Ebrahim Nabavi speaking in
Political satire of Ebrahim Nabavi
you agree with his point of view or not, there is no doubt that Ebrahim Nabavi
has single handedly brought back a long tradition of political satire writing to
the Iranian print media.
His daily commentaries
under various titles (Sotoone Panj, Sotoone Chahar, Chehel Sotoon, Bi-Sotoon, to
name a few) and publications (Toos, Neshat, Asre-Azadegan, etc.) are perhaps the
most popular section of each of these papers. His column (sotoon) sells loads of
papers and even this far away, is one of the most popular stops for their
growing global Internet visitors.
Nabavi holds back no
punches and shoots straight from the hip. Considering the limitations he faces,
he gets away with much more than others using comedy to discuss some very
serious subjects. He is not vulgar or insulting, but finds humor in some of the
most mundane events of Iranian political life and exposes their hypocrisy.
He quotes a fellow
co-worker, “maybe a cartoonist” who believes their job is to show the true
face of politicians who so desperately try to portray a false image. He is vague
on many details but has a good excuse for it, he has been brought to court many
times, arrested and jailed and now says he can’t comment on some things any
further “because I’m flying back to Iran in 10 days or so”.
When asked why he chose
to write political satire, he is quick to point out that he always wonders why
not others, maybe all Iranians don’t write political satire. After all, “how
many countries can you name where the President is also the Leader of the
Ebrahim Nabavi is
in Toronto this week in response to an invitation from Shahrvand Publication (www.shahrvand.com)
and Vazhe cultural group (www.vazhe.com).
It’s his first public appearance outside Iran. Even back home, he has only
participated once in a similar style meeting arranged by students at a political
science university. The Canadian program was organized weeks before the recent
closure of his current paper (Asre-Azadegan) and arrest of some of his
associates (Akbar Ganji, Latif Safari and his Editor Mashallah
Sunday night, he spoke in
University of Toronto to a room packed with over 1,000 eager listeners. Probably
more than one fire code regulation had to have been broken to allow people to
sit in every corner of the large auditorium and even on the floors of corridors.
Still, many were turned away disappointed, unable to get in. Organizers promised
them a second “show” for Friday, May 16th.
room at university of Toronto listening to Nabavi
The evening started with
artists of the Vazhe group performing some of his sketches. After that Hassan
Zerehi, the editor of Shahrvand was given the task of introducing his guest. He
admitted it may be better for Nabavi to introduce him since he is by far better
known but chose to bring in the main speaker by reading a short autobiography
gathered from Nabavi’s many books.
A small man with a grand
moustache that reminds many of the 60’s era radicals, he is sharp, funny,
witty and calculating. He answers questions with the expertise of a seasoned
politician. Avoids some subjects by either stating his case for “returning in
10 days” or use his wonderful sense of humor to maneuver around touchy
questions. He says much more with his silence, body language and tone of voice
than anyone can expect.
He starts by saying to
the soundperson who is adjusting the microphones that “if you add one more,
I’ll resemble Hashemi Rafsanjani. It’s one of his many comments that causes
a thunderous laugh from the audience. He also gets several huge ovations,
although most Iranians are too reserved to stand up for one.
The supposed “left”
extremists who are proud to have disrupted the Berlin conference last month are
also present. They’ve even managed to bring in new faces from as far away as
Sweden. Their presence is such a non-issue to most that many of them have to
leave the room to show their frustrations outside the hall. When they get a
chance to ask their questions, many choose instead to present passionate
speeches that in one way or another ends in insulting the crowd, the speaker or
his other colleagues. One after another they leave after the cold reception they
get from the crowd.
After the show, I get a
chance to talk with him one-on-one over a savory dinner at a Persian Restaurant.
It’s hard not to like him, as he comes across very humble, yet passionate,
clever and sharp.
He shows me samples of
his new book that will be published shortly in both French and English. It’s a
sample of some his best work put together in an attractive layout which combines
his words with marvelous graphics done by a brilliant artist in Iran. He also
has a web site under construction at http://www.e-nabavi.com/.
I ask if he is worried
about returning to Iran since he may face an arrest again. He is convinced that
it is “his duty” to go back and write what he writes because people demand
it. He is also convinced that the “2nd of Khordad” movement is such a
enormous populous development that in no way it could be stopped or set back.
“The purveyors of violence will try all they can, they will harass and issue
warrants, but even they know their end is near”.
A day earlier, someone in
Montreal asked him if he is a religious man, he answered with a resounding YES!
Then added “I believe very strongly in a religion called Democracy”. Tonight
the questions were more general. Somebody asked if it’s true Rafsanjani is now
known as “Aghasi” in Tehran (referring to his 30th place finish in the last
election) to which he just nodded his head in approval.
Perhaps most surprising
is his lack of grave concern about the recent media crackdown. In his analysis,
he believes “they” needed to conduct the second round of the elctions
without any “interference” from the outspoken press. In fact he believes the
law they used in order to obtain temporary bans does not even apply to the
press. “It wont stand a chance in the court they must hold to obtain permenant
closures” he explains. He is certain that after this Friday’s elections and
another expected setback for the hardliners, all papers will return.
He also says “besides,
all the papers have a back-up license to publish another paper if these current
licenses are removed”. When
pushed, he also acknowledges that in the worst-case scenario, the Internet can
also be used more extensively to reach their audience.
I asked him why is it
that when Salaam was closed last summer, the students took to the streets and
now it all seems much more quiet. He sees this as the maturing of “the
movement”. “They (hardliners) want disruption, they want chaos, they want to
go to the outgoing Majlis and start an impeachment process because the President
has showed he is unable to run the country” he says. He points out that they
were so shocked not to get uprising, they tried to start one themselves.
He adds “our
Asre-Azadegan offices are probably 200 meters from Jame-Jam (state television
building), one day we heard there was a demonstration planned to protest the
role of state television in the current unrest. We knew it wasn’t true. There
was no demonstration planned by anyone. They started the rumor themselves
hoping some will show up and then they can turn it into something other than
what it was. They need the commotion to continue their hold on power, but we are
much wiser now”.
Nabavi is a staunch
supporter of the current non-violent reform movement. He strongly believes that
a government who comes to power by force will inevitably turn violent against
it’s detractors and points to a history of political upheaval in Iran as
proof. “Only through a process of dialogue and non-confrontational contest can
true democracy be established” he says.
Perhaps the sad part is
due to non-existence of any other democratic alternatives, his way is perhaps
not only the best way but the only way.
Moallemian with Ebrahim Nabavi
Pedram Moallemian was the
first Iranian nominated for a seat in Canada’s Federal Parliament when he ran
for New Democratic Party in a suburb of Toronto in June of 1997. A former
President of Iranian Community Association of Ontario, he currently works with
many non-profit groups and campaigns and is the volunteer director of CIRCLE
(Canadian Iranian Centre for Liberty & Equality), an advocacy human rights
organization. He lives in Toronto and writes regularly for various publications
both in Persian and English. You can contact him at: email@example.com
2000, Pedram Moallemian