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 gather the "flock" behind the "shepherd";