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Ahmadinejad’s Brutal Campaign Against Gays

In response to:

Divided Iran on the Eve from the July 2, 2009 issue

To the Editors:

Malise Ruthven’s “Divided Iran on the Eve” [NYR, July 2] ignores how Janet Afary’s superb book, Sexual Politics in Modern Iran, contains the most complete, sensitive, and rigorously documented account of how extensively homosexuality was woven into the cultural and social history of Iran for over a thousand years.

Ruthven’s review catalogues the many repressive measures against women instituted under the Ayatollah Khomeini at the founding of the Islamic Republic, but omits how he instituted the death penalty for same-sex relations, a lethal punishment that Iranian human rights organizations say has been applied to at least four thousand homosexuals since 1979.

Since Ahmadinejad came to power, the anti-homosexual campaign, enforced by the thugs of the Basiji militia, has used entrapment in Internet chat rooms, raids on private homes and private parties, and widespread torture to compile lists of tens of thousands of suspected homosexuals. Victims are tortured until they “name names” of other homosexuals, and sometimes forced to confess to other “crimes” they did not commit, and for which they are then executed….

As a journalist who has interviewed dozens of gay Iranian torture victims and chronicled their heartbreaking stories, I wish your reviewer had seen fit to recognize this horrific repression, and to acknowledge the enormous contribution Afary has made in restoring the history of Persian and Iranian homosexuality that the ayatollahs are so determined to erase.

Doug Ireland
International Affairs Editor
Gay City News, New York City

Malise Ruthven replies:

In attempting an overview of three major studies on the eve of Iran’s presidential election it seemed important to focus on themes relating most directly to the campaign and prospects for US engagement. Given the limitations of space, an article reviewing more than a thousand pages of closely argued and documented text by different authors—less than one tenth of which addressed issues of homosexuality—was bound to contain omissions, and I am grateful to Doug Ireland for drawing your readers’ attention to some of them.

Another reader, who flatters me by mistaking me for a woman, questioned my description of Reza Shah Pahlavi as a “general.” Before the coup d’état that brought him to power in 1921, Reza Khan (as he then was) was a brigadier and commander of Persia’s Russian-trained Cossack Brigade (the only Persian to have held this rank). Although in the US brigadiers are referred to as brigadier generals, I accept that prior to his becoming commander in chief of the army and emperor, I may have overpromoted him.

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