M. Jamil Hanifi: Engineering Division, Instability, and Regime Change with Naheed, Neda, and Allah

The following article has been submitted for reproduction on this blog by the author. The author is thanked for making this work openly accessible and for contributing to this project’s strong concern for the continued war of occupation of Afghanistan.

Engineering Division, Instability, and Regime Change with Naheed, Neda, and Allah


American imperialism (capitalism winged by militarism) is using feminist, liberal, and paradoxically, Islamist fuel, to change regimes headed by “Officially Designated Enemies” (ODE) of the United States in Afghanistan and Iran. Western feminist ideology and secular liberal thought have been widely used in constructing pretenses and disguises for the American colonial interventionist policies and practices in Afghanistan and Iran. Feminism and liberalism are the two book-ends of the American government and its media partners’ propaganda manual for instigating instability, dissent and division throughout the world and deception and diversion at home. During the last thirty years the application of this manual has resulted in the recruitment, training, and financing of terrorist groups (e. g. Mujahidin [freedom fighters], Taleban, the Ben-Laden gang) and CIA-sponsored disruptive operations aimed at regime change, specifically removing of governments dubbed “Officially Designated Enemies” of the United States, in Afghanistan and Iran. In the process Afghanistan was reduced to political and economic rubble. Iran is currently targeted for similar fate. William Blum cites specific applications of this manual for destruction: invasions, bombings, overthrowing government, occupations, suppressing movements for social change, assassinating political leaders, perverting elections, manufacturing “news”, death squads, torture, biological warfare, depleted uranium, drug trafficking, mercenaries.

To this list we could add: using atomic bombs (in Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and spreading nuclear weapons (200, according to President Jimmy Carter, to Israel and probably others) and nuclear technology to several countries including Iran during the 1970s, bombing unarmed civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to William Blum since World War II “the United States has seriously intervened in 30 elections around the world…The State Department asked Twitter to postpone a scheduled maintenance shutdown of its service to keep information flowing from inside Iran, helping to mobilize protesters”. According to the New York Times (June 21, 2009) the few hundred thousand protesters in Tehran were raised to three million and the exaggeration was in a matter of hours globalized in Twitter. The United States Government and its media partners produced the “news” about the martyrdom of a young Afghan woman during a student demonstration against the legitimate government of Afghanistan in 1980. The media coverage of the recent elections in Iran is highlighted by the martyrdom of a young Iranian woman unhappy with the defeat of Mir Hussain Mousavi.

The purported uprisings involving local young women against anti-American state power structures in Afghanistan (1980) and Iran (2009) have generated strikingly similar gleeful feminized and liberal narratives targeting regime change through demands for Western versions of freedom, democracy, liberty, etc. In Kabul during “a parade of Afghan, Soviet, and Soviet-bloc dignitaries celebrating the second anniversary, of the Saur Revolution” on April 27, 1980 (or April 29, 1980, or May 1980) it was a junior high school girl named Naheed (Farsi,Venus) who, during a protest “began calling out anti-government, anti-Soviet slogans. Others joined her spontaneously and the clamor increased. Bricks and stones flew toward the cavalcade; shots followed from die-hard party members and militiamen” (Dupree 1984: 332).

Nancy Hatch Dupree (1984: 332-333), an American feminist dubbed “Afghans’ adopted grandma” and the “world’s top expert” on Afghanistan (Price 2005) describes this protest in terms that are blatantly incongruous with the cultural and social realities of Afghanistan, the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and even Euro-America. She states that the young female protesters “snatched off the caps of the men (police and soldiers) and threw them their chadars (head scarves), calling: Here! wear these . Go! shut yourselves up in your houses. We girls will defend the motherland!”(p. 333).

In another account (Girardet 1985: 178) Naheed shouted: “Here’…these veils are for you! You are no men”. Naheed cried “you are the ones who have been manipulated by the Russians. She then shouted, ‘Liberty or Death’. The security forces tried to arrest her and other key leaders of the protest demonstration. Clashes broke out. Soviet helicopters hovering overhead began firing on the crowd and killed scores of students” (Emadi 2002: 110) among them Naheed who “joined the ranks of Afghanistan’s heroines, as the new Malalay” (Dupree 1984: 332, see below). Photographs and videos of Naheed’s martyrdom are not available. But Western print media has widely circulated this fictitious female martyrdom story. (Nancy Dupree is the wife of the well known anthropologist Louis Dupree, consultant to the United States government including the CIA about Afghanistan. He was arrested in Kabul during 1978 on charges of spying for the CIA and expelled from the country).

The June 1985 and April 2002 covers of the National Geographic magazine carried dramatic images of a young Afghan woman with European facial features including blue/green eyes. The woman appears to be terrorized. It is stated that she was forced to become a refugee in Pakistan by the Soviet supported government of Afghanistan. That picture received extensive circulation in Western media during the 1980s. Recently it was used as the signature photograph of “Kodak” in the announcement for the company’s closing. Those interested in how the American government and media manipulated this Afghan Girl’s image in support of the American destructive intervention in Afghanistan read: Rae Lynn Astion Schwartz, 2006, “Rhetorically Refiguring Public Policy: Rhetoric, Post-Colonialism, And the Strategic Redeployment of National Geographic’s Afghan Girl”, Ph. D. thesis, Communication Studies, University of Iowa. The thesis narrates the ways in which representations of a non-Western female Other, were manipulated in pursuit of regime change in Afghanistan. Stories of Afghan women opposing their own government are universally contradicted by traditional Afghan narratives in which heroic women of all ages oppose European colonial presence in the battlefield. Malalai, a Paxtun woman of unspecified age, exhorted the victorious local fighters against the British army in the 1879 battle of Maiwand, north of Qandahar. Afghan accounts of the British invasions of Afghanistan during 1839-1842 and 1879-1880 are replete with stories of women actively participating in local resistance to colonial presence. In one such popular account, a Paxtu poem, a woman cries: “they brought my beloved (from the battlefield) on a stretcher—my heart throbs, no wounds on his back”. In two famous medieval chronicle histories of the region (Iskandar-nama and Darab-nama) local heroines (Araqit and Burandukht) who initially resisted Alexander the Great with violence soon became his lovers.

During 1953 the CIA engineered the fall of the legitimate government of Iran headed by Mohammad Mosadeq (Wilber 1986). Donald Wilber, a CIA agent and specialist in Afghan and Iranian affairs, masterminded Mosadeq’s overthrow. On June 20, 2009, during a street demonstration in Tehran, Neda (Farsi, herald, proclamation, evocation, “divine message”) Soltani or Neda Agha Soltan, a 26 year Iranian woman, was “brutally killed” by a militiaman who aimed his weapon “straight (at) her heart” according to Dr. Arash Hejazi, one of the individuals who claims to have tried to help the young music and philosophy student and accomplished singer. (Neda is a highly uncommon personal name. Unlike Venus, and most other personal names in the Middle East, it is gender-neutral). Other sources attribute her killing to an unknown source or to friendly fire.

The American news media and the internet are saturated with stories about Neda. “She wanted democracy and freedom for the people of Iran”. She became a “martyr for Iranian people”. “She wanted her vote to be counted”. The video images of the alleged incident of her killing show a young woman in ripped blue jeans collapsing backwards, away from an approximately two sq.ft. red patch on the pavement. A few seconds into the video one sees a woman on her back with eyes wide open and rolling surrounded by 4-5 men attempting to help her. What appears to be blood begins to pour from her mouth and nose. On June 26, 2009 one of these men is identified in the British press as Dr. Arash Hejazi residing in Britain. According to Reuters, he is an “Iranian who is resident in Britain but says he went to Tehran on a business trip….Before trying to leave, he said he emailed a friend in Britain to say he hoped to join his family in the University city of Oxford where he was studying: ‘if something happens to me, please take care of my wife and son….Hejazi, 38, said he fled from Iran when the video footage sped around the world on websites because he feared his own life might be in danger as he could be seen with Soltan…I felt she was trying to ask a question. ‘Why’? She was just a person in the street who was against the injustice going on in her country, and for that she was murdered”. Neda has become the “international icon” of the protests in Tehran. She has been dubbed a “martyr of the Iranian revolution”. A posting of the video of her death opens with Farsi script that translates “to Neda and other martyrs of the struggle for Iranian freedom”. “Neda was a beam of light”. One account indicates that Neda was hurriedly buried by relatives and friends. Videos of her grave, bedecked with flowers, were widely circulated in the American media. Another report stated that the government did not allow Neda’s family to hold public funeral services. (Note: Neda-ye Khalq, Voice of the Masses, was a progressive newspaper published by ‘Abd al-Rahman Mahmoudi, a socialist Afghan intellectual, in Kabul during the early 1950s. The paper was the forerunner of Khalq, the official publication of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan [PDPA]).

These two martyrdom narratives of anti-anti-American women protesters are joined by identical application of a core Islamic text. It is widely reported that during the evening hours following the martyrdoms of Naheed and Neda the residents of Kabul and Tehran engaged in continuous collective chants of “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar…..” (God is Great, God is Great….) for hours from their rooftops. In the Kabul setting, reports emphasized that even Hindus and Sikhs participated in this collective performance. It is not known whether the Sunni and the non-Muslim minorities of Tehran joined in the chants of Allahu Akbar. The chorus of Allahu Akbar chants had first occurred in Kabul in early winter 1980 following the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union.

CNN, which has established an “Iran Desk” in its news studio, PBS, and other outlets gleefully and continuously air reports about instability in Tehran. As usual, scholars and specialists about Iran are regularly interviewed in the American media in support of the hoped for instability in Iran. Recently the parade of specialists included the Iranian born and American educated scholar Hamid Dabashi. Professor Dabashi who is widely known for his otherwise progressive and leftist political views on the Middle East, mystified his admirers by parroting the American government and media script in support of the anti-anti-American protests in Tehran. In an unusual twist of academic protocol Dabashi boasted that “being from there”, i. e. Iran, heightened the authority of his interventionist American script. What does professor Dabashi say to the more than 62% of the Iranian electorate “from there” who have voted for the current government of Iran!? I am told professor Dabshi has condemned the 1953 overthrow of the legitimate government of Iran by the United States. What has changed his heart and mind? However, the drum beat for replacing the legitimate government of Iran goes on. On July 30th 2009 the American media widely circulated stories and filmed images of dubious reliability about protests in Tehran in observance of the 40th day of Neda’s death. The parade of the familiar few Iranian-Americans accompanied the drum beat.

The American government and its media partner cannot hide their joy in reporting instability, division, and collective opposition to ruling regimes everywhere except inside the United States. Even anti-government protests and demonstrations in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand are covered with a degree of visible glee. The only exception to this pleasure at the expense of Others’ loss and suffering is England, the mother country and, Israel, the “partner in crime”. The American imperial enterprise is constantly poised to pounce violently on any global location it dislikes and cannot control. Since World War II the United States has unilaterally inserted its military forces in dozens of Other countries. The globe is dotted with scores of American military bases. The United States produces and exports violence–it is the largest manufacturer of weapons in the world; weapons constitute its major export.

The American imperial stupor revels in the misfortune of Others convinced that the latter hate, disrespect, and envy them for their “liberty”, “freedom”, and plentitude of cheap gasoline, meat, and comfort creatures. An updated “National Character” anthropological prism would confirm Americans as isolated, uninformed, silent, indifferent, and deeply fearful. This may in part be related to the highly fragmented political landscape of the United States which is locally taken for granted and with pride as “home rule”. The various American states are heavily divided into multiple layers of competing political fiefdoms which in practice amount to business districts: counties (parishes, boroughs) cities, villages, school districts, etc. Take a somewhat typical example, the state of Michigan with an estimated population of ten million: 83 counties, 1242 townships, 274 cities, 259 villages, 559 school districts, 57 intermediate school districts, 14 planning districts, 300 special districts. Other states in the “union” will produce proportionately similar levels and degrees of political fragments each equipped with its own security (“law enforcement”, “public safety”) component. The United States is the heaviest policed state in the world. Within minutes, at any given time and place, several security forces (village, township, city, county, state, national guard, FBI) converge on and cordon off open and robust collective political dissent.

Americans are taught to fear dissent and to feel safe in quietude and blind conformity at home. The monopoly of the two-party system and its media partners tactfully conspire to deny presence for alternative views in the political arena and process. The ruling machinery of the United States has created a highly sophisticated coercive ideology for the suppression of dissent and the imposition of conformity. Dissent is conflated with “partisanship” and demeaned as political vice and “un-American” while “bipartisanship” is lumped with “compromise” (between the two parties only) and hailed as the highest political virtue, “patriotic” and “American”. The reality of bipartisanship as surrender, conformity, and fundamentally the avoidance of clashes between chunks of capital is rarely understood or acknowledged. But paradoxically solidarity, stability, concord, and structures and expressions of political cohesion and unity—however constructed—in Other countries are cynically, enviously and rarely acknowledged in the American media, popular culture, schools, and other institutions.


Blum, William, 1995. Killing Hope: U. S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press.

Dupree, Nancy Hatch, 1984. Revolutionary Rhetoric and Afghan Women. In Revolutions and Rebellions in Afghanistan: Anthropological
Perspectives. M. Nazif Shahrani and Robert L. Canfield, eds. Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, Pp. 306-340.

Emadi, Hafizullah, 2002. Repression, Resistance, and Women in Afghanistan. London: Praeger.

Girardet, Edward, 1985. Afghanistan: The Soviet War. New Yor: St. Martin’s Press.

Price, Jay, 2005. “Afghans’ adopted grandma”, The News and Observer, Raleigh, NC (June 23).

Reuters.com, June 30, 2009. Doctor Flees Iran Over “Neda” killing: Report.

Wilber, Donald N, 1986. Adventures in the Middle East: Excursions and Incursions. Princeton, NJ: Darwin.


Addendum (Max Forte):


For more about the stories of the National Geographic “Afghan Girl” (Sharbat Gula), see:

For more about the virtual YouTube-Twitter icon of the “Green Revolution” in Iran, Neda Agha-Soltan, see:


Dr. M. Jamil Hanifi is currently an independent scholar whose long standing research interests focus on the anthropology and history of Afghanistan. He is himself an Afghan, born in Sorkhab, Logar Province. He obtained his Ph.D in Anthropology from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, in 1969. He earned his M.A. in Political Science, from Michigan State University, in 1962. He graduated with a B.Sc. in Social Science, from Michigan State University, in 1960. Dr. Hanifi is also fluent in Farsi/Dari, and Paxtu. He also has reading ability in Arabic, Russian, Tajiki (in Cyrillic), and Urdu. He teaches part time in anthropology at Michigan State University and Lansing Community College. He was formerly a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Northern Illinois University, from 1969 to 1982. Dr. Hanifi’s research has been partially supported by the United States National Academy of Sciences, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Institute for Afghanistan Studies, in the period from 1982 to 2006. He is also the author of the Historical and Cultural Dictionary of Afghanistan (1976) and numerous articles in journals and encyclopedias. You can read more about Dr. Hanifi here, here, and see his Anthropology of Afghanistan group page.

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5 thoughts on “M. Jamil Hanifi: Engineering Division, Instability, and Regime Change with Naheed, Neda, and Allah

  1. Eskandar

    Just a small note:

    Neda is a highly uncommon personal name.

    Not as far as I’m aware – just offhand I know several Iranians named Neda, and to the best of my knowledge it’s a reasonably common name for Iranians both in Iran and in diaspora.

    1. M. Jamil Hanifi

      Probably rooted in the Arabic noun nadi, one who convokes, the Farsi noun/verb Neda has several layers of independent and interchangeable meanings. I had cited proclamation, evocation, “divine message” as examples. F. Steingass and S. Haim list several others: calling to one, convoking, proclaiming, proclamation (e. g. neda-ye asmani, a voice from heaven), edict, sound, voice, clamor, invitation, to proclaim or to make proclamation (neda dadan or neda kardan), announce, divulge, publish, to convoke, to invite, call together. All these morphemes evoke an aura of masculinity, initiative, and power and are thus inconsistent with the Persian cultural construction of womanhood. None of these layers of meanings signify or symbolize femininity in the traditional Iranian cultural context. It would be interesting to find out what meanings are acknowledged by the authors and/or possessors of the name Neda with whom you are familiar. To my knowledge among the Farsi speakers of Afghanistan Neda, as a proper name for a female, is non-existent.

      1. Eskandar

        All these morphemes evoke an aura of masculinity, initiative, and power and are thus inconsistent with the Persian cultural construction of womanhood. None of these layers of meanings signify or symbolize femininity in the traditional Iranian cultural context.

        So then what do you make of the Iranian female names Naghmeh (نقمه), Ava (آوا), Taraneh (ترانه), Fozhan (فوژان), Nava (نوا), Sowgand (سوگند), and especially Hengameh (هنگامه) ? These all have meanings which are semantically not so different from ‘neda’ and would seem to contradict your theory about the “Persian cultural construction of womanhood” – not to mention other Iranian female names which are semantically unrelated but also connote power or greatness, such as Afarin (آفرین), Akram (اکرم), Azadeh (آزاده), Shoku (شکوه), and many many others… I think that the way you have described “traditional” Iranian femininity here is inaccurately narrow, and I’m curious as to why you equate iniative and power exclusively with masculinity within this context – it sounds like an Orientalist analysis of Iranian patriarchy (typically Western Orientalists project their own culture’s ideas about women onto the “Middle East”) and I’m surprised to see an Afghan anthropologist such as yourself make similar claims.

        It would be interesting to find out what meanings are acknowledged by the authors and/or possessors of the name Neda with whom you are familiar.

        I haven’t had a chance to ask any of them personally yet, but I would assume it to be associated with the meanings of “sound” or “voice,” similar to some of the other names I listed at the beginning of this comment. I may be wrong, though–it’s just my guess.

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