, you must use Sharia law for family legal matters. This political statement was not only coercive but also a direct threat to devout Muslims who prefer to use Canadian laws.

Mr. Ali’s statement shocked me because his proposal had nothing to do with someone’s personal belief; it was in fact very political. He claimed his legal authority was based on Ontario law. Through my work as a transitional counselor, I was well aware that faith-based arbitrations were occurring. However, I had wrongly assumed it was being practiced illegally, behind closed doors.

At the time I did not believe that Canada would permit arbitration of family legal matters based on religious laws. However, when I investigated further, I discovered that in the Arbitration Act of 1991, Article 32, Conflict of Laws, did indeed permit family arbitrations to be based on religious laws. This discovery saddened and worried me and other activists. To us, as experienced defenders of women and children’s rights, the Arbitration Act of 1991 provided a green light for political Islam to widen its reach and tighten its grip on the lives of Muslims living in Canada . We felt it was our duty to inform the Canadian public of this threat to their freedoms.

All of us were motivated by a common concern that political Islam was trying to expand in Canada by promoting the use of family arbitrations based on Sharia law. We were sure that the rise of Sharia court in Canada was not just a coincident. It was part of a global move of political Islam.

Our campaign started in Toronto on October 30th, 2003 with a handful of supporters, and today it has grown to a coalition of 183 organizations from 14 countries with over a thousand activists, who volunteer their time and skills.

FP: Your thoughts on the recent tragic honor killing of Aqsa Parvez?

Arjomand: Aqsa Parvez is obviously another victim of honor killing. She has been tried and sentenced to death by her family’s belief, for not honoring the backward culture and traditions which are promoted and guarded by religious movements — in particular Islamic movement globally.

Honor killing is a punishment for the women who act not according to the religion, tradition and culture imposed on them. To be more precise it is a punishment for the ones who desire to run their own lifestyle and choose their own partner. The victims are women and young girls who have thirst to be free and are not willing to compromise for less than a modern and humane life style.

The death of Aqsa Parvez at the age of 16 is just a tip of the iceberg in Canada , where respect of backward cultures and religions comes before women’s and children’s rights, where cultural ghettoes have become an ideal heaven to crush any desire in women to be free.

In the case of Aqsa Parvez, a brave girl who put herself at the forefront of the struggle for a well deserved human life, the Islamic groups that promote Islamic law and Islamic schools and are looking for more shares in power should be held responsible the most. They are the ones who push for enclosed and regressive communities in the heart of Canada and have created little Irans , Afghanistans , Somalias and Pakistans . They are the ones to blame for convincing families and individuals to accept the barbaric rules and regulations, and for not having any mercy for their own children and family members.

This cruelty to our children and women should not be tolerated and must be condemned strongly. Harsh punishment must be considered for those who abuse or victimize children and women under so-called Islamic action.

FP: What is the nature of the Islamic regime in Iran ?

Arjomand: The Islamic regime of Iran by nature is Islamic based on Islamic ideology. It is well known as anti-freedom, anti–women and anti-secularism. Its brutal laws represent anti-modernism and anti all progressive social values. This regime is founded on the principles of terror, imprisonment, torture, execution, and stoning.

FP: Share with us some more of your thoughts on political Islam.

Arjomand: Political Islam as a movement is very active in politics and is after its own state and its share of power. Other aspects such as culture and laws serve its political desire and its political needs. This movement rides on the mass of people who are oppressed and isolated. They are the ones who are out of patience with discrimination and oppression and have no hope for social improvement by parties in power and have no hope for modern and progressive alternatives. This movement appears as anti-Western, not necessarily anti-‘western government’, but rather anti ‘western values and standards’. It is misogynistic and goes against modernism. It is extremely anti-secular.

This is a movement that will not hesitate to do anything in order to push back its oppositions and gain recognition by the states in the West. This is sometimes done through terrorizing people by implanting bombs in the busiest streets, cinemas, subway stations, hospitals and schools. This creates a parallel power structure within the surrounding societies. This movement will do anything to penetrate the Legal system, whether it uses a bad piece of legislation such as the Ontario Arbitration Act 1991 or by taking the law into its own hands by imposing a completely different structure of human relations within society. This is done by removing civic culture where citizens are free and equal and replacing it with ethics laid down in Sharia.

This movement has no actual economic or social plan, but it is aware that any form of democracy in countries such as Iran , Iraq , Pakistan and Egypt would end up in a mass secular uprising and the growth of labor movements. Even in Saudi Arabia no Sheik can survive more than a few days if true democracy were allowed to exist.

FP: Are you optimistic that Iranians can overthrow the regime?

Arjomand: Iran , as a society, has been dedicated to civilization and has the thirst for modernism and Western culture. The struggle of women against the compulsory veil, attraction of young girls to achieve university degrees and higher education, attraction of youth towards Western culture, music, film and fashion, the struggle of women to obtain the right to divorce and the right to have custody of their children, right to travel and work, all present the strength of a very strong secular movement in Iran.

There is an approach that opposes a cultural and intellectual secular democracy in Iran . The followers of this approach first assume 90% of people in Iran are Moslem just because by birth they are. They further assume that the members of society in Iran have no desire for political freedom and civil rights and then based on this assumption; they conclude that citizens of the society in Iran are followers of a backward tradition and religion. Their proposal is to put more effort on education, mostly cultural education, and criticize religion in a philosophical way. The followers of this approach purposely ignore the grass root movement for secularism and try to prevent religion from falling. They have indeed tried hard to save the Islamic Regime of Iran by planting the notion that Islam can become moderate.

But the reality and the need of society, as well as the move of people in Iran , have proven something different. In order to survive, the people of Iran need to achieve a modern civil life. It is impossible to ask highly educated women to deny their basic rights and to become submissive towards the men in their households. It is impossible to treat women as second-class citizens while they are holding jobs in industrial firms or service offices. It is impossible to expect youths not to enjoy the happy colorful life and live like the student of theology, in an era of the internet and high technology.

The reality is that the movement of secular democracy has been pushed back by the religious role (political Islam) and people of Iran are well aware of it. This is why we are promoting a mass movement with the banner of ‘freedom and secularism’ to overthrow this regime.


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