False arrest, incarceration, public defamation, censorship, blacklisting, egregious court rulings defying the elementary principles of law and equal justice. No, I am not referring to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Rather, I am referring to that venerable ‘beacon on the hill,’ Harvard University, my Great Nemesis, I have been battling constantly since 1990, the ruthless Goliath that has thrown its elephantine weight against me intent on crushing me years after years.
The years burn up as a fading lantern, homage to the majesty of the absurd, a muse easy to bear, Camusian laughter, thinking, what might break this dry spell?
On March 23rd this year, I got a notice from the Supreme Court of the United States. It read: Afrasiabi versus Harvard University, et al, motion to file petition for certiorari out of time is denied (full court).
I have since consoled myself with the thought that at least I got the ears of the whole nine justices for a brief moment, however despairingly, and that itself is making history, legal history, given my pro se status.
No, it has not been easy fighting the ruthless Goliath for seven consecutive years acting as my own attorney against a horde of shameless, manipulative power legal hired hands put up by Harvard in my civil rights law suit filed in a federal court in Boston in 1996 shortly after the false charges — of death threats and extortion — were dropped against me.
The case’s docket sheet alone is over one hundred pages, testimony to the maddening zeal with which I litigated my complaint: over 700 motions and briefs, more than thirty hearings, and a controversial jury trial lasting ten full days featuring two university presidents, a half dozen Harvard police officers, several professors, including the famed historian Howard Zinn, the playwright David Mamet, and CBS’ “60 Minutes” correspondent, Mike Wallace, testifying on my behalf as my character witness.
“The cannons of Harvard are lined up against a pea shooter,” said Wallace to the reporters after his in-court testimony on a cold January morning, in 1999, exactly three years after my pre-dawn arrest by Harvard police on the fictitious charges intended to silence my criticisms of a Jewish professor of Middle East at Harvard who had earlier smeared me with Wallace.
“I admire Afrasiabi,” read the writeup below Wallace’s picture in the next day’s Boston Globe article on the on-going trial. “I think he is an honorable man, and I think he is innocent enough to think that he can prevail over the resources of Harvard,” Wallace was quoted.
In retrospect, I realize how naive I have been, thinking that there is actually justice in America, not knowing that it is just ice, floating feeably above a glacier of might, that all the things I had been teaching my students at the time — for I was a professor of American government at the time of my arrest, instantly losing my job and forced to enroll as a student (of theology) subsequently — about American justice were pure illusions. I had, in a word, seriously deluded myself.
The Commonwealth of Fear, that is all that I can now think of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, run by Harvard like a feudal feifdom. And, how could I think otherwise? I have endured so many bitter memories of the racist, discriminatory court systems in Massachusetts that it would take a thick volume to explain, and yet I find myself so expired in energy these days, as the process siphoned my energy, surely, steadily, without any remorse.
All I can think is the brutal grin on the faces of Harvard’s chief counsel when the federal judge reversed himself overnight on the testimony of two handwriting experts who had concluded that the Harvard detective on trial, Richard Mederos, had the same handwriting as the “extortionist.”
The same judge who had exclaimed, “this is going to win the case” on day five of the trial, on day six would disallow the experts’ written finding and prevent its publication to the jurors. Funny thing, around the same time, the US Supreme Court had made a couple of landmark rulings about the importance of handwriting testimony as “expert testimony” and that was one reason
I continued to vest my hope in the appeals process, thinking that the lower court’s decision will be overturned, and when the three justices of the Appeals Court for the First Circuit disappointed me, inevitably turned my stare toward the Supreme Court for the tid-bit flung at them. Any surprise that they rejected it in the post 9/11 milieu wrought with anti-Middle East xenophobia?
Who knows, may be if I had submitted my appeal to the Supreme Court in a timely fashion, within the allotted 90 days, and not on the 91st day, things could have been different. But I had miscalculated the deadline by one day, and happened to be tagging along President Khatami in his trip to Spain, just as I had on several of his other trips to Europe and Central Asia.
I should have given my personal business a greater priority, I keep telling myself, cursing myself often for all the sacrifices I have made for the sake of “my Iran,” a country I have barely lived in since my teen years. Or is it an omnipower inner calling I have no control over?
My thoughts race back to a moment when we had a clairvoyant in our living rooms in Shiraz and he jotted down “politics” (siyasat) while pointing at me and on his way out said meaningfully, “your forefathers came from Ecbatana.” Fooled by metaphors, aren’t we all?
In conclusion, another poem adorning the back cover of my poetic legal diary:
Celebrate having known her,
her shallow depth and deep cold-heartedness,
the seriousness that was ever there,
the facade, the pomp and pain.
Celebrate, the knowledge you are privileged to share
with your neighbor, family and friends:
Justice is but a walking shadow, always whispering:
high tide, fresh bread.
And I have to yell:
No pennies, Prima donna!