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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 30 March 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Islamic State Recruits Syrian Women in Al-Bab

 New Age Islam News Bureau

30 March 2015

Kurdish Yazidi women Photo: AFP


 500 Yazidi Women Rescued From Islamic State Captivity

 A ‘Moderate’ Imam of France Claims ‘All Women Are Selfish’

 With Men Out Of Work, Syrian Women Become Sole Providers

 Ultra-Orthodox Woman, Ruth Colian, Fights for Representation in Knesset

 Iran Holds First Ever Fashion Week

 An Empowered, Persecuted Arab Woman, As a Violin in “One Thousand And One Nights”

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Islamic State recruits Syrian women in al-Bab

30 March, 2015

Aleppo, Syria – The Islamic State group (IS/ISIS) recruited a number of women from poor families to work in the group’s ranks in the countryside of the city of al-Bab in the Aleppo province, northern Syria, local sources reported on Sunday.

Speaking to ARA News, Hani Mustafa, from the village of Qalaat Kalbin in the al-Bab countryside, said that the group announced Saturday about its need for a number of young women to work in its ranks in order to inspect rural women who come from areas out of the group’s control as well as conducting investigations with them.

“Many women responded to the group’s call and joined in its ranks,” Mustafa added.

“The reason behind these women joining such a bloody organization (IS) is their urgent need for financial support due to the deteriorating economic conditions, and IS lured them with high salaries,” the source explained.

Yasser Haji, an eyewitness from al-Bab, told ARA News that the radical group “picked a number of young women from poor families, exploiting their need for work”.

“Many of these young women responded to the group’s request because they fear their families might be targeted and harmed by the extremists,” Haji added.

Salem Halabi, a Kurdish journalist from Aleppo, told ARA News that the IS militants usewomen in their ranks in order to inspect other women coming from areas under the control of the Kurdish forces or the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) rebels.

“The group fears that some of those women coming to al-Bab have links with anti-IS armed factions, who might infiltrate the group’s ranks and be able to leak intelligence information,” Halabi said.

Noteworthy, the village of Qaar Kalbin, where Kurds constitute a majority, has recently experienced brutal practices conducted by the radical group towards its residents on charges of helping people escape the IS-held city of al-Bab.



500 Yazidi women rescued from Islamic State captivity

30 March, 2015

SULAIMANI -- About 500 Yazidi women have been rescued from the Islamic State (IS) out of an estimated 4,000 in captivity, according to the the Head of the Women's Rights Defense Committee in the Kurdistan parliament.

Speaking to NRT's 'Good Morning Kurdistan' show on Sunday, Evar Ibrahim said 157 women of the 500 rescued are in bad psychological and physical condition and are receiving treatment in Duhok.

IS militants overran the predominantly Yazidi district of Sinjar in August 2014, sending hundreds of Yazidis fleeing up Mount Sinjar.

Hundreds more were captured, enslaved, or killed by militants.

“When Daesh entered Sinjar, they committed many crimes like beheading men and making women hostages in Kojo village,” Ibrahim said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

She added, “We as the committee asked the Iraqi Defense Ministry, Peshmerga Ministry and Interior Ministry of the Kurdistan Region to try to rescue the Yazidi women soon.”

Some of the women captives are believed to have been sold in Tal Afar, Iraq and in the IS-stronghold of Raqqa in Syria.

According to Ibrahim, "the cheapest price of the sold women was $10 and the most expensive was $100.”



A ‘Moderate’ Imam of France Claims ‘All Women Are Selfish’

30 March, 2015

An imam in France has claimed in a sermon that selfishness is part of “the nature of women”, comments that have shocked all the more because of his reputation as a progressive influence on Islam in the country.

“No matter how much good you bestow upon a woman, she will deny it. Her selfishness drives her to deny it.” These were the words of Imam Mohamed Khattabi, delivered during a Friday sermon at the Aicha Mosque in Montpellier, southern France, on March 6, two days before International Women’s Day.

Standing high in the mosque’s Minbar (pulpit), Khattabi continued: “This holds true for all women, whether Western, Arab, Muslim, Jewish, or Christian. This is the nature of women.

“If a woman overcomes her nature and acknowledges [the truth] … Allah grants her a higher place in paradise. But if she succumbs to her nature, and refuses to acknowledge the man's rights – or rather, the goodness that man bestows upon her – she is destined to go to [hell]…”

A video of the sermon, delivered in Arabic, was posted online complete with a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute (Memri).


But the video also shows how, earlier in the sermon, Khattabi told worshippers how Islam teaches women’s rights. “It was Islam that enabled women to raise their heads high,” he said.

A Muslim authority in the Montpellier region told FRANCE 24 that the sermon was employing a kind of “doublespeak” – sometimes moderate, sometimes radical.

This, it seems, is something typical of the 54-year-old Moroccan-Canadian cleric.

Khattabi has previously drawn on Salafism and its literal interpretation of the Koran as well as the Muslim Brotherhood in sermons addressing international issues, most notably last summer during the conflict between Israel and Gaza.

“The Friday sermon is about love, about appeasement,” says a local religious figure, who wished to remain anonymous. “Importing such a conflict, in a mosque in front of 400 people, isn’t a good idea. It worries me – it’s the youth who hear these speeches, those who are lost and do not have the tools to analyse the words.

“If imams start to mix politics with sermons, things are no longer going well.”

Contacted by FRANCE 24, the French Muslim Council (CFCM), the department of religions of the French Interior Ministry and the mayor’s office in Montpellier all refused to comment on Imam Khattabi’s remarks on women.

This kind of rhetoric has got Khattabi in trouble before. After ten years as the rector of the Grand Mosque of Montpellier, Khattabi was forced out of his post in November last year by the mosque’s governing association, ACMIR.

The association, which preaches “togetherness” and “openness” said the imam’s views were “not compatible” with its own vision.

"Mohamed Khattabi is alleged to have taken decisions and given 'orders without advising legal managers' and to have used ‘Friday sermons for personal goals", reported regional daily le Midi Libre at the time.

Pacifism and tolerance

Yet, up to that point, Khattabi had been known more for his pacifism and tolerance.

In June 2013, while still imam of the Grand Mosque of Montpellier; he described himself to the French daily Le Monde as a “promoter of an Islam within French society, of coexistence”.

After the discovery of the death in Syria of several young jihadists from the town of Lunel, located 30km from Montpellier, he issued a warning to other young French Muslims not to get “bamboozled” by extremist organisations, like the Islamic State group.

Khattabi, who sometimes gives sermons in Lunel, went on to explain he had "personally" known one of the young men from the town who had died in Syria, who he said had probably become radicalised while on a trip abroad.

"They are not martyrs. They are not heroes! They are zeros!" he said.

The charismatic Khattabi enjoys significant popularity with the region’s Muslim community, particularly among young people who have “gathered around him”, the local religious source told FRANCE 24.

Many of these supporters have rallied to his cause following his sacking as Grand Mosque rector.

“Our imam had to leave the mosque because the members of the board had met a few days earlier to draw up an official notice of dismissal. They accused the imam of embezzlement without proof,” said one angry supporter on the website Islam & Info.

Khattabi himself has denounced his dismissal as “political” in a video released online, while leaflets with a similar message were distributed in Montpellier.

Another online commenter claimed the imam was relieved from duty as the result of a “putsch by the Socialist councillors of Montpellier”.



With men out of work, Syrian women become sole providers

30 March, 2015

AMMAN, Jordan — Farah slams the office door in tears, running down the stairs, through the parking lot and onto a hill overlooking downtown Amman. The 18-year-old tucks her headscarf in as she glares at the darkening sky, her father and brothers’ bickering still echoing in her mind.

Farah’s father hasn’t worked since their family left Homs in 2012. Barred from employment in Jordan, he watches the news all day, cursing the television scenes of Syria’s destruction until Farah’s brothers tell him to shut up. Ahmad, 17, has changed jobs three times in the last four months, making 13 Jordanian dinars ($18) a day for manual labor in restaurants and metalwork shops. Tamer, 15, doesn’t go to school either. He spends excess energy in fights with their father, pent up in the rented office they’ve turned into a makeshift home.

“They weren’t like this in Syria,” Farah said about her family, now in their third year as refugees in Jordan. Her mother works long hours at a physical rehabilitation center for Syrian amputees, leaving Farah to cope with tensions at home. She runs outside when it gets overwhelming, but not for too long. Young men leer at her on the street, whispering, “Ya Souriyeh, hey Syrian girl, come here.” Farah grits her teeth and ignores them, but still prefers not to be on her own.

Four years into the Syrian conflict, Jordan has become host to more than 620,000 refugees, of whom almost 80% are women and children. Amid evaporating aid, rising rents and crackdowns on refugee labor, single women head one in four of all Syrian refugee households. Many suffer psychological trauma, social marginalization, ongoing gender-based violence and little access to protection or information. Those who survive do so one day at a time, relying on female social networks for support. Women must reach out to one another, they say, because no one can survive this crisis alone.

Farah’s mother, Umm Ahmad, 39, used to work as a Red Crescent nurse with Iraqi refugees in Syria. Now she nurses disabled Syrian children in Jordan, making 150 Jordanian dinars ($211) a month. Their rent is 200 Jordanian dinars ($282), paid through her and Ahmad’s joint income. Nursing has always been her passion, Umm Ahmad said, but it’s different now that she’s a refugee herself.

“I am so tired in my mind. I’m always thinking, how to pay rent? What if I lose this job? If there was security in Syria I would go back immediately,” Umm Ahmad said. She stays in Jordan for her children’s sake, but fears they are stunted by trauma, anxiety and lack of education. “When we crossed the border, I felt like, ‘I want to die now,’” Umm Ahmad said. “My life means nothing. I am only living to keep my children alive.”

But at least Umm Ahmad’s family is together, the nurse said, unlike those of her patients. Sara, 22, was studying literature in Daraa when hit by shelling in November 2013. Seven pieces of shrapnel became lodged in her leg. Sara lost consciousness. Her mother and brother rushed her to the Jordanian border, where security forces stopped them but allowed Sara to cross for emergency care. Doctors amputated her leg. When Sara woke up, she found herself alone in Jordan, missing a leg and separated from her family.

“I couldn’t speak for two months,” Sara said, explaining how trauma numbed her world. Her family is still in Syria. They speak every few months, when her parents have sufficient electricity and phone reception. Sara had gotten engaged two weeks before the shelling. Her fiance canceled the engagement, not wanting or able to marry a handicapped girl on the other side of the border.

“I hate the word ‘refugee.’ People say it like we’re slaves, less than slaves,” Sara said. She’s learning to use a prosthetic leg, but doesn’t know how she’ll survive after leaving the rehabilitation center. Syrian women have priceless dignity, Sara said, but in Jordan, they feel like prey. “I feel like everyone wants a piece of me. Like any man could come get me, especially because I can’t live on my own.”

Fear and anxiety take myriad forms among refugee women, but single women are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence: harassment, domestic abuse, sexual exploitation and physical assault. The result is often isolated confinement, either self-imposed or enforced by family members for women’s “protection.” One-third of female-headed households surveyed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said they left the house never, rarely or only when necessary. Child marriage has also increased, rising from 25% of registered Syrian marriages in Jordan in 2013 to 31% in the first quarter of 2014.

“Many cases of early marriage happen because women feel they are leaving abusive situations to a potentially better one,” Daniela Greco, the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) women’s protection coordinator, said. But child marriages usually worsen the brides’ situations, Greco said, adding that domestic abuse constitutes more than half of the IRC's gender-based violence caseloads. “Most perpetrators are the women’s intimate partners or primary caregivers,” Greco said.

Jordan’s social and legal context provides little protection for Jordanian women, let alone refugees. Jordanian law allows rapists to escape penalty by marrying their victims. Murder is punishable by death, but perpetrators who raise an “honor” defense — that is, they killed their wife or sister because they caught her committing adultery — have their sentences reduced. Fifteen to 20 of these “honor” killings take place each year.

Fear of social rejection and financial deprivation keep women from going to court, said Samar Muhareb, director of ARDD-Legal Aid, a Jordanian nonprofit that provides pro bono legal assistance to vulnerable women. “In many communities, one word will take away your identity, history and life. ‘She’s seeking a lawyer, so she must have another man in her life,’ they say, and it’s over. Even if it’s not an honor killing, you get shame and isolation.” Vulnerability doubles for refugee women. “Their only safety net is marriage.”

But some Syrian women are finding alternatives. Farah, for example, was terrified when she entered Jordan as a 16 year old. She used to stay home all day, crying and fighting with her mother. Several months into asylum, she started attending weekly art classes at a center run by the Jordanian Women’s Union. Soon she was talking and laughing normally, and entered a Jordanian school.

“I like Jordan because I decided to like it,” Farah said. “We didn’t deserve to become refugees, but we’re not the only ones. Look at the Iraqis and Palestinians. What if we all gave up on life? I have my family here and I’m studying. Those are the most important things.”

Farah used to have a 14-year-old neighbor, she said, a girl upstairs who was married to another 20-year-old Syrian. The neighbor stayed home alone all day as her husband looked for work. “I tried to teach her and invite her to the center, but her husband said no,” Farah said. Then they moved away. “That’s crazy to marry at 14, right?” Farah leaned forward, brow wrinkled. “I’m 18 and I still feel so young. She’s just a little girl.”

Refugees’ gender roles are shifting, Greco said. Syrian women are taking up household leadership because traditional male breadwinners are across the border, killed in conflict or unable to work for fear of detainment. “It’s not natural social change. It’s a sudden push caused by displacement and violence,” Greco said. Under unprecedented public exposure, Syrian women may become icons of victimhood and sexual exploitation. But that’s not what they want, Greco said, especially when given a chance to assert themselves.

“Violence is not something you choose. It’s oppression, someone else exercising control over you. Why would you choose to define yourself like that?” Daniela said. “How many people have asked Syrian women, how do you describe yourself?”

Social networks empower refugee women by providing support, understanding and an alternate “safety net” in female connection. They can also challenge social norms that put girls at risk. When Huda, 16, started attending an IRC program for adolescent girls in Mafraq, she and her mother both thought early marriage was normal. “I thought marriage would make things easier for girls,” Huda’s mother said. “We didn’t think about the risks for violence.”

Umm Huda’s priority is her children’s resilience. When they crossed the border in April 2014, her 3- and 7-year-old daughters saw the approaching Jordanian security forces and started screaming, thinking they would shoot. “We adults were afraid, too,” Umm Huda said. “But I wanted to teach my children to be strong. My daughter would beg me to let her sleep with us in the middle of the night. I’d say, no, we’re safe. I swear to God, darling, we’re safe.”

Now Huda and her mother are against child marriage. Huda sleeps through the night on her own. She isn’t going to school, but loves her adolescent support sessions and wants to do a research project on child labor.

Both mother and daughter resent the portrayal of Syrian women as vulnerable and easily exploited. “Syrian women are in need. But that doesn’t mean we’ve lost our honor,” Umm Huda said. She glanced at Huda. “We are weak, but we haven’t forgotten our dignity. We cannot let people take advantage of us. I am Syrian. I am still Syrian and I am proud to be Syrian.”



Ultra-Orthodox Woman, Ruth Colian, Fights for Representation in Knesset

30 March, 2015

The name of the most courageous woman in Israel is Ruth Colian. This petite mother of four, age 34 is conducting a courageous but doomed battle from within the ultra-Orthodox community in which she lives against the Orthodox rabbinical establishment. I have been following her with wonder and admiration for several years. Colian has sworn to bring to light the plight of hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jewish women, and to free them from lives of enslavement, abuse and anonymity.

She has created a political party of ultra-Orthodox women — the first in the history of the State of Israel — that ran for a seat in the Knesset on March 17. For many years, she has exhausted the legal system and other institutions with petitions, demonstrations and locally organized rebellions: for instance, in the municipal elections in the town of Petah Tikva, in the elections for the student council of a college and in struggles against various religious institutions. She does it all virtually alone, with her own two hands, fighting tooth and nail. She encounters defeat after defeat, gets up, dusts herself off and moves on. She knows that her victory will be measured by the clock of history. At some point, maybe in a year, or 10 or 50, an ultra-kosher Orthodox woman will get her very own seat in Israel’s Knesset, the legislative body of the State of Israel. When that happens, that woman will know that her path to the Knesset was prepared by Colian.

Intensive coverage has been accorded by Western media to women living under radical Islamic rule: Saudi women not allowed to drive a car, women disenfranchised of the right to vote, to express and realize themselves and women devoid of personal freedoms. The media devotes very little space to the condition of Jewish women in the ultra-Orthodox world. There are several large ultra-Orthodox communities in the United States, and in Israel a huge ultra-Orthodox community flourishes, with about 1 million members, about half of them women.

Ultra-Orthodox women are generally forced to bear on their own the burden of providing for the family (the men often devote their lives to holy studies). They raise a large number of children (an estimated average of six to seven per family), slave away around the clock to maintain jobs and the home, bear and raise children, clean, cook and so on, while hidden by their community inside their homes. These women are virtually not seen in public. They vote in Knesset elections but as far as their community is concerned they are not allowed to run in them (none of Israel’s three ultra-Orthodox parties — Shas, Yahadut HaTorah and the new party of Eli Yishai, Beyachad — have female lawmakers). They are not involved in political activity and do not take part in festivals and joyous occasions, unless they are discreetly hidden. Even at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, they are discriminated against: Their access to the area is from a narrow side entrance. They are banned from mixing with men in public. They are forced to cover their hair, sometimes their face, and wear modest clothing; the more radical among them force the women to shave their heads and to wear a scarf or a wig instead.

Colian is one of the first to dare come out against these phenomena in public, trying to breach the walls of the women’s ghetto. She tried to run in the elections for the student council at the college where she studied law and in the municipal elections in the town where she lives, Petah Tikva. She conducts bitter struggles in all sorts of areas and each time finds herself facing the entire ultra-Orthodox rabbinical establishment. They try to kick her young children out of the ultra-Orthodox institutions where they go to school, curb her activities, designate her a rebel, a heathen, a traitor. She was supposed to have broken down and given up a long time ago, but she hasn't.

When the Knesset elections moved up to March 17, she decided to turn the tables on the establishment and established a movement called “Bizchutan, ultra-Orthodox women foster change.” She somehow managed to raise the required funds and put together a list of Knesset candidates. Together with three other ultra-Orthodox women she worked on getting through to ultra-Orthodox women and convincing them to pick her party as their representative when they find themselves behind the curtain at their polling station. Elections in Israel are conducted by secret ballot, and in principle, this could have been possible. But Colian, without funding or rich backers, had been unable to even film campaign commercials for television and social media (which all other parties produced). When she tried to place advertisements in the ultra-Orthodox press, she was turned down on the spot.

Two weeks before the elections, Colian had been holding discreet negotiations with Yesh Atid, the centrist party of Yair Lapid, one of the strongest liberal voices in Israel. The idea had been to sign a surplus vote-sharing agreement between the two parties. Such a move would position Colian at the top of the media agenda and provide her with the needed publicity. Lapid, who had yet to sign a surplus vote-sharing agreement with any party, gave the idea serious consideration. There is no electoral value of such an agreement with a party that will not reach the electoral threshold, but signing it would generate great ethical and moral value for Lapid, one of whose flagship issues has been the fight against the ultra-Orthodox establishment and the effort to impose a military draft on ultra-Orthodox men and to encourage them to go out into the workplace, instead of studying all day.

In the end, Lapid opted for investing his energies in an attempt to reach a surplus vote-sharing agreement with Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Camp. Simple politics trumped morality. Colian, in despair, considered a street demonstration with her party’s other candidates in the town of Beit Shemesh, with its particularly radical ultra-Orthodox community. “We want to stand on the sidewalk on which women are not permitted to walk, across from the synagogue, and see what happens,” she told Al-Monitor the week before the elections. “I know this could result in a big melee, but someone has to do this at some point.”

Beit Shemesh has often made the headlines in recent years after ultra-Orthodox radicals attacked women — cursing them, spitting at them and insulting them after they walked on sidewalks that had been designated off-limits. These are exactly the kinds of phenomena that Colian is fighting.

Following the elections, she sounded defiant. “I'm not naive. I know that the minute the elections are over, Yair Lapid and all the other politicians won’t give us the time of day, us ultra-Orthodox women. They will need the ultra-Orthodox parties in the government coalition and will forget our existence. But we are here. We are hundreds of thousands of women fed up with being a disciplined pool of voters. Women who want to realize dreams, who are sick of looking on from the sidelines, discarded in corners and used for the sake of procreation, cooking and cleaning. Every such woman is a whole universe. Among us are very talented women, who could be effective in public office. It’s about time that someone represent this large group in the legislature. Someone closely familiar with our distress. One day it will happen,” she said.

In the run-up to the elections, Colian's party scored its first isolated victory when the Lod District Court complied with the party's demand to require the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Ne’eman to print a fully paid election advertisement in its name. The newspaper quickly appealed to the Supreme Court, which decided to overturn the decision until more exhaustive deliberations on the issue could be held. The women did not give up. Meanwhile, they received the unexpected support of reserve Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, former head of the National Security Council, who publicly declared his support for the party. Eiland even donated money toward their improvised election campaign.

But on the day of the election, they were less successful. The Bizchutan list (Hebrew for “in their merit") garnered 1,977 votes. To meet the electoral threshold and earn four seats in the Knesset, more than 120,000 votes are required. But Colian and her friends are far from despair and will continue on the path they have set for themselves. The number of votes they received coincidentally represents an important historic year (1977) in the annals of Israel — it was the year of the first “great political turnabout” of the state. That was when the Likud Party rose to power and replaced the Labor Party, which had ruled Israel for the first 30 years of its existence. Someday, the turnabout of ultra-Orthodox women will also take place. The first baby step in that direction has already been taken. Now the journey begins.



Iran holds first ever fashion week

30 March, 2015

New York, Paris and Milan recently held major events to showcase fashion trends for next fall.

For the first time, Tehran has, too.

Contradicting the view prevalent in the West that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the land of the covered and the drab, young Iranian designers presented a variety of up-to-date styles for men and women during Iran’s first ever fashion week, taking place Feb. 7-9 at the Sam Center in north Tehran.

Six of the seven designers who participated are women — among them Neda Sadeghi. She told Al-Monitor in an email interview that Iranian women are increasingly involved in the fashion industry not only as customers but as business owners and investors, both “visible or as silent partners [as well as] managers and sales people.”

Sadeghi, who designs clothing for men, said she started designing five years ago and has been in business for three. Although her annual sales are tiny by Western standards — between $100,000 and $150,000 — the business is “God willing, growing” and expanding to neighboring states, she said.

“My main goal is to show my line to bigger companies in the West,” Sadeghi told Al-Monitor.

Other designers who participated were Pooneh Askarian, Orchid Ganji, Naghmeh Sadeghi, Monir Davaei, Nasim Akhavan and Arshia Deylami, all of whom design clothes for women.

“There are two sides in design and fashion in Iran,” Sadeghi said. “The everyday legally allowable to wear on the street [whose limits are constantly being pushed by women] and the other side of it is what they wear at home or at private parties. But you can still see lots of different designs and colors on the street and in all the boutiques.”

This reporter can vouch for the dramatic shift in what women wear in Tehran in public. Where dark colors and shapeless sacks were obligatory 20 years ago, now those under 50 prefer form-fitting tunics and dresses in bright hues.

Many of the outfits on sale in Tehran boutiques could easily be worn by women in the West; they could simply dispense with the pants or leggings and head coverings required to meet the Iranian government’s regulations for female attire in public.

Sadeghi said that to present designs at fashion shows, it was necessary to get government permission. “You do need to apply and get certain labels for each design,” she told Al-Monitor. “But in general any design or color can be sold in boutiques.”

Indeed, Iranian officials appear to have given up trying to dictate exactly what sort of hijab, or Islamic covering, women must wear. Increasingly, Iranian women can be seen in leggings instead of pants and headscarves so minimal that they expose most of a woman’s hair.

Men’s clothes have also come a long way, as evidenced by Sadeghi’s avant-garde designs.

Sadeghi and other Iranian designers are well aware of trends in Western fashion, which Iranians follow on the Internet and when they travel abroad. Often the latest European fads reach Tehran before they hit the United States. In January 2005, this reporter flew from Paris — where pink was the big color that winter — to Iran only to find that all the fashionable women were also sporting pink clothing and accessories; the color only became popular in the United States months later.

“I always try to follow European and American design,” Sadegh said. “Because of the nature of my business I have to be up to date and this is also what my clients expect from me. Fashion design in Iran — unlike what is being shown in Western countries on television — is extremely up to date and constantly changing.”

Asked which Western designers she admired most, Sadegh said there were two: Alexander McQueen, who died in 2010 but whose London fashion house still designs cutting-edge clothing, and Balmain, whose founder, Pierre Balmain, died in 1982 but whose Paris company remains known for haute couture.

Sharif Razavi, who designs clothes and also manages an institute that mentors young designers, among them Sadeghi, told Al-Monitor that the field is increasingly popular for women.

“Women in Iran are really interested in fashion … and we have too many women who work as fashion designers,” he said. “Here in Iran, women [have started] wearing colored clothes recently. The women care about the cut of clothes.”

Razavi attributed the growth in the industry to greater freedom in dress permitted under the administration of President Hassan Rouhani as well as to the new generation of creative young designers.

Razavi, who said he admires designers Dior, Roberto Cavali and Chanel, was asked by Al-Monitor whether he thought American women might buy Iranian clothing if it was available to them.

He replied, “100%,” and added that he hopes Iran reaches a nuclear agreement with the United States as that might open the way for more trade and interaction between the two countries including exchanging “the latest information with each other” about fashion.



An Empowered, Persecuted Arab Woman, As a Violin in “One Thousand And One Nights”

30 March, 2015

NEW YORK: Scheherazade, the story-telling Arabian queen from “One Thousand and One Nights,” has captured the Western artistic imagination for centuries. In her latest incarnation, she is depicted by a violin as an empowered yet persecuted modern woman. John Adams, one of the leading contemporary U.S. composers, has created a new Scheherazade, who is pursued by religious fanatics in the turmoil of the Arab Spring, in a work that premiered last week at the New York Philharmonic.

Adams called his 40-minute work a dramatic symphony – the term coined by Berlioz for an orchestra pushing the boundaries of narrative – and the violin expresses the full range of emotion of Scheherazade.

Violinist Leila Josefowicz, a frequent collaborator with Adams, offered an intense performance as Scheherazade. Playing without notes, she visibly assumed the persona of her character, at times gazing in a steely manner with the poise of an opera singer.

Adams brought to stage a cimbalom, which from the very start of the work offered a Middle Eastern tinge to music rooted in the Western classical tradition.

A lush tone emerges in the second movement as two harps portray Scheherazade falling in love. Adams, in what he acknowledged was meant to be a provocative move, suggested that the relationship may be with a fellow woman.

The third movement is entitled “Scheherazade and the Men with Beards.” Zealots are represented arguing and condemning Scheherazade through blaring trombones, brusque movements of the string bass and imposing bass drums, as the violin responds with shriek-like arpeggios.

Scheherazade ultimately escapes and finds refuge, but the work ends not with a black-and-white triumph but with a gentle touch of the violin as if showing doubt about the future.

Scheherazade – depicted in “One Thousand and One Nights” as the queen who reads a tale each night to appease a jealous king who put to death his previous brides – has been a favorite theme for Orientalist artists in the West, who rejoiced in exoticizing the Islamic world.

Musically, Scheherazade inspired works at the turn of the last century by the French composer Maurice Ravel and the Russian Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Partially in tribute to the still-popular Rimsky-Korsakov composition, Adams entitled his dramatic symphony “Scheherazade.2.”

Yet it is difficult to cast Adams as a simple neo-Orientalist. He has devoted himself to tackling complex contemporary events including the September 11 attacks and the dawn of the atomic age.

Most controversially, Adams wrote “The Death of Klinghoffer,” a 1991 opera that explores the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the killing of wheelchair-bound Jewish American Leon Klinghoffer by Palestinian hijackers on the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

The opera enraged some pro-Israel groups, especially as Palestinian characters make anti-Semitic remarks. Protesters repeatedly disrupted a production last year at the Metropolitan Opera, around the corner from the New York Philharmonic.

Adams said that he was inspired to write the dramatic symphony after a visit to Paris where he saw an exhibition on Scheherazade at the Institut du Monde Arabe. He later reread “One Thousand and One Nights.”

“I was absolutely shocked and appalled by how casual the brutality towards women was,” he said at the premiere. “And at the same time, I was looking at the Internet and seeing these images of women being oppressed by ‘true believers.’”

In the program notes, Adams said that a Scheherazade of modern times could be the “woman in the blue bra” who was infamously beaten in Egypt’s Tahrir Square or, outside the Arab world, Iranian student Neda Agha-Soltan who died in 2009 opposition protests.

But he added: “We see examples – if not quite so graphic, nonetheless profoundly disturbing – from everywhere in the world, including in our own country and even on our own college campuses.”

“Scheherazade.2” will be played in coming months around the world, including by the London Symphony Orchestra in October.