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  • Introduction:Dissent: The Politics and Poetics of Women's Resistance
  • Shahrzad Mojab (bio)

I find an enormous challenge for us critical feminist scholars and activists in understanding, explaining, and acting upon women's reality not only in the Middle East, but throughout the world. The world is messy, unfair, and chaotic, but it is at the same time budding with ingenious feminist analyses and forms of resistance. To capture and showcase the theoretical deliberation and the inspirational work of critical feminist researchers and activists, the conference "Dissent: The Politics and Poetics of Women's Resistance" was organized by the Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto in the spring of 2010. This inaugural international feminist conference was funded by the Hammed Shahidian Legacy Initiative,1 and it brought together scholars, activists, community groups, students, artists, and performers from around the world for debate, discussion, inquiry, and deliberation on contemporary feminist thought, politics, and praxis as they relate predominantly to the Middle East. From the political to the personal, this conference was a conversation on questions pertinent to feminist resistance; its status, its history, its failures, its successes, its poetics. Dissent and resistance were the valences upon which questions of religion, colonial histories, neoliberal regimes, genocide, historical memory, gender violence, women's movements, and women's survival were interrogated.

The three articles included in this special section were presented at the conference, and they broadly address themes such as the poetics of women's resistance, the site of history in political struggle, passionate activisms, and a renewed analysis of feminist theory of intersectionality. "Dissent: The Politics and Poetics of Women's Resistance" predates the Arab Spring, Arab revolution, or Occupy movements. In fact, these essays provide much insight into this rapidly developing and elusive global condition.

As I am writing this introduction, we are approaching the first anniversary of the mass uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Women's presence in the street politics of the region has been captured by both mainstream and social media. On 20 December 2011, we witnessed the largest Egyptian women's demonstration since their 1919 march against British colonialism. This time, though, they marched to demand the end of military rule after the images of soldiers beating, stripping, and kicking a female protestor were televised throughout [End Page 408] the world. However, women's visibility has not yet brought to the streets an agenda for women's emancipation. At the same time, a host of patriarchal forces, from tribalism, to feudalism, to religious fundamentalism and imperialism, aims at controlling this new social force. In the context of writing this introduction and thinking through a year since the Arab revolution, I have been reflecting on my personal, political, and pedagogical encounters with the Iranian revolution of 1979 in which I was a participant. Thinking through that experience, I have gone through contradictory emotional and thought processes. Emotionally it has been disturbing but exhilarating; politically it has been devastating but decisive; pedagogically it has been both confusing and illuminating. Much like the street uprisings of the Arab world in 2011, the 1979 Iranian revolution was male-centered, in spite of women's presence. This was, in part, because women were not organized as a women's force, with their own agenda, vision, and organization. In other words, women did not participate in the revolution as an independent political entity with a platform of transforming patriarchal gender relations.2 In discussing the outcome of the 1979 revolution for women in Iran, the consequences of its defeat, followed by unceasing resistance to this day, my hope is that this personal-historical analysis offers a ground to better understand and explain the "politics and poetics of women's resistance" in the region as it unfolds at the moment.

Living and Learning Revolution

My revolutionary experience is rooted in a number of interconnected struggles ranging from student and women's movements to antiwar, anti-apartheid, and Aboriginal people's rights in Iran and North America. In these struggles, I learned to rebel against myself and social relations around me. I became a revolutionary intensely in love with the struggle for justice, and I developed a vision...


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