Bookmark and Share

Whence Came all This Hatred and Cruelty in his Eyes?

By Farzaneh Taheri, Feminist School

November 4th 1978
I am at Tehran University; sporadic demonstrations are taking place inside the campus as usual. Soldiers are on guard at the gate ready for action. It's in the afternoon that I hear gunshots from distance. Word has it that some students gathered at the gate to bring down the Shah's statue. Soldiers fired and one student was killed. I vaguely recall the statue; gilded, but not too big or imposing; standing among bushes, facing the iron gate with its back to the campus. I remember I haven't noticed it for a while.

My guess is soldiers have fired at students through the grids of the gate as they were not allowed inside the campus. Even during the students' sit-in demanding the release of political prisoners, although the city was under martial law, they never set foot inside the campus. The sit-in took place on the university's football pitch which was still covered with grass and students played there, even on the days of the revolution.(1) The army did not set foot on the campus even when some students, whom we believed to be on SAVAK's(2) payroll, started to insult them and did their best to provoke and draw them into the campus and onto the protestors on the football pitch where every freed political prisoner would come to straight from the Evin prison, welcomed by the protestors, and join the protest.

November 4th 1979
I call a cab. I am getting married on the 8th. The radio is on. I hear the news. It doesn't make sense. Occupying the US embassy? Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Path? It doesn't ring a bell. Nothing unusual was happening inside the university campus this morning. The tent of "Bureau of Unity Consolidation" was still at it at the front gate. Those inside the tent were playing back speeches and revolutionary songs over loudspeakers that were mounted all around the tent. Still a long way before Cultural Revolution and my studies will be finished before then, in February. It's a narrow escape for me.

I try to follow the bits and pieces of the news I hear while in the cab but don't get it, or don't take it seriously. Despite many years of sympathy for any nation fighting imperialism, I cannot condone this. To tell the truth, all I am thinking about right now is my wedding. On the 7th I'll become 21, and the day after is my wedding. Arranging the small ceremony has occupied my mind; I feel I'm walking in the haze.

The first and last time I go there, to the gate of the embassy, is a couple of months later. We have got used to watching young boys and girls on TV gluing the shredded documents together. The assembled documents they read on TV seem like documents found in any embassy; nothing out of the ordinary. But the consequences of the occupation will be much more serious.

The CIA's involvement in the 1953 coup has long been common knowledge and the documents proving the role of the US administration in the overthrow of the national democratic government of Dr. Mussadeq have been declassified and released by the Agency itself. The occupation of the embassy is said to be the revenge for that coup but, ironically, the first victims are the very followers of Dr. Mussadeq: the National Front veterans who formed the transitional government after the 1979 revolution. And dominos start tumbling: the Cultural Revolution, the 80's, the war, years and years of marches, mourning processions, martyrdom and martyrs, scream of sirens and red alerts!

The street leading to the American Embassy becomes the gathering place for all events, the destination for all marches and protests. It has become more like the front of the university campus during the revolution months: a flea market with all those lima bean vendors, steamed beetroot vendors, sellers of bric-a-brac and second hand clothes that people said belonged to those killed during the revolution or dead people in general, and all those idle people wandering around as if they had nothing else to do with their lives. It seems that the embassy is now the heart of the capital.

I attended one demonstration in front of the embassy, only once. In fact, it was exactly for this demonstration that I took the flight from Isfahan and went there straight from the airport. I sat on the ground at the intersection of Takht-e-Jamshid (Persepolis) and Roosevelt streets. (I guess the names of the streets had not yet been officially changed, or people would prefer to continue to call them by those names). I listened to the resolution of the political group organizing the demonstration. The resolution proved to be controversial and caused a schism within the group after the event.

That was the only time I visited the "Nest of Spies." Later on, Tehran University and the streets around it became the heart of Tehran. Once I went to 16 Azar Street and joined the students who were defending their university, even though I was no longer a student. My brother was among them along with many of my fellow students who were still students, many of whom perished a year later.

My husband, Hooshang Golshiri teaches at the Faculty of Fine Arts. A few weeks before, I attended one of his classes when we heard a commotion. We all came out of the building to see what was going on. I saw them for the first time, the foot soldiers of the Cultural Revolution. Only very few among them seemed to be students. Furious, angry. They were there to conquer this other "nest." That was one of his last classes. Later on, they forced him to stay home, without pay. And then, when my second child turned one, exactly on September 8th 1983, we received his dismissal letter as part of the "cleansing" of universities.

The Berlin wall
Last night was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. The ceremony took place at the Brandenburg Gate, where one thousand dominos, each eight feet long, painted by children from all over Europe, were lined up along the line where the wall used to stand. And Lech Walesa gave the first push, although Hungary was the country which led the way by opening its border with Austria. And there was this ruler, Romania's Ceauşescu, who didn't let go until it was too late, and met his violent death. Watching the tumbling dominos, I felt a lump in my throat and I let my tears roll.

It is now just over a month after the June presidential elections. I go visit Sohrab's(3) mother. She and her sister used to be members of Mothers for Peace. They still are, I guess, and even more determined. They participated in a protest against brutalities in Gaza in front of the Palestinian embassy in Tehran, but got beaten. Even this kind of protests was exclusive to insiders and they did not have that privilege; they should have known better. I go there to offer my condolences. All through those thirty something days, my sorrow, my anger, my shock have been burning dry. Once there, I am shocked to see how the mother has aged in her quest for her son, weeks after weeks, till that day when she learns about the futility of it all. I finally manage to get that damn lump off my throat. I burst into tears, and cry. Cry as if for all those days, even years.

November 4th 2009
I am near the 7th Tir Square to visit a friend. A young woman and a young man are accompanying me. I am not sure if I am looking after them or they are protecting me. When we reach the square, I see protestors running, some with green tokens. I see an old lady fall to the ground. Plain clothed men pounce on her. Some of them can't be older than her grandchildren. The Greens run back at them. They leave her and run away. The old lady limps towards us, bloody and stunned, and leans against the wall. The Greens catch a few of the thugs and take away their batons and pepper sprays. They even find a large cleaver concealed under the coat of one of the thugs. Some people demand an eye for an eye. After all, the violence today is indeed unprecedented. They are beating everyone. I say, "We shouldn't resort to violence." "Didn't you see how the bastards beat up that old lady?" a woman next to me objects. I repeat, "But we shouldn't turn to violence, nothing justifies violence. We have all seen where these justifications can lead."

I start to walk up the street. Suddenly, I feel a heavy blow on my back that takes my breath away. It's a baton. I turn around. This one is wearing a uniform and is middle-aged. I look at him. The hate and resentment in his eyes are more frightening than his baton. Another one shouts insults in my face. His insults are of the same kind we used to receive from the university guards during my university days. I don't run. I try to walk as slowly and calmly as I can. I regain my breath. I ask myself what I have been asking myself all these past months: What are they told? Where does this hate in their face, in their eyes, come from? How can one slash faces, bodies of ordinary, unarmed people so easily? I remember the type of insults we girls used to hear from the university guards during students' protests before the revolution. We could guess what indoctrinations they must have received. We knew they were told that these leftists share their girls and if they come to power, your wives, mothers, sisters and daughters will become communal. We knew that most of them came from such deprived backgrounds that they couldn't stand these coddled good-for-nothing kids who were studying at the university: "What the hell more do they want?"

I recall a young woman who was standing beside me in Enghelab (Revolution) Square two days after the elections. She had a flag in her hand, an indication that she had just returned from the celebration of Ahmadinejad's victory. We were watching the protestors being beaten. She said, "Kill them all, the bastards! Crush them like bugs! They think it's Europe here, wanting to sleep with a thousand every day!" I looked at her. She was wearing tight clothes and had makeup on; all in all, an appearance which would have been punishable by the moral police a few months ago. But not now; she is now in the victor's camp and others are being punished. Where was she told what she was regurgitating so vehemently? It was not a matter of belief or persuasion; I have seen believers, last time on the Quds Day. We passed each other on the streets of Tehran. They were performing their prayers and there was no hate in their eyes.

Today, though, it is different; you don't see ordinary believers anywhere. They are all taken to the memorial ceremony at the ex-embassy by bus. They are not here to witness. So the violence is unleashed on the streets not very far from the Nest of Spies; naked, unrestrained violence. And tear gas, clouds of tear gas. I can't breathe; my lips and eyes are on fire. May be they are using pepper spray? And I hear gunshots. I go back to my friend's office. There are 30-40 people there. The door had been left open. They come, limping, blinded. Holding their elbows which, being very sensitive, are often the landing place of choice for batons. People are smoking and blowing the smoke into each other's faces, eyes. A young girl calls home: "Don't worry; they will let him go, mum." Her brother has been arrested. Someone, in plain clothes, is at the door which is now closed. The alley is closed on both ends. We have to stay put until they leave. They leave and we come out. We go through side streets, in twos and threes. The plainclothes forces are on their red motorcycles. Some are walking with black paint sprays in their hands covering whatever is written in green on the walls. My friend says: "Like hasty hostesses who start washing up when guests are still on their way out." Are they trying to suggest nothing has happened these past few hours? We take a taxi. In Vali-e-Asr Avenue, they are beating a young man. A woman approaches to ask them to stop, and a baton cracks open her skull. Blood runs over her face. We go past her. I get home. My daughter calls. There is no internet connection. She tells me that almost all her friends' mothers have been beaten that day. Justice and equality reign.

The Suspect and the Accused
In one of the largest American barracks, the army psychiatrist, an Asian-American Muslim, has shot a few soldiers dead and wounded many. He is injured and is in the hospital. The general refers to him as the suspect without mentioning his religion, let alone calling him a terrorist with orders from abroad; he is just a suspect not even the accused.

Our French class
A big hall, overwhelmingly red; seat covers, the prosecutor's scarf are all red. It is frightening. In old tales, when the judge wore red, the accused knew for sure there would be no way out. About a hundred prisoners are there, all wearing pyjamas and white rubber sandals. The policemen can also be recognized by their uniforms. But, other seats are taken by people whom we do not recognize. The families of the accused are left out waiting as there are no empty seats left for them. In the fourth or fifth row my dear friend, my dear French teacher, Nazak is sitting; one of the only two women on trial there. She is wearing a flowery chador. My dear friend and teacher, a nice friend to many. She was working in the cultural section of the French embassy in Tehran. Thanks to her, we could all avoid the humiliation we experienced behind the consulates' doors in the long queues for visa. One of the charges against her is exactly this: facilitating the issuing of visas for some. The message? Long live all those local arrogant doormen of foreign embassies who have been ordering their compatriots around all these long years. "Be quiet! Step back! Stand here! ..."

Shahab(4) is sitting in the first row. His wife, Mehrak, was at my French class with her younger brother, Omid (hope). He was the best student in our class. Our class is broken apart. Another classmate, Hassan Sarbakhshian, the famous photojournalist, has gone to the US. I haven't seen Mehrak for months. I can't. I don't understand why I feel ashamed. Sepehr used to come to our class with his dad, Shahab, to pick up Mehrak. He had just started the school. When I saw him telling Saeed Hajjarian that he was a fan of the Brazil's football team because the back of their jersey was green, my heart ached. My heart aches that Omid and Mehrak's older brother, Iman (faith), have been arrested along with many others in a night of prayer for the release of their brother-in-law whom I wish to be released soon. I remember him actively encouraging people to vote; he who was so concerned about the fate of his homeland.

Our French class is gone. Nazak has left. Some one told me that Sepehr stayed by the telephone for weeks after they came one night and took his father away, lest he'd miss his father's call from the prison, and he started his second year at school without him. Now, his beloved uncles have also vanished. His Omid and Iman. That's all.

Source in Persian

[1] It was covered with concrete shortly after the revolution and has been the main site for Friday prayers in the past 30 years.

[2] Shah's Secret Police

[3] Sohrab Araabi was shot dead a few days after the June elections.

[4] Shahab Tabatabai was the head of the youth branch of the Mosharekat Front supporting Mousavi in the elections

© Copyright 2009 (All Rights Reserved)