Let all tongues speak

This speech was presented in a conference sponsored by “The Norwegian Pen Center” and “The Iranian Writers’ Association in Exile” in Oslo, Norway, April 1999. PERSIAN TEXT

On November 22, 1998 after hearing of the murder of two Iranian dissidents Dariush and Parvaneh Foroohar, who were stabbed to death by the secret police at their home in Tehran, I wrote this poem:

O dagger
I wish you had rebelled
Against that hand!

You ripped their chests
And cut their tongues
So that a single voice would remain.
You forgot that one who only listens
To one’s own voice
Is a madman, oh no!
But a desperate tyrant

Let all tongues speak
Let all pens seek
So that Dialogue would replace sermon
And beauty prevail.

O dagger
You look more beautiful
In your sheath

Why does the poet address the dagger? Why not the murderer? And more importantly, why not the murdered? If the poet speaks with the murderer, then he will open the door of anger, and by adding a sentence like “O Executioner, shame on you!” he can urge the reader to challenge a regime in which for the political opposition there is nothing but prison, torture and execution. However, if the poet speaks with the murdered, he will demonstrate his sorrow for the loss of dear ones, and perhaps by adding a sentence like “O Martyred, your path will not be abandoned” he will depict the ethical supremacy of the martyred and will urge the reader to defend their barricades.

Yet the poet does neither take the road of epic nor the path of elegy. Instead, he addresses the dagger which although it is a tool for murder yet by itself is harmless and as long as it is not taken by a person, it cannot take one’s life.

If the poet wants to take the path of anger and revenge, he will naturally address the murderer, that is, the user of the dagger and not the lifeless instrument. But he does not want the dagger to become the vehicle of his anger and hit the murderer’s heart. On the contrary, he wishes that at the time of the crime the dagger had rebelled against the murderer and disobeyed his command. In other words, the poet does not want to retaliate and respond to the anger of the killers with anger and murder with murder. No! He imagines the creation of a society in which people are not killed because of their beliefs, and instead, the logic of words is used against words. Personal revenge does not solve the social problems: This is the poet’s message when he calls the dagger to rebel against the murderer.

The next two lines allude to the words of the commander-in-chief of the Islamic Guards who sometime before the recent murder of dissenting intellectuals in Iran, the Foroohars, Mohammad Mokhtari, Mohammad-Jafar Pooyandeh and… said “We will shut the mouths and cut the tongues” pointing to their plan for the impending killings. The goal of this bloody crackdown is to secure the survival of a monophonic system in our homeland; a theocratic regime which considers its subjects a flock of sheep in need of a shepherd called “vali-e faqih” or “clerical guardian”. In this system there is no room for debate or tolerance and all citizens are obliged to listen to one voice, which allegedly belongs to God but comes out the mouth of the Guardian. Silencing the voice of the others and maintaining a monophonic system appear to be similar to the habit of the mad but in fact is different. The mad talk to themselves because of loneliness and social pressure, and their monologue is caused by their lack of listeners. Whereas the Clerical Guardian secretly murders his political opposition because he has been unable to solve the political crisis of his regime and through these desperate acts attempts to restore his lost prestige.

If the poet addresses the murdered, he will travel the path of elegy and as a result the poem would be filled with sorrow. The poet does not choose this path, but if he does will he be successful? Speaking with the martyred and about them requires familiarity with the victims. It is hard to write a moving poem about the loss of a person if some ties have not already connected the poet with the deceased. In any case, did the poet know the Foroohars?

I once saw Dariush Foroohar close up when he was the Minister of Labor in 1979. Unemployed workers and the leftist intellectuals had gathered at University of Industry in Tehran in order to force the Provisional Revolutionary Government to implement an unemployment benefit plan. At that time I saw him as an enemy and thought that his participation in Bazargan Cabinet and Khomeini regime meant blocking the revolutionary passion of the people. I knew that he was the founder of “Party of the Iranian Nation” and during the Shah’s time in the ’60s he was incarcerated because of his opposition to the independence of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. In fact, I heard his name for the first time from my late friend, Hossein Okhovat-Moqaddam who after a riot against the increase in the municipal bus fare in Tehran had been sent to Qezel Qaleh prison along with other high school students. He said that we ran around the backyard of the prison, shouting: “Cry out! Cry out!” and there was a prisoner there with a big moustache called Foroohar who admired our slogan. In recent years I heard the voice of Dariush and his wife, Parvaneh a few times interviewed on telephone by 24-hour-Persian Radio at Los Angeles, and was surprised by their bold and direct words. However, it was only after their murders that I became to some extent closer to them because I spent a night with their son, Arash by chance. Through his words and also their family album, I could see Dariush and Parvaneh not as members of a political group but rather as two human individuals. I saw the pretty picture of their wedding in which they were standing proudly side by side, as well as a photo of wounded Dariush when at the gathering of “National Front” in Karvansaray Sangi, near Karaj at the threshold of the 1979 Revolution, they were beaten by the pro Shah vigilante mob and he was bleeding from his head.

When I heard that the Foroohars were murdered for a while I could not speak with them or write about them. My mind had blocked my feelings for them. Like a censor it crossed out their names asking me: How do you want to speak about a man who had previously been a “Pan Iranist” and then a minister in the Provisional Government of Khomeini? My mind still remained in the year 1979: I was a devoted Marxist, self righteous and intolerant of other’s beliefs and he was a Liberal Nationalist dreaming of “the great Iran”. Was I not the victim of a censor inside who wanted me to suppress my natural empathy toward the victims of a brutal regime? If a leftist and a nationalist both advocate Human Rights then why can they not stand side by side against the theocracy and in spite of their ideological differences tolerate one another? Perhaps moved by the murder of the Foroohars I was finally able to open a door to myself and in the form of poetry rebel against my internal censor. The second stanza of the poem is still addressing the dagger but at the same time it challenges that self righteous ex Marxist housed previously within the Poet:

Let all tongues speak
Let all pens seek
So that dialogue would replace sermon
And beauty prevail.

In a didactic device as “lecture” and its religious counterpart “sermon” only one voice is heard and there is no room for exchange of ideas. As a result, in this form of communication not only the audience do not fully use their mental capacity but the speaker also suffers from lack of criticism and cannot revise and improve his/her opinion. Stuck in this situation, people have no room to observe, contemplate and debate in search of relative truth.

Looked upon from any point of view, freedom of expression is the basis of Human Rights and democratic governments. Some Marxists see it as a safety valve which prevents uprisings to build up. Some liberals believe that freedom of expression functions as a market in which ideas compete with one another and whoever becomes popular and receives the majority vote will be closer to the truth. On the contrary, I think that receiving a majority vote does not guaranty the correctness of an idea and many times the view of the minority would be closer to the truth. However, in order to reach the relative truth there is no alternative except debate and tolerance toward the opposite views. No group of elite, civilian or religious, can exclude the other people from the process of discovering the truth.

In our society in order to establish a system where freedom of expression is respected it is necessary that a culture of tolerance gradually develops and civility strengthens in social relations. To do so, contrary to the views of John Stuart Mill(1806-73) in his classical book, On Liberty regarding Akbar (1542-1605), the Mogul Emperor of India, I believe that we Iranians do not need any benevolent dictator. Our society has the potential to move toward a democratic system. For this purpose the role of Iranian intellectuals in exile is special because many of them live in Western political democracies. Daggers must be sheathed and pens should be taken out. Will our desperate tyrants who have no word except dagger, be able to hear this message? Our society will not wait for them.

March 8, 1999


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