BOOK REVIEW / Allah and Freud are against them: Shusha Guppy is fascinated and saddened by a new survey of Iranian women's lives: In the Eye of the Storm - Ed. M Afkhami & E Friedl: I B Tauris, pounds 5.95

DURING THE upheavals that led to the 1979 revolution in Iran, women's support is supposed to have been the decisive factor in the overthrow of the Shah and the seizure of power by Ayatollah Khomeini. Every day in the news we saw images of women wrapped in black chador shaking their fists and shrieking slogans, like birds of bad omen in a horror movie. This was all the more astonishing as Iranian women were among the most emancipated in the Islamic world.

The Veil which had kept them down for centuries had been abolished in 1936, and within a couple of decades Persian women had flourished in education, medicine and the Civil Service, often on a par with their male peers. In 1963 they achieved the right to vote, and in the following 15 years further reforms enabled them to enter the Parliament and the Cabinet, the Armed Forces and the Law. Finally the Family Protection Law gave them equal rights in marriage and the guardianship of their children. It seemed Iranian women had 'arrived'.

But, as Simone de Beauvoir pointed out, all modern revolutions use women to gain power, promising them freedom and equality in the new order, and then clamping down on them. Iranian women who had fallen for Khomeini's vague rhetoric about 'women's honour' and donned the chador as a 'symbolic gesture' were forced to wear it as soon as the Islamic Republic was established. Again they poured out into the streets clamouring 'at the dawn of freedom, where is our freedom?' - but it was too late.

The new regime proceeded to undo 50 years of gain, repealing all laws related to women's rights. Women were 'encouraged' to leave the workforce, through early 'retirement' or hopeless conditions, while school texts were re-written to emphasise women's domestic role, and 140 subjects of study were closed to them.

Yet as the revolutionary fervour subsided, it became clear that the country could not do without women's work: small concessions were made, and soon women began to reassert themselves, like a body that mobilises its immune system to fight a pernicious virus.

It seems that Iranian women stemmed the reactionary tide with an abundance of creativity - in the arts, literature and politics. In The Eye of The Storm surveys their changing conditions, struggle and achievements. It is based on the proceedings of a conference held in Washington in 1991, to which further contributions have been added. Well-edited and free from jargon, it tells a fascinating, edifying, and often very funny tale - notably concerning sexual mores. It is also sometimes sad.

The editor of the book, Mahnaz Afkhami, was Secretary General of the Women's Organisation before the revolution and one of the two women Cabinet Ministers in the Shah's government - the other was arrested and shot early during the revolution. Driven into exile, Afkhami set up and runs the Institute for Iranian Studies in Washington.

Afkhami's own paper tells the story of the women's movement in Persia, from its early tremors in the 1920s to 1979, in the context of the country's long history - there is a straight line of continuity between the strong, brave, independent heroines of ancient Persian mythology and the gallant women of today, who defy censorship and risk imprisonment to make themselves heard in books, films and political debate. Equally interesting is Haleh Esfandiari's account of the Majlis (Parliament). The Assembly of Experts set up by Ayatollah Khomeini to produce Iran's new constitution had a single chador-clad woman.

In 'The Commoditisation of Sexuality' Fatima Moghadam shows that the treatment of women as 'quasi-commodity, quasi-human' has little to do with Islam, while Shahla Haeri discusses the practice of 'Temporary Marriage', according to which people can 'marry' for as short a time as one hour. The custom had disappeared, but was re-introduced by the Mullahs, to the outrage of women's groups who called it 'legal prostitution'.

But in 1991 Prime Minister Rafsanjani justified it in his Friday sermon from the country's highest pulpit, astounding his massive audience. He invoked first God 'who has given us the sexual instinct . . . which should not be denied', then modern science which proves that 'deprivation is bad' - surely the first time Allah and Freud were simultaneously called to clinch an argument. Thus Rafsanjani 'proved' the 'superiority' of sexual relationship in temporary marriage over its 'chaotic' and 'decadent' Western counterpart.

In poetry, novels, and above all films Persian women have been active. 'More women feature-film directors have emerged in the single decade since the revolution than in all the decades of film-making preceding it,' writes Hamid Nafisi in his survey of the industry. Just as a veiled woman has only her eyes to communicate her feelings, through 'the gaze' of the camera women film directors have defied crippling restrictions and depicted the reality of their lives, winning international recognition.

In The Eye of the Storm is a valuable book, for as Robin Morgan points out in her introduction, Iranian women have born the brunt of fundamentalism at a time when 'all kinds - Christian, Jewish, and Hindu fundamentalism has been rising alarmingly'. And because Muslim women are victims of 'invidious stereotyping of Westerners . . . even Western feminists'. This book restores the reader's faith in the regenerative power of the human spirit, and tells a heart-warming story of courage, resilience, and creative energy.

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower