Liberty against all odds
Requiem for Laleh and Ladan
July 11, 2003
A few years back we saw Laleh and Ladan step off a taxi cab and
unto the crowded sidewalks of Amirabad, our old neighborhood
in Tehran. They seemed in charge of their severe predicament:
a steely and defiant smile to meet the unbelieving stares of
the brazen onlookers and a steady gait to keep their conjoined
heads evenly move forward. They were a walking paragon of grace,
courage, and good humor.
Georges Couvier, the 19th century French naturalist believed
that a fetus reenacts the entire natural history of evolution
to human, in its nine months of gestation. A scientifically suspect
notion, Couvier's theory nevertheless makes for an elegant
image trapping as it does, the boundless process of evolution in
a tiny loop.
The tragedy of Laleh and Ladan Bijani, the 29 year
old conjoined Iranian twins who died on July 8 as a result
of a surgery they bravely underwent in Singapore, contains a metaphor
of comparable elegance.
The macrocosm of Iran's post-revolutionary
struggle for liberty is embodied in the microcosm of the twins'
sad saga. The spirit that animated Laleh and Ladan is the same
that beats in the hearts of their fellow students who bear the
brunt of Iran's ineluctable movement toward democracy.
Laleh and Ladan died one day before the fourth anniversary of the
student uprising of 1999. It was the brutal suppression of this
movement that inaugurated the violent phase of the right wing backlash
that has brought Iran's political reform to its knees. The
twins gave several interviews in Singapore. Those who heard their
clear, optimistic and cheerfully defiant voices on the edge of
the abyss would recognize the spirit of their generation that is
blazing a new trail for freedom in Iran.
Laleh and Ladan did not
share the fatalism of the similarly afflicted American sisters
Lori and Riba Schapel. One of them said to a radio interviewer
on a Public Radio International program dedicated to the Iranian
twins: “God made us this way and I wouldn't know why
we would want to mess with what God made.”
dictates of the powers that be, allegedly divine, natural, social
or political, is utterly alien to the present generation of Iranian
youth. The Bijani twins did not think like the Schapel twins.
They risked death to change their destiny. They died rather than
without autonomy, liberty and normalcy.
Laleh and Ladan wanted to be individuals; free to make their
own fate. They braved the tyranny of nature as their friends
the state. They craved equality as do their friends. They were
tired of belonging to a different class of citizens as are
those Iranians whose life style is declared illegal. They hungered
to lead a normal life as do an entire nation reduced to pariah
Laleh and Ladan did not want to be spectacularly different.
thirsted for the neglected virtue of being unremarkable,
for the luxury of anonymity. They wanted to come and go without
singled out, interrogated. And, they wished for a modicum
privacy, even from each other.
They wanted to be left alone
as do the seventy
percent of the Iranian population that is under twenty
five. These are conditions that healthy organic bodies and healthy
bodies take for granted. Only the afflicted, having fully
recognized the worth of these common place blessings feverishly
Like the Bijani twins, Iran's generation X is relentless,
desperate and determined. Like them, the Iranian students are unsentimental,
tough, life-affirming and hopeful against all odds. Like the fearless
Laleh and Ladan the Iranian students in their slow spontaneous
combustion in the streets of Tehran are not afraid to risk injury
or even death to realize their aspirations.
At the end, the Bijani
twins hazarded all rather than settling for a life of dependency.
What human person or society is entitled to less? Let us hope
the nation does not have to bleed to death in the process of attaining
its fundamental human rights as outlined in the brave and eloquent
7th letter of Students for Fostering Unity to the UN Secretary
General. Let us pray for more heroes, not martyrs, in this struggle.
Mahmoud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri are twins. Mahmoud is
Associate Professor of Sociology at Texas Women's University.
He has a
York's New School for Social Research (See
Ahmad is Professor and Chairman of the Department
of Sociology and Anthropology
at Lake Forest
College, IL, USA. See
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