Maziar Bahari is an Iranian-Canadian journalist, born in Tehran in 1967. He had not quite turned twelve when Khomeini’s revolution triumphed. At the Oslo Freedom Forum last week, Bahari touched on what it was like to grow up under the Ayatollah.
“As I think about my teenage years, the most important challenge of my generation was to keep our individuality intact — to be ourselves, act our age, and protect ourselves from becoming ‘one of them.’ Growing your hair long and listening to forbidden music were acts of resistance. When a regime tries to change you into an agent of the state or a collaborator, remaining normal can be a heroic act.”
Dissidents all over the world will tell you the same thing: It’s so hard to stay normal.
In Oslo, Bahari showed a picture of himself in 1983. He was in front of a rock-band poster. (Pardon me, but I forget the band.) He said that, if caught, he could have been sentenced to 148 lashes — 74 for possessing the poster and another 74 for listening to the music.
It is not that way in Iran anymore. But maintaining individuality is still a problem.
A few years ago, I did some writing about Khomeini and made a note about music. He banned music when he took over — the broadcast of it, that is. “Like opium,” he said, “music stupefies persons listening to it and makes their brains inactive and frivolous.” He said that the Shah’s regime had “corrupted and degraded” Iranian youth through the broadcast of music.
In the wake of democratic protests in June 2009 — this was the “green movement” – Maziar Bahari was arrested, along with thousands of others. He spent 118 days in prison, 107 of them in solitary confinement. He was tortured, both physically and psychologically. “Every day, I was told I was going to be executed.” Twice, he contemplated suicide — “but I had so much to live for.”
I would like to stress the anti-Semitism — wacky or not — of the Iranian regime. “I was accused of being in touch with a Zionist spy named Anton Chekov,” said Bahari. “Yes, the 19th-century Russian playwright.” The problem was, Bahari was a member of a Chekov group on Facebook. Also, “I was asked to write down the name of every Jewish person I had ever met in my life. Actually, they asked me to write down the names of ‘Jewish elements,’ because for them there are no Jewish people, just ‘Jewish elements.’”
The triumph of the Khomeinist revolution in 1979 introduced a world of bad. It was disastrous for Iran, the Middle East, and the world. The downfall of that revolution will produce a world of good.