From Elad to Iran

From Elad to Iran

Yesterday I took a bus from my ultra-Orthodox Jewish city, Elad, to Jerusalem. We have an unofficial segregation between men, who sit in front, and women, who sit in the back. As I usually do when I have the emotional energy for it – I sat in front and was the only woman there. Except for one request to move back the ride went by peacefully.

The law is on my side and 80 percent of the people on the bus don’t even want this segregation. The chances of me meeting violent resistance are close to none. Still, the emotional burden of sitting in front is grave: It’s not easy being the one who’s different, risking mayhem on the bus.

But there’s more to it. Those fighting for the segregation do so in the name of religion and in the name of God. In the name of the same God I believe in and in the name of the same Jewish laws I observe. We are also, in general, part of the same religious denomination called haredim, the ultra Orthodox. For their cause they collect signatures – real and fabricated – of all the haredim rabbis. The moment I don’t adhere, I’m not opposing them but opposing God. This is what causes other people on the bus, who don’t really agree with the segregation, to stay quiet and sit in their designated area. They don’t want to be less righteous or less religious. Even though, in their hearts, they don’t believe in the segregation.

The protestors in Iran must deal with a regime that coerces them into a radical Islamist way of life, as well as into dissociation from the West, all in the name of a common religion. It is a regime trying to show everyone that if you are Muslim, this is the only possible way to live.

As opposed to a secular semi-dictatorship, such as in the former USSR, in Iran the regime calls upon the power of religion and God. Every now and then they mention that this is the will of the people – after all, the people chose the Islamic Revolution. The opposition is accused of defying Islam and God, and not necessarily defying the will of the people. Peaceful opposition is met, in the name of God and clergy, with possible arrest – and with bullets.

Any struggle for freedom and equality, when meshed with religious values, is always more difficult. How can one fight against what is done in the name of the same God one believes in?

When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad say that the struggle is more than it seems, they probably know what they’re talking about. If Khamenei thought Mir-Hossein Moussavi ruling under Khamenei’s control would suffice, he’d let Moussavi take power. But he knows the people won’t stop there. The people probably want to dissociate themselves from the rule of religious clergy. When Moussavi chose not to take part in Friday prayers led by Khamenei, thus threatened by expulsion from Iran, he echoed the voice of the protestors: Although we are Muslim, we do not accept the all-engulfing rule of religious clergy.

As a religious Jew I believe that religion cannot be forced upon anyone. Observance of religious laws by force, rather than free will, is meaningless. Obviously I would never want to live under a religious regime that forced acts and constraints that aren’t personally acceptable. For this exact reason I would not want a regime forcefully promoting what I believe in and how I act upon anyone else.

As a religious Jew I also know each of us observes our religion in a personal way, and how we all differ in behavior and opinions on so many religious issues. It is ever so clear how impossible it is to force upon someone the methods of observance of another. I see the natural tendency of some, mostly extremists, to say that how they interpret religion and its laws is the only true way, and their continued tendency to say that all their religious colleagues agree with them.

The regime in Iran has, for years, been trying to convince us that Iran and Muslims have only one voice, which shouts “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” and wants to dissociate from Western influence; a singular voice for a radical Islamist way of life.

In opposition to this voice stand my brothers and sisters who are fighting now in Iran for their freedom, with such admirable courage, shouting, “Where is my vote?” It seems to me they mean more than this. They’re really shouting, “Where is my voice? Why is my unique Muslim voice,” they demand to know, “my unique religious voice or my unique secular voice, not heard? By what right do you silence my voice, or, even worse, state that my voice says what your voice says?”

From afar I say to you, my brothers and sisters, that your voices are heard. And they will prevail.