A noble thought is where?
Little dignity left for the "Islamic State"
By Simin Behbahani
Translated by Moe Maleki
April 27, 2003
Dear Estimable Friend, Mr. Mohammad Derakhshesh,
For a while now I have wanted to write something and haven't. To
tell you the truth, normally I do not know what I am going to write
about. I only know that for me writing is a torrent of my internal
turmoil, with the hope that a voice is heard and someone is awakened,
and the formidable flood, roaring and rolling, might be dammed.
And yet I know well once the flood begins it will be too late to
build a dam.
In any case, a scream cannot be muffled. I write even though my
cry may be futile. This is the only thing I can do. So hear me.
Today marks the start of the "decadence sanitization"
plan, meaning they will begin enforcing strict adherence to the
hejab [Islamic women's dress code], pull pictures of women and children
from store fronts, remove undergarment displays from public view,
deter use of offensive language, arrest and destroy dogs and monkeys,
and many other things....
Congratulations to them.
About two years ago I wrote a piece about vagrant street children
who have no guardians, or have mafia-like "guardians,"
which was printed in two or three periodicals. Day before yesterday
was to be the start of the plan to round up these children in the
I had gone out to the market. Right here in our own Tehran, on
Vanak Street, some kids of varying sizes, tattered and dirty clothes,
charcoal-tanned and fatigued, with pallid eyes that had no shine,
were gathered like flies around a truck parked on the side of the
street and were jumping up and down. One of them ran towards me
and with a Yazdi accent [city in central Iran] said: "Give
me money. Let me eat."
Simple as that. There was no indication of pretense or lament in
his tone. As if he was requesting something that was his right.
I too knew eating a decent meal was his right. I took out a 200
Toman note [about a US quarter] from my purse. He quickly snatched
it from my hand and ran back toward the other kids, waving the money
in the air, and punched a boy smaller than himself firmly on the
head, and started to dance.
I looked at him befuddled and asked "Why did you hit him?"
and immediately smirked at the stupidity of my own question. There
is no "why" about it. This is a lesson that his environment
has taught him: whoever suffers blows from the top will deliver
blows to those beneath.
He has probably escaped the "sanitization" of Yazd to
avoid being taken off the street, and has fled to Tehran. And when
the "sanitization" of Tehran begins, he'll probably flee
to Rasht or some other place. He'll hitch to the back of a bus,
or sit in a truck. Who can stop him? Will the officials be able
to carry out their plan? How long can we keep these officials on
the streets? Tomorrow when the focus shifts away to other things,
the same routine will play again at every street corner.
Our problem is that these kids, or even older ones, have no trust
in the system that wants to pull them out of the void. No one, it
seems, has any trust in anything or anyone. Everybody has heard
so many lies and seen so much fraud that their "believing eye
has been blinded." From the moment these kids opened their
eyes to the world they became accustomed to unruliness and privation.And
they have seen no place to offer them kindness. Like a virus, they
hide in some corner and when the conditions are right, they swarm.
And today they will be taking down pictures from the store-front
windows, taking girls to the komiteh [the moral police], and flogging
boys on the street. How can these methods be effective against the
alleged decadence claimed by those in charge? Only loathing, enmity
and distrust will increase.That which now takes place in the open
will for a short time revert to hidden corners and backrooms. Then
when the whips are worn out and arms become tired, "decadence"
will once again return to the streets.
Before the Revolution, association between boys and girls was
permitted. And for attire, the style of the majority of world's
population was conformed to. Many wore the "mini," [low
skirt] and many did not. The veil and prayer-cloak could also be
Dancing for boys and girls was of their own volition. And we saw
how those same boys and girls guided the Revolution; stood in front
of bullets; went to the fronts during the war -- pity that now most
of them lay rotting in their tombs! And those who remained are either
imprisoned, turned "reformist," became recluse or a refugee.
Yet today, after 23 years under the mantle and excesses of inculcation,
preaching and admonition, eavesdropping within the bounds of the
home and meddling in private matters, and the use of the whip, chains,
prisons, and torture, this generation of boys and girls does not
heed severe subjugation; theft, bribery, profanity, vagrancy, and
poverty have left little dignity for the "Islamic State".
Should I be discrete? Should I not utter these words? Why? I am
no one's enemy. I have no ill intentions. I want to cogitate, to
the extent of my deficient intellect, for the betterment of my country.
What do I care that Omar or Yazid is at the head of my country;
I want to belong to a people who are civilized, free, acquainted
with the gradations of morality, satiated in the belly and in the
All this mischief is the result of poverty. These vagrant kids
are the children of fathers and mothers who could not fill their
bellies, and with the blessing of the devil send them to the streets.
Street girls barter their bodies for a full stomach and a shirt
on their backs.
I asked one of them: why don't you work in a store, a company,
a house, any place. She only looked back: erudition gawking at folly!
I surmised she is saying: "I make 30 to 40 thousand Tomans
a day [a government employee's average monthly salary]. Where could
I go to make 40 thousand Tomans a month? And it would not be certain
they might not have further expectations!"
I muttered to myself, "You don't know that in four years,
diseased and filthy, weary and dishonored, like a defiled rag they
will toss you in the trash." Yet, with all that, I had to concede
that even 40 thousand Tomans a month would not fill her belly, nor
provide clothes or a domicile, and she may not even live that long.
The youth have no jobs, no prospect for forming a family, no money
for education, no leisure, no belief in unimpressionable preaching
and sermons. Illegal drugs cheaper than cigarettes are at their
disposal. Their most natural recourse is the shelter afforded by
narcotics and intoxicants.
Ignorance and neglect make a deceitful shelter. Universities which
in the old days gave their students honor-bound loans (with the
condition that after finding work for them, a small amount of their
monthly salary would be deducted towards repayment of the loan,
and few are those who have fully repaid their loan) today are demanding
enormous tuitions. Fathers and mothers must sell all their belongings
so their children become "degree-holders," only to be
faced with the difficulty of finding suitable, or unsuitable, employment.
So many colleges in humanities, sociology, and who knows what,
are training graduates in excess of demand, most of whom remain
unemployed and must become taxi-drivers or store clerks. Why don't
they convert these colleges to vocational schools? Why don't they
offer short-term programs in weaving, knitting, blacksmithing, welding,
cooking, hairstyling and thousands of other vocations with the aim
of training and engaging the youth in gainful employment?
The country's administrators must provide for the advancement,
education, and guaranty of a range of diverse occupations.Currently
we have an excess of schooled and unschooled poets, writers and
lecturers. Those who possess any talent can learn for themselves
what is needed, but to find a plumber or welder one must wait in
turn for some time.
They want to endow the people with "Islamic morality."
By God, neither with the whip nor with maxims and aphorisms is this
possible. "man la measha la, la maadala" (a hungry
person has no faith or creed). I spoke both the Arabic and the Persian.
But who will listen? Today to one side of me live wealthy lords
with numerous expensive automobiles parked in front of their house
and whose wealth "exceeds their oars." By what means was
this fortune amassed? Beats me!
To my other side is a 100 square meter shack in which seventy Kurd,
Lor, Turk, Afghan and Iranian laborers are practicing "congenial
coexistence." When one of them was summoned to my residence
for some construction, he was so filthy and stinky that I inadvertently
asked: "Don't you have hygiene facilities at your place?"
He said: "Lady! We get our drinking water with much difficulty
from nearby street taps, and when we sleep someone's feet fall on
another's head! What hygiene facilities?"
I thought, "Is this not an affront to humanity?" Those
who from the pulpits and from behind the microphones extol the rituals
of prayer and ablution and cleansing and purgation, why don't they
state how to obtain the necessary soap and water? Now even water
has become rationed.
Trust must first be established before the inculcation of moral
doctrines. A pupil must have faith in his teacher. The person who
witnesses that for a select few all manner of perversion is permitted
while for himself the slightest lapse is a sin subject to punishment,
what faith does he cultivate in his heart? Which sermon should he
The condition of hygiene and healthcare is the worst of all. Large
government hospitals, built from the essence and marrow of a deprived
populace, and which before the revolution offered their services
free or for a nominal fee, currently demand outrageous admittance
and treatment fees, roughly on par with private hospitals; and their
corridors are full of brokers trading scarce medication at astronomical
black market prices.
In the words of Forough Farrokhzad: Doesn't anyone realize "that
the name of that woeful bird / which has flown from the hearts,
is faith?" Why are Islamic authorities incapable of cultivating
trust in our hearts? Why do they suppose that flogging and harshness
are the remedy? Why have they forgotten that Reason is one of the
four-tiered principles of discipline whose management they have
In times like these when the dangerous consequence of flogging
to the point of kidney failure, puncturing of organs, paralysis,
death, and psychological harm has been confirmed, should not the
mandate of Reason cause the abolition of this inhumane punishment?
In places in this world, two or three centuries ago, torture and
bodily injury were considered an ordinary imperative. But today
the civilized world does not suffer such treatment even on convicted
Capital punishment is currently forbidden in most places. This
is emblematic of humankind's enlightenment and the diffusion of
compassion. "Living" in the past and clinging to archaic
dogmas without conforming them to modern times is unwarranted. This
behavior not only will result in the decline of society but will
destroy the very prestige of religion.
Dear friend, I am a poet. I wish the time spent writing these words
would have been spent composing poetry. Alas, even my poetry of
late speaks only of anguish. I speak and I write, but a sympathetic
ear or discerning eye is not found. We are on a remarkable decline
and only collision with a huge precipice can arrest our fall, and
at that moment, our great savior will be our ears!
Where is a noble thought and a Brahman prudence? [Hafiz]
May God bless you,
Tehran, 1380/5/28 (September 2001)
From "Kojaast Fekre Hakimi?" by Simin Behbahani, Ketab
Corp., Los Angeles,
CA. March 2003.
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