As winter turned into spring, international community’s “last chance” warning to Iran turned into the “final chance” for the country to address the controversial nuclear issue.
True to form, Hashemi Rafsanjani suddenly reappears on the Iranian scene and changes the game at its last moment. Rather than using the term “Great Satan,” which is how the Iranian regime officially labels the US, he calls America the “greatest power” in the world and rather than talking of war with it says there should be negotiations.
So everything returns to this central issue: Iran’s relations with the US. This is a problem that has been inherited from the founder of the Islamic regime, ayatollah Khomeini. He compared the relationship between the two countries to that of a wolf and a sheep. Today, everything coming out of Tehran indicates that Khomeini’s successor continues to view Iran as the sheep which could be swallowed up any time by the wolf.
But phobia over a foreign power that could at any time change the regime in Tehran is not something unique to the Islamic republic. The last Shah of Iran had similar fears about the Soviet Union, and because of which he lost his throne. While the Soviet Union was Iran’s neighbor during the ancient regime, today the source of regime phobia has in fact encircled the country.
The Shah’s ambitions, which were rooted in Persian chauvinism, have given way to the ideological ambitions of ayatollah Khamenei which are rooted in Shiism.
But the Shah foreswore his throne without a fight. Till now, the leader of the Islamic regime has declared that he will not be removed without a fight. His views are primarily religious rather than political. If he wins this battle, then he will become the leader of the Islamic; if he is killed then he will remain the eternal martyr. Ayatollah Khamenei who has been groomed in the Islamic fundamentalist philosophy of seyed al Qotb will emerge the victor no matter what. In addition, he will not be subject to the same fate that confronted most of the country’s modern rulers, except ayatollah Khomeini. The three last kings of the two dynasties in the last 100 years of Iran’s history all died outside the country in bitterness. Dr Mohammad Mossadegh, the nationalistic leader died while he was under house arrest. In this gloomy picture, one cannot brush aside the fate of the dreadful fate of the dictators in the region as Syria’s Bashar Assad struggles to keep his power.
But Iran’s salvation appears to be completely different. Taking up even the Nowruz message that US President Barrack Obama sent to Iran can change the picture from a possible hell to a breakthrough.
But ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks and those of his close generals, the empty handed return of Turkish Prime Minister to Ankara last week, the stronger support for Syria, and the harsh attacks by Iran’s leader of Hashemi Rafsanjani all indicate that the order that the leader has issued to the whole system is nothing but “resistance.”
Israel sees war as the only response to this resistance. The international coalition that the US has formed views war as the final choice and at least for now stresses negotiations and diplomacy. A war however is not limited to just a military strike. Wars usually take place on suitable economic foundations and have public support.
This phase or type of war has already been raging and this week it attained new heights. SWIFT banking services to Iran will be completely stopped. More sanctions are added to the already extensive existing measures even as official sanctions have not yet started. Oil exports are already falling and Iraq has replaced Iran as OPEC’s second largest oil producer. Shipping, insurance and car manufacturing companies are also ending their economic operations in Iran or their cooperation with the country.
Three important international gatherings have taken place in the first two weeks of the Iranian New Year (starting from March 20, 2012) in Seoul, Istanbul and Baghdad in which Iran has been absent. The Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan flies directly to Tehran from one of these conferences. It is still not clear whether he took a special message to ayatollah Khamenei but it is clear that he went home angry and empty handed. A few days after he left Tehran, Erdogan issued a strong and unprecedented statement against the Islamic republic of Iran accusing it of deception rather than engaging in diplomacy.
Turkey – one of the important three Islamic countries in the region – is rapidly distancing from Iran. Its positions are now closer to Saudi Arabia, the other Islamic power in the region and the world’s largest oil exporters. Turkey is finalized to be the first location for missile defense installation as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Saudi Arabia’s king agree on the UAE as the second.
Regional religious and political competitions and rivalries intensify to confront the “resistance” policies drawn up and guided by ayatollah Khamenei. Thus comes about a completion encirclement of Iran, as a country with a distinct history, language, religion and culture in this region.
In the Persian language there is a saying that translates into what happens in the year is displayed in spring, which is the first season of the Iranian New Year starting on the first day of spring every year.
This year’s spring is full of dangers. Washington officially says that the April 13 talks between Iran and the great powers is the “last chance” to avoid war. But Iran’s last minute positions suddenly throw a veil of ambiguity over the talks altogether. The quibbling now is over Istanbul or Baghdad as the venue for the talks, as the Islamic republic pursues its policy of killing time which stems from its deliberate policy of creating confusion. The message by a group of clerics that weapons of mass destruction are illegal in Shiism are the practical response and replacement for direct talks, a model that has been around for the past decade over the nuclear issue.
The central position of the Islamic republic can be ascertained from the words of its two senior officials, even though none are officially in any regime authority. Mohammad Javad Larijani, the principle architect of Iran’s foreign policy and a member of the very influential Larijani family, announces in Geneva that it is possible to have “complete transparency” in Iran in return for “cooperation” with the West. Hossein Mousavian, the former nuclear program negotiator who lives in the United States clarifies this “cooperation” as: “The West must stop talking about regime change in Iran.”
So everything depends on ayatollah Khamenei’s phobia: Fears of regime change by the US. Efforts to build a nuclear weapon too are for the purpose of gaining leverage in talks with the West to ensure the survival of the Islamic regime in Tehran.
Memories of Iran
Enduring the shah’s prisons—and those of the Islamic Republic
When Houshang Asadi’s feet hurt, he doesn’t have to wonder why. They’ve been that way for 25 years, since the days when he was regularly beaten in an Iranian prison. The Islamist government’s jailers knew well that the soles of the feet make an inviting target—rich in sensitive nerve endings and easily crushed bones. Memories of his imprisonment and torture in the early 1980s, Mr. Asadi says, still brought on tears every morning when he sat down to write about life before he escaped to Paris in 2003 from “the mega-prison that is today’s Iran,” as he calls his former home in the extraordinary memoir “Letters to My Torturer.”
The book would be remarkable on any terms, but it is made especially memorable by the chilling irony and heartbreaking naïveté that characterize Mr. Asadi’s tale. His first experience of being imprisoned for political reasons comes as a young communist in the 1970s, when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s government decides he is a threat. For several months Mr. Asadi shares a cell with someone the regime also considers a threat—a warm-hearted cleric who weeps when he prays. The cellmates become friends, and, when they are separated in jail, the cleric assures Mr. Asadi that under an Islamic government—the shah’s overthrow is already being contemplated—”not a single tear would be shed by the innocent.”
After an Islamic government does seize power in 1979, the cleric, now released and indeed a prominent member of the revolutionary hierarchy, invites his idealistic former cellmate to edit the regime’s newspaper. After all, Iranian communists like Mr. Asadi had supported the Islamic revolution. But Mr. Asadi turns down the offer—he doesn’t approve of the republic’s ideology and if he accepted he “would be lying to myself and to you.”
It’s hard to know what to make of this sort of integrity, one oblivious to the true meaning of what it is opposing, what it is defending and what its costs might be. Mr. Asadi has no idea, when he declines to work for the Islamic regime, that the door he closes behind him will open only into a room with a rope hanging from the ceiling and blood on the walls. He also seems, for much of the book and perhaps even at book’s end, not to appreciate that his dear communism is similarly unforgiving whenever it acquires power and that radical Islam and communism share an urge toward totalitarianism.
The Islamic rulers’ honeymoon with the communists is brief; soon a general crackdown is launched. Thus in 1983 begins Mr. Asadi’s descent into a realm of state cruelty that makes the shah-era detentions look like child’s play. His old friend the Islamic cleric, meanwhile, flourishes during this period—and continues to do so today, for the cleric is Sayyed Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.
Mr. Asadi is so politically guileless that when his arrest comes, he persists for some time in the belief that somehow an American-sponsored coup like the one that brought the shah to power in 1953 is under way. Instead, he spends more than two years being interrogated and tortured by the Islamists. Much of the “intimate cruelty” is administered by someone he calls “Brother Hamid.” Working through all the levels of his hatred for this man is one of the functions of Mr. Asadi’s memoir.
Mr. Asadi is beaten, whipped and hung by his wrists for hours at a time, his toes just shy of the floor. Sometimes he is up-ended so that he hangs with his nose in his own excrement. “Brother Hamid transformed me from a young idealist to the lowest form of life on earth,” he writes.
Eventually he cracks, but not before absorbing an astonishing degree of brutality, some of it for trying to “confess”—he falsely says that he spied on the regime for the British and the Soviets—without ¬implicating anyone else. Here no one can doubt Mr. Asadi’s extraordinary courage. The book ends with his release after the government apparently decided that he was too junior in the Communist Party to merit further torment. But he emerges into a country where the rulers’ paranoia has not been assuaged by the mass murder of thousands of his comrades in 1988 for their supposed danger to the Islamists’ rule.
“Later on,” Mr. Asadi writes, “the collapse of the Soviet Union, a country I had visited at the height of its power, took with it the last fragments of my beliefs. I had freed myself from myself.” He had nothing left, he says, but “love, beer, and literature.” He would continue to live in Iran for 15 years, forswearing political activity and eventually fleeing to Paris with his wife when the opportunity arose. A long-time author, editor and translator, he now writes for the Persian-language news website Rooz Online, which he co-founded.
Mr. Asadi’s dispassionate description of his experiences makes the book a permanent addition to the harrowing genre of the torture memoir. “Letters to My Torturer” is further distinguished by its precise anatomizing of the curious closeness that grows between torturer and tortured. “In the end, I began to see something of myself in my torturer, and found myself recognizing him as a human being too,” he observes. This intuition is all the more remarkable insofar as Mr. Asadi has given us an indelible portrayal of the fervent commitment to Islamism that makes his torturer pitiless.
There are some bumps in the narrative—it is not clear at some points when Mr. Asadi is addressing Brother Hamid, for instance, and whether some passages were written on command, as part of his elaborate “confession” in jail, or some years later in Paris. He also makes fugitive references to Guantanamo Bay, San Quentin and Israeli solitary-confinement cells, which suggest that, remarkably, Mr. Asadi is not quite ready to draw the distinctions between totalitarianism and democracy that his book so vividly demonstrates.
Nevertheless, Mr. Asadi has offered the world a powerful testament to what transpires in the prisons of Iran—a nightmare that the country’s radical Islamic leadership clearly would be only too happy to export.
Mr. Rosenberg is a writer and editor living in New York.
Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved
By Paul Taylor
PARIS | Thu Jul 15, 2010 3:13am EDT
PARIS (Reuters) – Houshang Asadi is an equal opportunity torture victim.
He was tortured under the Shah and tortured again after Iran‘s Islamic Revolution. He still feels the pain, every night.
Now the 59-year-old former communist journalist, who lives in exile in Paris, is finally getting even with his former torturer — a man he came to know and fear as Brother Hamid — via the Internet.
Asadi’s tale of woe mirrors the modern history of Iran. He recounts the horrors and intrigue with humanity, touches of poetry and humor in a book entitled “Letters to my Torturer,” which has just been published in English (*).
When he was first tortured by the Shah’s Savak secret police in Tehran’s Moshtarek prison in the late 1970s, he shared a cell with a Muslim cleric named Ali Khamenei. They became friends.
By the time Asadi was tortured again in the same jail in the early 1980s, Khamenei had been maimed in a bomb attack and had become president of the Islamic Republic, established after the Shah was overthrown in a 1979 revolution.
Today, Khamenei is Iran‘s supreme leader, presiding over yet another crackdown on reformists, imposed after protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election last year. Some of the same prisons and interrogation techniques are at work again, according to the opposition.
In two years of revolutionary turmoil and relative freedom before Asadi’s second arrest, he kept in touch with Khamenei.
The book depicts an intellectual, humane, literature-loving Khamenei who enjoys a joke, unrecognizable as the stern fundamentalist ideologue of today.
CONNOISSEUR OF TORTURE
When Asadi was sentenced to death for supposedly being part of an alleged Communist plot to overthrow the Islamic regime, his wife contacted the president to appeal for help.
Khamenei sent the judge a handwritten note saying simply he had been aware of the journalist’s political ideas all along. Asadi does not believe that was what saved him from execution.
“I wasn’t senior enough in the party. They executed members of the first leadership level. I was not in the first cadre. I was a journalist on Mardom, the party newspaper,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Asadi survived the mass killing of thousands of political prisoners ordered by revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1988, after telling the court he had renounced the communist Tudeh party and become a faithful Muslim.
A connoisseur of torture, he is acutely perceptive of the differences between practitioners.
“Savak’s purpose was to extract information, whereas the Islamists want to break you, to insult you,” he said.
Brother Hamid called him “useless wimp” and made him bark like a dog when he wanted to “confess” to stop the pain.
The aim was to make a sinner repent and embrace Islam, even though that was no guarantee of avoiding execution ultimately.
Techniques employed included hanging prisoners by a chain attached to their arms behind their back, whipping the soles of their feet until they cannot walk or stand without agony, and breaking their teeth, then denying them dental treatment.
Asadi was also subjected to the humiliation of being forced to eat his own excrement, and that of fellow leftist inmates.
Brother Hamid wanted him to confess to having been part of a communist coup plot, bizarrely said to have been wrought by the Soviet and British secret intelligence service.
He was ordered to write “confessions” on sheets of plain paper that were left in the torture room. If they were unsatisfactory, he was subjected to fresh agonies.
“They want to make you play the role they have written for you in their own screenplay,” said Asadi, a cinema buff who published a film magazine in Tehran until it was raided and shut down in 2005, the year he and his wife fled to France.
Before each torture session, Brother Hamid invoked Shi’ite Muslim saints. “In the name of heavenly Fatimeh…” Thwack!
When the torturer tired, he would switch on a tape recorder repeating a mesmeric Shi’ite chant recalling the battleground where Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, was killed: “Kerbala, Kerbala, we are on our way…”
Moshtarek prison is today a museum, with exhibits denouncing the Shah’s torturers. But their techniques are still in use at Tehran’s sprawling Evin prison — the main detention center for political offenders, according to released detainees.
Now it is Brother Hamid who has been made to sweat since Asadi outed him in a Voice of America interview as Iran‘s ambassador to a central Asian state. The envoy was quickly recalled to Tehran and sent into retirement.
Asadi, who with his wife Nooshabeh Amiri works for a news website (www.roozonline.com), posted a picture on the Internet of his tormentor with President Ahmadinejad, on an official visit to Tajikistan.
“Praise be to Allah a million times, you’ve grown fat. Your double chin sticks about above your official embassy uniform,” he wrote. Despite being blindfolded for most of his time in prison, he said he had clearly seen Brother Hamid three times.
Young exiled democracy activists of the banned Green Movement have found new pictures of Brother Hamid, who rose to be deputy minister of intelligence, attending a reunion of former ambassadors.
They have discovered his address, the names of his children and contacted his daughter via her Facebook page.
In the Internet age, even torturers must fear for their privacy.
(*Letters to My Torturer; Love, Revolution and Imprisonment in Khomeini’s Iran; published by Oneworld, Oxford.)
(Editing by Samia Nakhoul)
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.
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