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Stockholm Syndrome
Are Iranians sympathetic to their captors in Iran?



Tina Ehrami
August 29, 2006

A couple of days ago I read an article in the papers about an Austrian woman who had been captivated since the age of 10 and had just managed to escape from her captor. She had spent 8 years of her youth in a dark and damp cellar in a child molester's house. When she escaped and introduced herself to one of the neighbors, she was described as calm and normal. After the police questioned what had happened during this period of time, she said to have had "sexual contact" with her captor, but did not elaborate. She seemed down to earth and in a perhaps disturbing way not negative when describing her captor.

Some analysts say she probably has the Stockholm syndrome, which means that victims over time become sympathetic to their captors. The name derives from a 1973 hostage incident in Stockholm, Sweden. At the end of six days of captivity in a bank, several kidnap victims actually resisted rescue attempts, and afterwards refused to testify against their captors.

The whole story about this Austrian woman makes me wonder about Iranians in Iran who had lived through and with the regime of the Islamic Republic. In a sense, the Islamic Republic captivated the country with all the people in it. Only this time the captivators were not strangers who came jumping from behind a bush, but were neighbors, friends or even relatives. With their unnaturally imposed religion, law and values they captivated their own people and turned their country into a dark and damp cellar!

After a while the Iranian people being captivated by their captors gave up their fight, their resistance, their revolt against what was happening to them. Some found a way to escape, some did not have the courage or the means, some were too tired. The ones who stayed silently and slowly transformed from being the victim into being an accomplice (!), a being that is used to abuse and captivation. They had accepted their captor for what he was and what he did to them and began to think that this was their part in life.

The young Austrian woman spent the most important years of her life, the age in which ones character is being formed, in an unnatural and disturbing setting. When she was asked how she felt about her captivation she answered that because of her captivation she was able to stay away from the "bad things in life" like alcohol, cigarettes or bad company!  The damage has been done. Her character has been formed in a way that will probably never recover into a character that will be able to function normally in society.

This situation is similar to Iranians born in Iran after the Islamic revolution. These people suffer from this same type of Stockholm syndrome. Even if one day the Islamic Republic by some miracle would crumble and fall, how will the freed Iranians function in a new society? Will they step out that dark and damp cellar and smell the fresh air or will they cry out of despair because their only point of reference, their only leader/ captor has gone?

Will it be difficult for them to step out that cellar, because they do not know what will be waiting out there for them? Will they be afraid of what other people might think of them? Are they afraid it might be more difficult for them to confront themselves with the cruelties they have been through than to continue living in the dark cellar where they at least know what to expect? I hope that all the people fighting the captors will be ready to guide the captives once the cellar door opens. Comment

To Tina Ehrami
letters section

Tina Ehrami



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The Art of Persian Music
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