Rage Against the Veil: The Courageous Life and Death of an Islamic Dissident.

Rage Against the Veil: The Courageous Life and Death of an Islamic Dissident. – book review

Barbara Stocker

Rage Against the Veil: The Courageous Life and Death of an Islamic Dissident by Parvin Darabi and Romin P, Thomson (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1999); 274 pp.; $26,95 cloth,

On February 21, 1994, in the middle of a public square in the Iranian capital of Tehran, a woman took off her veil, doused herself with gasoline, then ignited herself on fire. As she stood in flames she screamed, “Death to tyranny! Long live freedom! Long live Iran!” That woman was Dr. Homa Darabi, a well-known doctor of medicine and psychiatry, a university professor, and a political activist.

Rage Against the Veil is her story–one that sent shockwaves through the American medical and feminist communities. Told by Parvin Darabi, Homa’s sister, and Parvin’s son, Romin P. Thomson, this detailed biography re-creates the Islamic Republic of Iran under the government of God, where the manifest dark side of religion is unequaled since the Inquisition.

It begins with the childhood of the two sisters in an Iran that was becoming more progressive and Westernized. Homa and Parvin enjoyed school and were expected to finish their studies because their father wanted them to become professionals–even though his wife had been pulled from her classroom at the age of thirteen to marry a man eighteen years her senior whom she had never met.

Realizing that a college degree could help her move upward economically, Homa graduated at the top of her class and decided to apply to medical school. She competed with thousands of students from all over the country to win one of only 300 places in the tuition-free school. It was there she became active in politics and joined the Pan-Iranist party. And she was early on her way to becoming a respected civil rights leader when she was arrested and jailed for one demonstration.

Parvin, today an activist and writer in her own right, moved to the United States in 1964. Four years later Homa and her husband, a fellow student she had married while in medical school, followed to continue their studies. When Homa returned to Iran without her sister, she established a clinic for mentally ill children. Previously it had been assumed nothing could be done for these children, and they were committed to state-owned hospitals that were little more than prisons.

But soon it was 1979 and Khomeini had taken over leadership of Iran. Many who had opposed the shah to help Khomeini come to power believed he would bring democracy to the country–but they were wrong. Instead he quickly established an Islamic state where Islamic law was strictly enforced. This became particularly oppressive to women, who were forced to wear garments that covered all but their hands and faces and were allowed to leave their homes only with a close male relative as chaperone. Many laws under this patriarchal regime–from marriage and divorce law to inheritance law and testimony in court–discriminated against women. Violence against women was tolerated, even encouraged.

Rage Against the Veil shows the sequence of events leading up to and following the Islamic takeover and how the Iranian people were affected as history unfolded. The book provides powerful insights into the lives of women under the regime, revealing Homa’s increasing frustration and depression over the direction her life took in Khomeini’s Iran. It also reveals her family’s efforts to help, particularly Parvin’s attempts to persuade her sister to move back to the United States. In doing so, the book poignantly tries to answer the question of why one fiery act of desperation was needed to bring awareness to the plight of all women in Islamic countries. This is a story that should be read by a wide audience interested in redressing violence against women.

Barbara Stocker is managing editor of the American Rationalist.

COPYRIGHT 2000 American Humanist Association

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