[Mb-civic] The Heart of Darkness
shahla at thesamiis.com
Tue Sep 28 08:14:00 PDT 2004
September 28, 2004, 8:42 a.m.
The Heart of Darkness
There is no word to describe the horror.
By Ramin Parham
Another man has just been decapitated in Iraq and a video showing the
horror posted online. In Tehran, the French ambassador recently met the
head of the national-security and foreign-affairs committee of the
Islamic Majlis (parliament), and the president of the Iranian-French
Parliamentary Commission to discuss "the expansion of ties...." Did
this meeting have anything to do with what took place in Paris last
week? A meeting of the International Moral Court was held in the French
capital September 23-25 to expose the crimes of the theocracy in
Tehran. Having lived under religious fascism, I prepared myself
psychologically for three days of horrific stories and images.
At the hotel where the event took place, I met Ali, a 23-year-old man
in a family of nine. Ali came here eight months ago, fleeing
persecution. "I have a high-school bachelor's 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 speak of 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 asked my young compatriot, by then
at ease in the conversation after a cup of coffee. "It started with the
first student uprising [in 1999]. The whole city was turned upside
down. Even in our neighborhood, far away from the main Tehran
University campus, bassij [the Islamist militia] quarters were taken
over by the people, their vehicles burned, their walls covered with
anti-regime graffiti...I was identified by the denouncers and later
summoned to Islamic court."
The "denouncers," as Ali 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."
Ali continued, reciting his ordeal for the "umpteenth time," as he
sadly said. Later "my case became even thicker," he related. "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 than it already was. And that was the end of it. What followed
was 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,' and 'Conspiracy against national
"What do you mean 'His dress'?" I asked. "They all wear the same
f***ing dress," he replied, before adding, "Insulting one is insulting
them all, and above them all, His Sacred Leadership."
As we talked, the court went on. Following the administrative
procedures a film was shown; smuggled out of Iran, it pictured scenes
of despicable horror. We all watched the unwatchable: a man lay on a
stretcher while another, bearded and looking like an official, read
what seemed to be a court sentence. Then a man dressed in white comes
in — presumably a physician — bends over the lying man and applies the
There is only one word to describe the horror of what I saw: horror.
There is other word for the act of tearing out a living man's eyes;
there is no adjective to describe it. The whole assembly was plunged
into a macabre silence. In the next scene, another man, lying alive and
awake on a stretcher, watched his physician-torturer cut his fingers
with a hand-mower. Next, a third man, or woman — there is no way of
distinguishing the gender of someone wrapped up like a mummy — is
buried, alive and awake, up to his chest, before being stoned to death.
It barely takes a minute or two before the chest and head of the living
mummy start circling around in a dance of death. What magnifies to
near-infinite the evil of these scenes of barbarity is the unbearable
accompanying cry, "Allah Akbar!" — "God is Great!"
"The situation becomes so explosive, every now and then, that they
bring in their Lebanese commandos," Ali told me, turning his head away
from that sickening screen. "Lebanese?" I asked. "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 my friend
in 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. Seventeen
of us disappeared like this in our hood alone. Eleven 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
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 speaks, the room sinks into silence 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 — she was then raped,
over and over again. Gang rape, rape with a bottle...
"We will never forgive our parents for having done this to us with
their 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 government 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 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 courtroom, 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? He has never lived under fascism, has he? Mr. Kristoff doesn't
have to face the Lebanese Hezbollah in the streets of New York, does
he? So why does he advocate reforming the theocracy and flooding it
with American dollars? The "reform" movement is dead, Mr. Kristoff. The
aspiration for liberty and a life without fear, for a life with
dignity, is not."
"We are 70 percent 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, if only we could
recognize that there is tunnel out there and not a dead-end — if only
we decided to lend them our voice.
— Ramin Parham, editor of Iran Institute for Democracy, is an
independent commentator based in Paris.
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