This article was first published on September 28th, 2004 in National Review Online
A Voice from the Joyless Generation out of the Heart of Darkness
I read the papers in Paris: another man has just been decapitated in Iraq and the macabre video showing the horror put online. In Tehran, the French Ambassador meets the Head of the Islamic Majlis (Parliament!) National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, and President of the Iranian-French Parliamentary Commission! To discuss “the expansion of ties…” Does horror run alongside leniency? Does the meeting in Tehran have anything to do with what is about to unfold in Paris? I get ready to attend the International Moral Court, taking place in the French capital, in order to expose the crimes of the theocracy in Tehran. Having lived under religious fascism, I prepare myself psychologically for a day of horror, images and voices of horror.
At the hotel where the event is being organized, I meet Ali, 23 year old young man in a family of nine. Ali came here 8 months ago, fleeing persecution. “I have a high school bachelor degree and I used to work as a mechanic in Islam-Shahr (Islam City).” Islam-Shahr, a poverty-ridden suburb that saw, back in the mid-1990s, the first popular anti-regime demonstrations, is located on the outskirt of Tehran, a world away from those chic quarters north of the city from which western reporters regularly dispatch their ‘analyses’ on the bright horizons of ‘reformism’! Islam-Shahr is where Ali was born and lived until he left the country, out of fear. “When did it all start for you?” I ask my young compatriot, now at ease in the conversation after a coffee. “It started with the first student uprising (in 1999). The whole city was turned upside down. Even in our hood, far away from the main Tehran University campus, bassij (the Islamist militia) quarters were taken over by the people, theirs vehicles burned, their walls covered with anti-regime graffiti…I was identified by the ‘denouncers’ and later summoned to Islamic court.” The ‘denouncers’ as he calls them are the shadowy figures behind the more visible agents of the bassij. While the latter are “known to all, in every neighborhood, the former are more pernicious, more difficult for us to keep an eye on,” goes on Ali reciting his ordeal for the “umpteenth time” as he sadly says. Later, “my case became even thicker!” “Why?” I enquired. “The local mullah (a Shia cleric), having seen my wife God knows where, started having a malicious eye on her. He wanted her and she was mine. So, he went after me, found out about my recent ‘security’ troubles and managed to put his hands on my file. He then, made it thicker that it already was! And that was the end of it! Followed, yet another summoning to Islamic courts, and, in absentia, I was notified of my charges: ‘Insult to His Sacred Leadership’s dress’; ‘Insult to the System’s sanctities’; ‘Conspiracy against national security’!” “What do you mean ‘His dress’?” I asked. “They all wear the same F…. dress,” he replies before adding, “insulting one, is insulting them all, and above them all, His Sacred Leadership!”
As we talk, the court goes on with, following the administrative procedures, the projection of a film. Sneaked out of Iran, it pictures scenes of despicable horror. We all eye the unwatchable: a man is laid on a stretcher while another, bearded and looking like an official, reads what seems to be a court sentence. Then comes in a white-dressed ‘physician’, bends over the ‘patient’ and applies the sentence. Writing this, I go through my head searching the languages I know in looking for an adequate word to describe the un-watchable. I consult my bilingual dictionary. There is only one word describing the horror of what I saw: Horror! For, I find no word for the act of tearing off a man’s eyes, alive. For, there is no adjective describing the abjection of what, dis-eying?! The flow of horror continues as the whole assembly is plunged into a macabre silence. This time, another man, laid alive and awake on a stretch, watches his physician-torturer cut his fingers with a hand-mower! There is no name for this particular dual use of technology. An entire new nomenclature will have to be drawn up: that of horror. A third man, or woman, for there is no way of distinguishing the gender of someone wrapped up like a mummy, is being buried, alive and awake, up to his chest, before being stoned to death. It barely takes a minute or two before the living mummy starts circling around his underground part in a dance of death, as his ‘aerial’ part soaks up is his own blood. What magnifies to near-infinite the evil of these scenes of barbarity is the unbearable accompanying cry of “Allah Akbar”: “God is Great,” “God is Great,” “God is Great…”
“The situation becomes so explosive, every now and then, that they bring in their Lebanese Commandos,” pursues Ali, turning his head away from that sickening screen. “Lebanese!?” I wonder. “Yah, Lebanese! They run out of local hands to repress, so they rely on their network. These guys are physically huge and mentally sick. Speaking not a word of Persian, they just beat. A friend of mine got caught the other day by one of these patrols. The guy was so colossal that he ‘sucked in’ my friend through the car’s window with just one hand. They laid him on the car’s floor and started beating him. I never saw him again. 17 of us disappeared like this in our hood alone. 11 never came back. Those who did return, including one of my own childhood friends, were so profoundly disrupted psychologically that no one would ever talk of his ordeal.”
The projection is followed by testimonies of those who survived the heart of darkness. Coming back from death, a woman goes to the microphone, and, as she words out horror, the court sinks into a silence of coffin, once again. A Kurdish sympathizer of an armed opposition group, she was arrested in her native Kurdistan in 1982. Hanged naked upside down, to “tear apart the ‘self’ that is in every one of us,” she says, they then raped her, over and over again. Gang rape, rape with a bottle…
“We will never forgive to our parents to have done this to us with their F… revolution,” says Ali staring at nowhere. “My father said once that they did it because they thought they would get free oil at their door step! Can you believe that?! Now, people won’t take to the streets anymore. I mean, what for? Every one saw what they did to Zahra Kazemi (A Canadian journalist killed while in the custody of the Islamic justice in Tehran). Did the Canadians do anything in outrage? Did the Canadian government take any significant retaliatory step? Every one knows that the mullahs have huge personal savings and investments in Canada. So, why should we sacrifice ourselves by defying Lebanese mercenaries in our own neighborhoods? Is the world going only to recognize that we exist? Has anyone among the Iranian expatriates supported us? Has any Iranian even come to the refugee camps to see in what miserable conditions we live? We hate the mullahs so much that we could hang every single one of them on every single tree in Tehran, but, so long as we, the Iranians, are only “I” and never “Us”; so long as the West is behind the mullahs, no one will take the matters to the streets any more.”
I leave the court-room, sick of myself, sick of bearing my being. I retire to an adjacent room to write and forget. “Did Nicholas Kristoff of the New York Times ever talk to Ali when he toured Iran a few months ago?” I turn around in my head. “He has never lived under fascism, has he? Mister Kristoff doesn’t have to face the Lebanese Hezbollah in the streets of New York, does he? So, why does he go around prescribing ‘reform’ of the theocracy and “flooding” it with “American dollars?” The ‘reform’ movement is dead Mister Kristoff, not the aspiration for liberty and living without fear, living with dignity.
“We are 70% of the people,” said Ali before I left him. They are the most redoubtable weapon of mass destruction against the mullahs, I keep telling myself. They are the end-of-the-tunnel, only if we could recognize that there is tunnel out there and not a dead-end, only if we decided to lend them our voice.