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 provincial cities.
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 seen.
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 eye.
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 believe?
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 undertaken?
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 murderers.
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.