Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Prisoner of Tehran

Warning! Shiny happy people takes a serious mode

Reading Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat, a memoir of her being a political prisoner at Evin urged me to write my observations of Tehran / Iran during my visit a few months ago. Her accounts were tragic, being tortured and condemned to death by the Islamic Revolution regime (she referred to them as ‘regime’). I was not there in her place, and did not experience it myself, so I would not place her accounts as biased. After all, she never mentioned the religion (Islam) as cruel, just the people behind the regime who instructed the orders. However, there were also people in the regime who were sympathetic and tried to relax the punishments.

Unfortunately, the whole experience has etched a permanent scar towards the writer, her family and all the other survivors, and their families and also families of the fallen. And unfortunately too that this may cause a distorted view of the religion to those who are unable to differentiate between religion and the people quoting religion for their own overzealous ideals. The Islamic Revolution overthrowing of the Shah was supposedly to rid the country of corruption and sharing the wealth of the nation, but execution of those not in agreement with the regime was blatantly unjust.

But then again, the reverse happened during the time of the Shah, when supporters of the Islamic Revol were being arrested and executed. Ultimately, in both cases, lives were lost –political prisoners were sentenced to capital punishment and sadly, most of them were barely teenagers.

Back to the book - Some accounts were also very detailed, e.g. she remembered the exact dates of the writings of previous prisoners in her cell on the wall of the prison, e.g. Mahtab, Bahram, Katayoon and Pirooz and more dates: Dec 2, 1981; Dec 28, 1981; Feb 12, 1982 etc. Now I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she wrote these facts somewhere (but she never mentioned she kept a diary or anything) because it’s hard for anyone to remember exact dates of unknown, random people after 20 years (she was arrested in 1982, started to write the book in 2002).

Meanwhile, here are some of the accounts that I could relate to during our visit. Excerpts from the book are in bold, italic

Pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini and hateful slogans like “Death to America”, “Death to Israel”, “Death to Communists and All Enemies of Islam” and “Death to Anti-Revolutionaries” covered most walls.

The slogans aren’t visible anymore around Tehran (at least at the places we visited), except at the ex-US Embassy in Tehran. Iran severed ties with the US after the 1979 Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah.
See here

The government had ordered women to cover their hair and had issued edicts against music, makeup, paintings of unveiled women, and Western books, which had all been declared satanic and therefore illegal.

The hair covering is still true as even tourists (female) have to cover their hair coming to Iran, although this ruling is a bit relaxed now, where you just need to wear a shawl or a hat over and it is OK to show strands of hair (and they can be of any colour)

As for music, I saw a row of shops selling musical instruments near our hotel in Tehran, so I guess they have allowed this now.

However, public musical performance may not yet being allowed, as per our conversation in a chance meeting with a rapper (yes, you read it right! As in Yo Wassup? kind) under one of the bridges in Esfahan (what a unique meeting place!), he was performing underground and kept it hush hush.

No bans on Western books though. We saw many of these at the bookstores in Esfahan.

I didn’t get the opportunity to see any paintings though. But there were pictures of unveiled women during the time of the Shah.

Ayatollah Khomeini died on June 3, 1989

We were in Tehran exactly 20 years after his death. The mood was somber, all the shops and touristic places were closed, it was a public holiday. Many people, women wearing chadors, flocked the train towards Khomeini’s shrine. People still revered the Ayatollah 20 years on.

These are only some of our observations during our very short trip and at just a few places.

Evin still holds political prisoners to this day.



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