Charles Taylor is a professor emeritus of philosophy at McGill University and a recipient of the Kyoto Prize and the Templeton Prize.
On June 6, 2016, Concordia University professor Homa Hoodfar was arrested and detained in Iran's Evin Prison by the country's Revolutionary Guards. And five days later, she was indicted on unknown charges, though a number of reports by conservative Iranian news outlets claim that she is suspected of "dabbling in feminism and security matters."
An internationally recognized anthropologist, Prof. Hoodfar has been subjected to gruelling interrogations and has had only one brief visit by her lawyer or her family since her arrest. Feminism is not a crime in Iranian law, and advocacy for women's legal rights has a long and established history that goes back at least to the Constitutional Revolution of 1906. Prof. Hoodfar's research on women's participation in public life in a variety of Muslim contexts appears to have been interpreted as subversive in nature and thus a threat to the Islamic Republic.
The nature of the suspected accusations against her indicate that the persecution of Prof. Hoodfar is part of a wider wave of repression aimed at intimidating inquisitive academics, intellectuals, journalists, and civic activists.
There is something profoundly disturbing about these events – not only to Canadians, Irish, or Iranians, who share a nationality with Prof. Hoodfar, but also to those doing honest, rigorous and unbiased research, especially in areas that are crucial to our future. Prof. Hoodfar's work has concerned the lives of women, in particular Muslim women. She has tirelessly defended the importance of understanding the complexity of women's lives in many societies, and demonstrated that one cannot assume that wearing a veil or head scarf suggests oppression.
Prof. Hoodfar is not an activist or a militant; she is a researcher who has documented the daily lives of women in Middle Eastern societies for more than two decades. She focuses on women's strength and autonomy and, in doing so, describes the empowerment of women and their contribution to these societies. And, of course, she carefully describes the circumstances that hold women back, but always with her characteristically balanced and measured approach.
She has been recognized worldwide for her extensive ethnographic work. The many letters of support that are circulating include an academic petition that currently contains 5,272 signatures by scholars and authors from all around the world, including Nobel laureates and many of the great minds of the present-day academy such as professors Noam Chomsky and Richard Falk. Prominent scholars of Islam have also penned an open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, asking him to intervene in Prof. Hoodfar's case and work toward dismissing the charges against her.
And finally, a letter by more than100 former students speaks of Prof. Hoodfar's dedication as a teacher, of her open-mindedness in difficult debates, and of her ability to inspire others to do the same. What becomes clear, above all, is that Prof. Hoodfar argues against preconceived visions of peoples and societies.
Her arbitrary imprisonment is a threat to academic freedom and the pursuit of unbiased research everywhere in the world. This is bad enough in any field. But it is particularly threatening in an area of public debate that is so inflamed with passions, and dominated by caricatured stereotypes. We urgently need more clear-headed and fact-based knowledge on issues relating to Muslim contexts, where the fires of prejudice-driven and hate-filled conflict are being stoked, threatening to expand and engulf us all.
Prof. Hoodfar is one of those precious sources of light that we cannot afford to have blanketed in the darkness of prison. I urgently call on the Canadian, Irish and European governments and the general public to do all that they can to free her.