Simin Behbahani, prominent Iranian poetess and women’s rights activist, received the “Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom” in Paris on January 21.
The prize recognizes the work and actions of individuals who contribute to the freedom of women around the world.
At the Paris gathering, Mrs. Behbahani was representing Iran’s “One Million Signatures-Campaign” that aims at gathering wide public support against Iranian laws discriminating against women (information video on YouTube). Many of the signatories of the campaign have been detained or summoned to court.
French Minister of Culture Christine Albanel told the gathering that Iran’s One Million Signatures-Campaign started after a big meeting of Iranian women on June 12, 2006, in Tehran was cracked down. Mrs. Albanel added that the message going out with the Simone de Beauvoir Award is one to Iranian women that “You are not forgotten or abandoned…”
In her speech, Simin Behbahani said: “This award belongs to Iran’s women and I am honored to receive it on their behalf and to take it to them.”
Known as Iran’s best living poetess, Mrs. Behbahani has been awarded many international awards, among them Stanford’s Bita Prize for Literature and Freedom in 2008. She is President of Iranian Writers’ Association and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1997.
Following is a poem by Simin Behbahani (translated by Farzaneh Milani and Kaveh Safa). Background: On July 8, 1999, soldiers and vigilantes invaded a dormitory at the University of Tehran. This had been the first day of student protests against the new censorship laws and the forced closing of the newspaper Salam. The invaders attacked the students, beating many and throwing some out of the windows. The poem “Banu, Our Lady” is an expression of outrage by Simin Behbahani. It focuses on a scene of this rampage: an attacker invoking the name of Fatemeh Zahra, the beloved daughter of the Prophet, while pushing a student to his death:
BANU, OUR LADY…
Banu, Our Lady,
this is my gift to you. Accept it.
This said, he raised his offering and threw it down the stairs.
On the ground, the sacrificial victim twisted with pain.
A stream of blood followed his fall.
Silence followed his screams.
A demon had made an offering, and a person had ceased to exist.
Oh . . . for the child lost so young! A hundred times Oh . . . for the old mother.
Banu, Our Lady, I dreamt I saw you in the halo of the moon,
your face pale, your eyes red with sorrow.
In your arms you held two sons,
one perfect like the full moon, the other radiant like the sun.
You sat beside the corpse, with the road-dust still on your face,
your soul scalded by sorrow, your heart tired of arrows.
You complained: O Justice! O Faith!
O, the shamelessness of the brute – offering me a corpse and asking me to accept it!
Banu, Our Lady, you shed a deluge of tears over the man murdered by such ignorance.
You turned your silken coat to a shroud to cover his body.
O, Banu, our guide! O, Banu, our savior,
O, Banu, unblemished! O, Banu, full of light!
And another poem by Simin Behbahani, translated by Mahmud Kianush:
GRACEFULLY SHE APPROACHED
Gracefully she approached,
in a dress of bright blue silk;
With an olive branch in her hand,
and many tales of sorrows in her eyes.
Running to her, I greeted her, and took her hand in mine:
Pulses could still be felt in her veins;
warm was still her body with life.
“But you are dead, mother”, I said;
“Oh, many years ago you died!”
Neither of embalmment she smelled,
Nor in a shroud was she wrapped.
I gave a glance at the olive branch;
she held it out to me,
And said with a smile, “It is the sign of peace; take it.”
I took it from her and said,
“Yes, it is the sign of…”,
when My voice and peace were broken by the violent arrival of a horseman.
He carried a dagger under his tunic with which he shaped the olive branch
Into a rod and looking at it he said to himself:
“Not too bad a cane for punishing the sinners!”
A real image of a hellish pain!
Then, to hide the rod,
He opened his saddlebag. in there,
O God! I saw a dead dove, with a string tied round its broken neck.
My mother walked away with anger and sorrow;
my eyes followed her;
Like the mourners she wore a dress of black silk.