This morning, I listened to a fascinating interview of Mohsen Sazegara by Fergal Keane on BBC4. Sazegara was at the heart of Ayatollah Khomeini's regime from the moment the spiritual leader returned to Iran from exile.
Throughout the 1970s, he had been a student activist agitating for the overthrow of the Shah. In 1979 he became Khomeini's press attaché. He also helped found the now feared Revolutionary Guard, originally established as a defence force against possible attack from Israel or the United States.
As the Islamic state was established, dissenters were executed in their hundreds. But then factions within the regime began to turn against Sazegara who was pressing for greater co-operation with opposition groups.
It was a path that would lead to his imprisonment - and eventually to exile in the West. But not before he witnessed for himself what really happened inside Tehran's Evin prison, as he explains to Fergal Keane in Taking a Stand.
The programme made me think of a powerful epic poem I've read recently. The poem, called "Khomeini's visit", vividly describes some of the events Sazegara talked about in his interview and more generally, the history of Iran over the past four decades. It is written by the Iranian poet Majid Naficy. He too was active against the Shah’s regime in the 1970s. After the 1979 Revolution, as the new regime began to suppress the opposition, his first wife Ezzat Tabaian and his brother Sa’id were amongst the many to be executed. He fled Iran in 1983, eventually settling in Los Angeles with his son Azad.
The poem is very long, but try to read all of it (click on "read more") . It is well worth it!
by Majid Naficy
My father never told us
That Khomeini had visited him
For medical treatment many years ago
When Khomeini was only a "Khomeini"
And not yet the Deputy of God. (1)
The patient, perhaps, complained of heart palpations
The father looked at his tongue and eyes
Took his pulse and listened to his heart.
The patient removed his black turban and amber sandals
And took out his light cloak and long tunic.
He laid down on the bed unmasked
And surrendered himself to a competent physician.
Did the father ask about Journeys written by Sadra of Shiraz (2)
And the patient about Commentary by Nafis, son of Evaz? (3)
Did the patient recite some of his own mystical ghazals,
And the father from free verses of his own son?
Did the patient speak of raising the banner of religion
And the father of kindling the lamp of reason?
No! No! The doctor's office is not a place for chitchat
With so many patients waiting behind the door.
The patient put on his clothing
The father handed him a prescription
And walked him to the door.
Ten years later, in the seventies
When my younger brother Said
Was in the Shah's prison for two years,
Because he had read a pamphlet,
And Khomeini was in exile, in Iraq
I listened to "Voice of the Revolution" in the basement.
One evening, the father came down the stairs
To listen to his old patient
Who spoke of the Shah's torture chambers
And foretold the day of justice.
At that time, no one knew that he
In less than five years,
After the uprising of home-builders in "off-limit" zones
And gathering of intellectuals at Goethe's nights of poetry
After marches of the clergy in Qum, and bazaaris in Tabriz
Strikes of petroleum workers and newspapers
And rallying cries from rooftops at night,
With rising fists and slogans
And falling fears and statues
And the hand-over of prisons and garrisons
Would sit on the throne of the "divine" state;
And after driving out the nationalists from the stage
He would wrestle with the "Great Satan"
Amidst the hoorays of a Soviet-led left
And the boos of an independent left
Behind the walls of the American embassy,
And with the "export of revolution" to Iraqi Shiites
Saddam's invasion of Iranian land
And the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war
He would energize with "war blessings"
And in the bloody decade of eighties (3)
He would have men cut women into halves
Women veil womanhood
Muslims kill Bahais
Shiites battle Sunnis
Believers, murder non-believers
Pedophiles suppress homosexuals
Little girls marry old men
Concubines work for marriage officiants
"Living martyrs" suppress disabled people
Veterans commit hateful polygamy
Persians dominate over Kurds, Turks, and Baluches
Iran become infamous in the world,
Iranians forget pre-Islamic New Year
Man part from his best animal friend
Musicians conceal tambourines and lutes
Poets silenced on the gallows
Writers shut down their association
Versifiers glorify the "leader"
Elegizers spread the cult of martyrdom
Wine-lovers make bootleg in home cellars
Chess-lovers hide their forbidden game on the rooftops
Addict die in alleys and on streets,
The hungry eat pottage at "passion play" nights
Donkeys take over economy (4)
Bankers change only the name of "usury"
Borrowers dream of "loan without interest"
The poor hope for alms-giving
Bridal couples love "marriage loan"
Blue workers look for Ramadan charity
White workers wait for "tea money"
Revolutionary generals monopolize imports
Oil cartels marry the "leader",
"Councils" produce terror in factories
"Associations" Islamicize universities
"Special courts" purge seminaries
"Bureaus" brainwash the army
Mosques spy in neighborhoods
Neighbors eavesdrop through walls,
Mothers snitch on their sons
Pupils interrogate their teachers
Torturers perform ablution before flogging
Interrogators recite "allahu akbar" after each whipping
Loudspeakers air Koranic verses during tortures
Victims of torture incriminate themselves
Shariatmadari ask forgiveness on national TV (5)
The "penitents" execute their cellmates
Revolutionary guards rape virgin prisoners before execution (6)
Judges massacre political prisoners in Summer 1988
Cemeteries discriminate between Muslims and infidels,
Newborn babies suffer with their mothers in prison
Children watch public flogging and stoning
Teenagers walk in mine fields
The youth marry death for a bride
The elderly wail over the graves of their children
The faithful detest the prophet's religion
The dreamers fear "Ali's justice"
The young of mullahs fill their pockets
And the turbaned tapdance on gravestones;
And alongside thousands of women and men
He would torture and execute Said,
Because he had read a pamphlet,
And he would bury his body in a hidden tomb,
And in a cold Winter evening
In the waiting hall of Evin prison
He would tell the father
Through the tongue of the executioner:
"Your son was sent to hell".
If the father had known all this
Could he have refused to treat his patient,
Or, ignoring Hippocratic Oath,
Written him a poisonous drug?
And if the ruler, while signing Said's sentence,
Had remembered the day that he'd visited the father
Could he have torn up the death sentence
And, ignoring the bloody "divine punishments",
Said "no" to tempting violence?
"The line dividing good and evil
Cuts through every human heart." (7)
September 23, 2010
1. Ruhollah Khomeini (1900-89) was born in the town of Khomein, as seen in his last name. He, in a letter dated October 8, 1970 and sent from Najaf, Iraq, to another clergyman, Jalal al-din Taheri in Isfahan, Iran, writes about his visit to my father Abutorab Naficy (1914-2007) as follows: "... I am very worried that you don't feel well. Hopefully and god-willing, you will recover completely. But visiting a neurologist is good, and in Isfahan Dr. Naficy. Once in Isfahan, I was sick, made a visit to him, and he diagnosed well. At any rate, do not procrastinate and make a visit."From: Sahifeh-ye Immam vol. 2nd, p. 301, Institute for Compilation and Publication of Immam Khomeini's Works, Tehran, 1999.
2. Mulla Sadra Shirazi (1571-1641) The most famous Shiite philosopher and theologian of the modern era. His most important book is Transcendent Wisdom of the Four Journeys of the Intellect, popularly known as Journeys. Before going to exile in 1963, Khomeini taught parts of this book to seminary students in Qum. Many of his fellow-teachers were very conservative and considered philosophy as "makruh", that is, religiously discouraged. He also wrote mediocre mystical ghazals under the pen name "Hindi".
3. Burhan al-Din Nafis, son of Evaz (Iwad), son of Hakim Kermani (death A. D. 1449 or 853 H.) is the progenitor of our Naficy (Nafisi) family founded in Kerman, Iran. He was probably named after Ibn al-Nafis (1213-88), the famous Syrian Arab physician on whose book, A Summary of Medicine, our forefather wrote a Commentary. Nafis, son of Evaz was the court physician of Ulugh Beg, the grandson of Tamerlane, an accomplished astronomer and the ruler of Samarkand (from 1409 to 1449) in modern Uzbekistan. Nafis' Commentary on Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine as well as his Commentary on Najib al-Din Samarqandi's Causes and Signs were reference books of physicians in the Islamic world until the 19th century.
3. From this line the "indictment" section begins in which I have used the technique of "enumeratio" or "cataloguing" employed by Walt Whitman in "Song of Myself" or Homer in The Iliad, Book II.
4. Emphasizing the priority of religion over economy, Khomeini said: "Economics belongs to donkeys". His plan for "Islamic economy" was based on the elimination of usury and the promotion of charity. For further reading on this subject, readers may study Timur Kuran's Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicament of Islamism, Princeton University Press,2004.
5. Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari (1905-1986) A Grand Ayatollah who allegedly saved Khomeini's life after the June 5th uprising in 1963. Due to Shariatmadari's mediation, the Shah only exiled Khomeini to Turkey and then Iraq. In 1982 the aging, tortured Shariatmadari who was accused of giving his blessings to an aborted coup d' etat, went on national television and asked Khomeini for forgiveness.
6. In the 1980s, revolutionary guards were ordered to "marry", that is, rape virgin political prisoners the night before their executions. The clergy believed that if the girls remained virgins they would go to paradise after death. In this respect, readers may read a letter written by Hussein Ali Montazeri (1922-2009) to Khomeini dated October 7, 1986 included in Montazeri's Political Memoir available in Persian on the Internet. One of the reasons that in 1989, a few months before his death, Khomeini forced Montezari to resign as his deputy was Montazeri's courage in protesting against the torture and murder of thousands of political prisoners in the summer 1988.
7. Paraphrasing Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago.