[Mb-civic] The Heart of Darkness

Shahla Samii 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 
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 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.

If only...

  — Ramin Parham, editor of Iran Institute for Democracy, is an 
independent commentator based in Paris.

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