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Glamorous indeed
What to do with fame and fortune

By Tala Dowlatshahi
August 3, 2001
The Iranian

There were several articles in London on Thursday, 26 July, inquiring into the peculiar circumstances surrounding the death of Leila Pahlavi, Iran's Peacock Princess. The Independent stated that Dr. Mangad Iqbal (Leila's doctor), had been re-summoned to explain to the police how and why the princess stole prescriptions from his desk while he was downstairs fetching medical equipment to examine her eyes. On the same day, Neil Tweedie of The Daily Telegraph wrote about how the youngest daughter of the Shah of Iran "stole prescriptions in order to feed her fatal addiction to barbiturates."

The Guardian headlined its article on Ms. Pahlavi as the "Overdose Princess" who "stole" from her dictor's office. The reopening of the case, prompted by allegations via Dr. Paul Chapman, the Westminster Coroner, accused Dr. Iqbal of making contradictory statements about the quantity of prescription drugs he had supplied to the princess directly before her death.

There also seems to have been a failure on Dr. Iqbal's part, to previously inform the authorities of the prescription theft in his office. Guardian journalist Jeevan Vasagar went on to explain in his article, the bizarre sighting in Leila's hotel room days prior to her death. Louis Martinez, a room service waiter at the Leonard Hotel, found the princess lying on the floor of her hotel room with a telephone cord wrapped around her neck.

Very glamorous indeed. Without attempting to seem unemotional about the loss of life of a fellow Iranian, I think it best to describe these scenarios as a poetic defueling of Iranianism at best. What better way to feel truly disrespected as an Iranian than to have your princess described as a drug-binging suicidal lunatic?

I found it ironic that on the very same day in the obituary section of the papers, there were several descriptive articles exploring the late life of India's Bandit Queen-Phoolan Devi. Known by most of her peers as India's modern day Robin Hood, Ms. Devi was no where near in comparison to the same class nor prestige as Leila Pahlavi. On the contrary, Phoolan Devi was born in the north of India into a poor and low-caste family, was married at the age of eleven to a man triple her age, and was repeatedly sexually and physically abused before entering a life of crime.

A victim of gang rape (some believe that as many as twenty upper caste men raped her in one instance), Ms. Devi turned her circumstances around rather swiftly. At the age of twenty, Devi formed her own gang of armed robbers and began terrorising upper caste society before surrendering and serving more than ten years behind bars. In 1996, Ms. Devi came back into Indian society newly reformed. She ran successfully for a seat in Parliament and had been pro-actively campaigning on behalf of the poor and oppressed throughout India until she was shot dead last week outside her doorstep by masked gunmen.

What is clear from this story is that one championed for the cause of those without basic human rights. The other, slowly decayed into victimising herself and all that her royal lineage stood for. Let's face it, Princess Pahlavi was no Princess Diana. She wasn't even a Phoolan Devi. What she did have was prestige, access to a multiplicity of resources, and a name. She could have chosen to utilise her name for the benefit of less advantaged Iranians, those who continue to suffer as refugees, asylum seekers, and advocates for equal rights to women and children.

Amnesty International's report 2001 clearly documents the facts on the on-going torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of conscience, journalists, and human rights defenders in Iran. Iran is out into a category with countries like China, Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Russia and Cuba. Disgraceful comparison, considering that the Chinese government's new "Strike Hard" campaign means they have executed more people in the last three months than the world in the last three years. Reporters Sans Frontieres also highlights Iran as one its thirty predators of press freedom in their 2001 report. In a single year, the Iranian judiciary has closed over thirty reformist publications including three of the country's main dailies.

Why is it that Leila Pahlavi chose not to advocate on behalf of those struggling persons if not in Iran, then elsewhere? Instead she pitied herself and lived in regret of what could have been instead of what was. Princess Diana went to Africa to assist those millions displaced and was a strong advocate of land mine safety in war-torn countries struggling to get their society back into transition. Why is is that most Iranians in Los Angeles for example (once again, having great access to resources), rather speak to you about their new Gucci bag, or which fashionable restaurant they were seen at, than advocate on behalf of human rights, press freedom, or women and children displaced in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe? Can we all really accept that nine-year-old child soldiers are defending their homes in Sierra Leone?

I cannot help but feel jilted in the recent news coverage of the death of the Princess. By choosing a life of drugs and depression, she left without making the mark that she really could have. I only wish that she went out with as much respect from the world for championing human rights as did Princess Diana.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Tala Dowlatshahi


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