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By  P. Willson (United States) – See all my reviews

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This review is from: Letters to My Torturer: Love, Revolution, and Imprisonment in Iran (Hardcover)
“The one that was me remained forever in that torture chamber, and another me left…”

Extraordinary book. Mr. Asadi was a young Iranian journalist and Communist first arrested by the Shah’s notorious Savak in the late 1970’s; he shared a prison cell with Iran’s current leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, for several months.

The friendship they formed was the only thing that kept Asadi from being hung ten years later when Iran’s clerical regime went about systematically torturing and killing tens of thousands of people who had fought alongside them to overthrow the Shah, but who did not fit their planned Talibanization of Iran.

The book is a series of 26 ‘letters’ (written two decades later) to ‘Brother Hamid,’ the interrogator who controlled every moment, every bodily function, and ultimately, every thought in his prisoner’s head over two years of constant torture and isolation.

Each chapter is more than a letter — the narrative seamlessly weaves together Asadi’s personal history, Iran’s cultural and political backstory, and current-day developments through the eyes of a gifted writer looking back on the dissolution of the world as he knew it.

Asadi lays out not only the rise and rapid perversion of what most Iranians thought would be a democratic revolution, but portrays with integrity the methodical, ruthless destruction of his body, mind, beliefs, and personality in the hands of a highly skilled torturer. I kept thinking with horror of what the many thousands of young protesters arrested last summer are going through right this very minute, in the same prisons.

Now an exile in Paris, Asadi suffered a relapse of chronically severe PTSD and had a heart attack writing the book, but as it progresses, he slowly is able to work his way through some of the terror, hate, and rage, and come out the other side — as much as anyone can.

The book is harrowing, heartbreaking, and grim, but not gruesome. It’s the most complete book I’ve read on living through and trying to reconstruct a life after captivity and torture; Houshang Asadi is right there with Jean Amery and Jacobo Timerman.

Categories: Review

Houshang Asadi writes in a guest op-ed for Informed Comment

Asadi on Iran: “Today’s Internal Affairs, Tomorrow’s Global Impact”

Posted on July 10, 2010 by Juan

Houshang Asadi writes in a guest op-ed for Informed Comment

Iran: Today’s Internal Affairs, Tomorrow’s Global Impact

The international community’s demand that clemency be shown to a woman condemned to death for adultery, possibly by stoning, has once again grabbed the world’s headlines. The past year’s events in Iran, which have attracted the world’s attention to a country dubbed ‘the crossroads of history’, not only serve as the driving force behind radical changes at home, but are also playing a decisive role in a world balanced precariously on the verge of yet another war.

Since 9/11, a force rising from the depths of bygone eras to challenge the West has been busy recruiting supporters among Muslims throughout the world. This force derives its strength more from ideology than from money and guns.

The leading ideologues of this Islamic revivalism offer a fundamentalist reading of Islam that divides the world into two clear-cut camps: divine and satanic. For them, Western civilization, with its deep roots in humanism and liberalism, is the manifestation of evil par excellence. Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda is usually credited as the main militant representative of this view, which is grounded in the Sunni branch of Islam. However, as the post-election events in Iran might have indicated, the Iranian regime also favours the aforementioned world-view, which puts Shi’a fundamentalism next to Taliban ideology; whereas the latter manifested itself in the destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamyan, the former has these days masterminded the “disappearance” of a few bronze statutes of national, secular heroes in the streets and public parks of Iran. The fact that the stolen statutes were all post-revolutionary installations, with one in particular being the statute of Shahriar, the favourite poet of Iran’s supreme leader, illustrates the extent of shared ideology between the Taliban of Afghanistan and their Iranian half-brothers.

In fact, what we are witnessing right now in Iran is a hard-fought battle between the liberal and fundamentalist readings of Islam. Just over a century ago, the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, the first of its kind outside the West, collapsed when it came face to face with the fundamentalist reading of Islam. What followed was a compromise between the two aforementioned readings, which resulted in the formation of a secular state with a nod to the rulings of a sharia-compliant constitution. The self-contradictory nature of this constitution would later give birth to the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Since its inception, the Islamic Revolution has sought to suppress civil society by replacing civil law with sharia law as the legal basis of the Iranian society. But the long-lasting conflict between liberal-minded clergymen and their fundamentalist colleagues has only surfaced recently as Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Khamenei, has taken drastic measures to turn the ‘Islamic Republic’ into the ‘Islamic Caliphate’.

There are now two distinct camps in Iran. The first faction is composed of Shi’a fundamentalists who support Ayatollah Khamenei. Khamenei’s views have three major influences: First, the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are generally seen as the founding fathers of Islamic fundamentalism in modern times. Before the 1979 Revolution, Khamenei personally translated into Persian from the original Arabic the important works of the leading intellectual of the Brotherhood, Sayyed Qutb. Qutb’s views, especially his profound hatred of the West, are easily discernable among Iran’s ruling clergy today.

The second group that has influenced Khamenei is known as Fadā’iyān-e Islam (devotees of Islam), the first followers of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iran led by Mujtaba Navab-Safavi, who carried out some of the earliest acts of religious terrorism in modern Iran. Khamenei has repeatedly referred to Navab-Safavi as his role model in politics. That he has named his eldest son Mujtaba might be an indication of Khamenei’s admiration for this man.

The third sphere of influence is a group known as Hujjatiyeh Society, which sees as its mission to pave the way for the reappearance of the Mahdi, the 12th Shi’a Imam, who is believed to have gone into a millennium-old occultation and whose ultimate return in the End Times is expected to bring peace and justice to the world. Recently it has been revealed that each Wednesday, Khamenei visits Jamkaran, a well in the city of Qum that is regarded by many Shi’as as the hiding place of Mahdi. Eyewitnesses have reported that Khamenei has been seen in a state of deep prayer, allegedly communicating with the Hidden Imam.

The members of the second camp see themselves totally at odds with the other faction whose views and actions they regard as nothing short of catastrophic for Iran’s future. The vast majority of the country’s intellectuals, the middle class, the youth and a significant portion of those who work in “the system”, belong to this second camp, and are collectively referred to as the Green Movement. From the perspective of the Shi’a fundamentalists, the members of this movement are no better than infidels. As such, they can be imprisoned, tortured, raped etc.

The outcome of the ongoing power struggle between these two opposing factions carries great significance not just for Iran but for the international community. A victory by the Iranian “Taliban” will take Iran on a downward spiral and would place the country’s wealth and geopolitical powers entirely at the disposal of those who believe Islam’s global hegemony is possible through violent jihad, which is why they wish to secure nuclear capabilities. Bearing in mind that Iran has long served as a source of inspiration for many social and ideological movements in the region, it becomes clear how critical is the outcome of the battle between these two camps in Iran for the country, the region, and the world at large.

Houshang Asadi is a journalist. He was imprisoned during the Shah’s rule where his cellmate for nine months was the current Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei. In 1983, after the Islamic Revolution and following the Iranian government’s crackdown on all opposition parties, Asadi was arrested and imprisoned in Tehran. He was kept in solitary confinement for almost 2 years, during which time he was severely tortured until he falsely confessed to operating as a spy for the British and Russian intelligence agencies. He opposes US military intervention in Iran. His memoir, Letters to My Torturer: Love, Revolution and Imprisonment in Iran, has just been published by Oneworld Publications

Categories: Interview

Metro: the book of the week

Letters To My Torturer: Writing through the pain barrier

No one knows how many people arrested during the 2009 Iranian uprisings have been imprisoned and tortured.

What is pretty certain, however, is that torture is culturally endemic within Tehran’s most notorious prisons.

One year on from those uprisings comes this courageous memoir from an Iranian journalist who was arrested in 1983.

Houshang Asadi was a fervent supporter of the 1979 Islamic revolution (and former close friend of the present supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, whom Asadi recalls in the 1970s as ‘a kind and smiling man’) but his record of political activism under the Shah was feverishly seized upon by the authorities, who condemned him to 682 days in solitary confinement.

In this book, Asadi, now in exile in Paris, addresses a series of letters to Brother Hamid, the man who for two years subjected Asadi to bouts of inconceivable mental and physical degradation in an attempt to force him to ‘confess’.

To what, Asadi was never quite sure, lending his imprisonment a queasy, reality-bending dimension.

Categories: A look

BBC World Service

This was broadcast on Friday in the Outlook programme.

BBC World Service: interview houshang asadi

Categories: Video

making for harrowing and unique reading

Details: Casebound | 336 pages | ISBN 9781851687503 | Jun 2010
Sample Chapter (PDF)

Prominent Iranian journalist and political activist Houshang Asadi was used to being arrested. This time, however, was different. Little did he know in 1983 that he would spend the next six years being brutally, mindlessly tortured by the very people he supported.

“Brother Hamid”, Asadi’s torturer, stopped at nothing to extract his “confessions”. Asadi was a spy for Russia, for Britain, for anyone or anything. Hamid became an ambassador; Asadi a fugitive, haunted by nightmares and persisting pain. His feet lashed till lame, blindfolded, he was grilled until he could no longer phrase a simple question himself.

Through these letters, Asadi recounts how his accidental friendship with a fellow prisoner, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, finally saved his life – and confronts his torturer one last time.

In 1983, Houshang Asadi was locked in a Tehran prison. Under torture, he said he was a spy. Many of his friends also confessed, and were later executed. He was released after six years. Today, he lives in Paris with his wife, Nooshabeh Amiri. They write for the Iranian news website Rooz Online.

“A terrifying and deeply moving account of a man and a country still brutalized by the politics of fear.” Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve and author of Bad Men: Guantanamo Bay and the Secret Prisons

“This remarkable, humane story of abuse and survival across Iranian regimes – told by Ayatollah Khamenei’s former cellmate – deserves a global audience, to understand the meaning of cruelty and the reality of modern, tragic, brutal Iran.” Philippe Sands, author of Torture Team

“A scathing indictment of torture and a testament to survival against all odds. It is the revenge of truth and a past revealed but not yet healed.” Michael Henderson, author ofNo Enemy to Conquer: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World

“A harrowing memoir of imprisonment and torture under the Islamic Republic of Iran… With moving stories about fellow prisoners, biting commentary on the religious dictates imposed by his jailers and meditations on the soul-destroying effect of false confessions and the special cruelty of his ideological, authoritarian interrogators, Asadi s simple prose attracts even as the facts he reports repel… A horrifying glimpse of the decades-long nightmare still afflicting the people of Iran.” Kirkus Reviews

“Iranian journalist Asadi offers a searing and unforgettable account of the six years he spent in prison after being arrested in 1981 in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution. Asadi is a gifted storyteller… his ability to convey the toll of torture and imprisonment is undiminished. And the choice of the epistolary narrative device is a felicitous one: it’s as if the reader has found these letters in a shoebox or a locked drawer, making for harrowing and unique reading.” Publishers Weekly

Categories: A look


Asadi, Houshang. Letters to My Torturer: Love, Revolution, and Imprisonment in Khomeini’s Iran.Oneworld, dist. by National Bk. Network. Jun. 2010. c.320p. tr. from Persian by Nushin Arbabzadah. index. ISBN 978-1-85168-750-3. $24.95. INT AFFAIRS

Iranian journalist Houshang Asadi was arrested in 1981 and spent the following six years in prison. While in prison, a man Asadi calls Brother Hamid brutally and extensively tortured him until he would admit to anything. Through frequent exposure to extreme pain and humiliation, Asadi confessed to spying both for the Soviets and for the British. Finally, because of a chance encounter with the Ayatollah Khameni, Asadi regained his freedom. Each chapter here begins with a short section addressed directly to Brother Hamid and is followed by passages recounting the memories and thoughts that the letter brings to mind. The passages are beautifully crafted, lyrical, and sad. When he speaks about his torture in detail, his story is also deeply disturbing. For the lay reader unfamiliar with the details of Iran’s complex political history, however, Asadi’s story is ultimately confusing and inaccessible. Although there are occasional explanatory endnotes, a special foreword addressed to foreign readers would make this book less opaque to a general audience. VERDICT An important firsthand account of Iranian prison conditions during the 1980s that scholars of Iranian history will want to read.—April Younglove, Rochester Regional Lib. Council, NY

Categories: Review


After his arrest in 1981, prominent Iranian journalist Asadi spent the next six years being brutally tortured by the very people he supported. Through these letters, Asadi recounts how his friendship with a fellow prisoner, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, finally saved his life.

Categories: Review

Synopsis of book

Prominent Iranian journalist Houshang Asadi was arrested in 1981. This was no new experience for Asadi: as a political activist during the shah’s rule, arrest had been a familiar inconvenience. But he supported the new Islamic Republic – there must be some mistake? Little did Asadi know he was to spend the following six years of his life in prison – nor that he would be brutally, mindlessly tortured. Brother Hamid, as Asadi came to know his torturer, stopped at nothing to extract his ‘confessions’ – that he was a spy for the Russians, a spy for Britain, a spy for anyone or anything.  Brother Hamid went on to become an ambassador for Iran. Houshang became a fugitive, unable to escape the searing pain on the soles of his feet. Journey with him through this astonishing period of history, as Iran swung from one political

extreme to the next. Discover how, through his accidental friendship with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, a fellow cellmate under the shah’s regime, Asadi was saved from execution – and confronts his torturer one last time through these letters.  Profoundly upsetting, immeasurably important – Asadi’s story demands to be heard

Click to download PDF

Categories: Review

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.

Categories: Review


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