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Violence, Humiliation, and Morality Police: Pacific Grove Author’s Life in Iran

Ava Homa is an award-winning novelist, a journalist, and a human rights activist. She has appeared in many publications, including The Globe and Mail, Literary Hub, Toronto Star, Literary Review of Canada, and Room Magazine.
Courtesy of Ava Homa
Eleonora Manukyan
Ava Homa is an award-winning novelist, a journalist, and a human rights activist. She has appeared in many publications, including The Globe and Mail, Literary Hub, Toronto Star, Literary Review of Canada, and Room Magazine.

Months after the arrest of an Iranian woman who improperly wore her hijab, protests continue around the world, including a recent protest in Monterey. 22-year-old Mahsa Amini later died while in Iranian police custody, and her death has sparked three months of conflict, arrests, and at least two executions in Iran.

One vocal opponent of Iran's actions is Pacific Grove journalist and author Ava Homa, who grew up in Iran. Homa recently met me at the KAZU Studio. First, I asked her what it was like growing up in Iran.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ava Homa: It felt like I had to deal with violence and humiliation on a daily basis. The morality police would drive down the streets and would harass you if you showed a few strands of hair. There was a lot of violent behavior and disrespectful treatment of women. They also bar you from the public sphere; they also define you as nothing beyond a sex object. So you grew up thinking there is something fundamentally shameful and sinful about your body, and it has to be covered; otherwise, bad things are going to happen.

Jonathan Linden: And Ava, could you talk about what Iranians face when they are speaking out against the government?

Ava Homa: The latest statistics that came out at the end of November was at least 488 people are dead, 60 of whom are children. So there is a lot of that. But also, people don't really have much to go back to. So this revolutionary reactionary government has created an environment where everybody is suffering. And the only power that the Iranian government has is military power, they are very good at suppressing their own people. They're also very good at expanding their military influence in Syria, in Yemen, in Lebanon, and Iraq.

Jonathan Linden: Two years ago, you released your book, Daughters of Smoke and Fire. And while it is a novel, there are ties between your book and what's happening in Iran right now. Could you talk about that connection?

Ava Homa: So Daughters of Smoke and Fire is the story of a Kurdish Iranian woman. Her name is Layla. And her story is slightly different from the story of Mahsa Amini, whose death started this protest. Their individual stories are distinct, but the socioeconomic situation that they come from, the realities that they experience, the desire for freedom that they cherish, the oppression that they have to withstand on a daily basis is very similar. So for anyone who wants to be able to travel to the heart of the protests in Iran, to the realities of being a woman in Iran, a novel can provide that safely, right? So Daughters of Smoke and Fire, provides that, but also because it opens a window to the life of Kurds. And Kurds are significant in this process because they are the ones who are resisting the most. They're at the forefront of the resistance, alongside women, but also, they're the ones who are being suppressed the most heavily.

Jonathan Linden: And Ava, for listeners here in the Monterey Bay area, what can they do to help?

Ava Homa: We live in an age in this global village where what directly affects Iranian woman, indirectly affects people everywhere. So their victory is everyone's victory. And so understanding that allows people to find ways that they can contribute as individuals. One of the first things they can do is write to their representatives. Now, representatives take months to answer, and they might only send a form answer. It's not about their answer. It's about the number of emails and phone calls that goes into their office and says, I care about women in Iran, and I would like to see them win over this brutal government. The other thing is, if you're a museum curator, why not include a few arts by Iranian women? If you have an art gallery, if you have a book club, if you are having any sort of event like a film festival, include some films by Iranian filmmakers. There are so many ways you can support this movement. Post something on your social media, because we know how the algorithm works, right in bringing attention to the cause. So don't think you're one person and incapable of change. Everything that you do is going to make an impact, especially because it comes from your heart.

Jonathan Linden was a reporter at 90.3 KAZU in Seaside, Calif. He served at the station from Oct. 2022 to July 2023.