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Letters To My Torturer

Letters To My Torturer

by Houshang Asadi (One World, £16.99)
Tuesday 04 May 2010
by Gordon Parsons
The barrage of media input into our public consciousness can easily result in it dulling the edge of language until words lose true definition.

“Torture” slips readily off the newscaster’s tongue so that the reality of what it means for the victim is lost.

An Iranian journalist and former member of the communist Tudeh Party, Houshang Asadi has found a way of bringing home the truly obscene nature of the victim’s experience.

In his case this took the form of six years of physical and mental torment, humiliation and self-abasement in the ayatollahs’ prisons.

In a series of open letters to his personal torturer, Brother Hamid, later an Iranian ambassador, Asadi turns what could have been a litany of horrors into a philosophical analysis of his life-changing experiences.

Twenty-five years on from those years of grotesque brutality, all conducted with zeal in the name of religion, he has sublimated his anger. Consequently his book represents a sweeter revenge on both the individual and the mindlessly criminal regime that perpetrated the ultimate inhumanity than could have any tirade.

While he leaves the reader with blow-by-blow descriptions of the agonies he underwent daily, he is now able to comment objectively on the ghastly marriage of tortured and torturer.

So he notes that the body puts up natural defences against persistent attempts to break the victim physically but occasional “kindness” completely disarms them.

He also draws an interesting distinction between interrogators employed by an “atheistic,” bureaucratic system intent upon extracting information as opposed to an ideological, totalitarian regime torturer imbued with ultimate belief and enjoyment in the rightness of his cause.

However, on a later visit to the US San Quentin prison he recognises “a regimented, iron prison, violent, heartless and resistant to any influence” and “a thousand times more gruesome than the prisons I had known in Iran.” Perhaps Asadi is unaware that capitalism with Mammon as its god is quite as much a fervent ideology as any overtly religious regime.

The “luck” of having shared an earlier cell in the Shah’s prisons with Ayatollah Khamenei, now supreme leader of Iran, led to Asadi’s escaping execution, the almost inevitable fate of his comrades and thousands of political and religious dissidents, opponents of Khamenei’s Iran.


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