Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


'Perverted' Sharia slaps artistic freedom

  • 14 October 2011

Marzieh Vafamehr, the Iranian actor currently detained in Iran and awaiting corporal punishment for acting in the Australian film My Tehran for Sale, is the victim of a perverted legal system that has long abandoned any pretence to public interest. Ironically, the film's protagonist, played by Vefamehr, is a young dissident actor whose stage work is banned in Tehran by the authorities.

Vafamehr is close to my age, a middle-class urban woman forging her way in a discipline that demands artistic and intellectual freedom. As an artist, and moreover as a human, her dignity and safety need to be secured, within or without the context of an Islamic state.

I'm drawn to this case as a young woman forging my own way in the arts. I can't imagine the trauma of being imprisoned and sentenced to corporal punishment simply for working.

Although my own politics are to the (sometimes far) left, circumstances have not arisen that required me to act as a true dissident. I enjoy the privilege of having an identity and nationality that afford me legal protection against persecution unless I deliberately harm others.

This liberty needs to extend to all people.

It is easy to critique Iran's judicial system from a secular, democratic position. The Ayatollah's rule of law is archaic and unjust. It is rule by terror and suppression. But perhaps it is more useful to critique the law from a better understanding of sharia, and its place in contemporary Iran. It did not arrive in a vacuum.

In its recent history, Iran saw its democratically-elected prime minister Mossadeq deposed under the orchestration of the MI5 and the CIA, and its resources de-nationalised in the interest of British and American companies. The re-installed Mohammad Reza Shah, although friendly to foreign interests, was incompetent and despotic, infamous for SAVAK, the brutal secret police force.

Under the Shah's rule, religious leaders faced incredible persecution alongside secular political agitators. The 1970s saw the development of a unique brand of Shi'a Islamism, which was as popular for its anti-western nationalism as it was for its radical theology; Iranian communists and nationalists wielded a great deal of influence in the move towards the 1979 revolution.

In contemporary times, the popular appeal of sharia to both liberal and fundamentalist Muslims is pragmatic