Selling out to sell a book
A selective approach to voices of the diaspora
July 10, 2006
A few days ago I read a very short and I believe very useful piece by Yalda Hakimian [See: "Shame on you"] about a new book called Let Me Tell You Where I've Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora. Apparently Persis Karim, the editor of the book, and three contributors had an interview with KQED radio station and when they were asked to react to the fact that Said Mortazavi, the Islamic Republic's highest judiciary figure in Tehran, had attended (as one of the members of the Iranian delegates) a UN-related human rights meeting, they avoided to answer directly to the question and instead used the nauseating approach of "Is human rights situation better here at US?"
And probably they went on criticizing the US policies in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons! And the strange thing is that the interviewer apparently did not ask them: well, geniuses, this is not the point. Why are you changing the subject? Even if you think human rights situation in the US is exactly similar to Iran, this is not the point. (By the way, at least some of these ladies can only tolerate the "exotic" Iran when they go there for short trips. They are never able to put up with religious laws and frankly atrocities of the Islamic government against women). You have written a book about one aspect of Iranian society and you are pretending to have provided a mosaic of different voices in diaspora. And Mortazavi is directly related to what has caused such a huge migration by Iranians. So, you should have at least thought about the question.
Those who are even slightly familiar with Iranian voices of diaspora know that a large number of Iranians who write in the US are doing so because their voices were silenced in Iran. And indeed in the past few years, Mortazavi has been THE man responsible for continuously creating and developing new methods to silence these voices. If the editor and some of the contributors (who simply like to get published without really paying attention to the context in which their work is published) have elected to forget about Zahra Kazemi, we haven't.
Kazemi was the Iranian-Canadian woman (a voice in diaspora) who went to Iran and tried to document the problems of many Iranian families when they go to Evin prison to visit their relatives (and these are only political prisoners). Kazemi was arrested, tortured and she was beaten so hard that she had to be taken to the hospital. All the reports indicate that Mortazavi was directly involved in this process. Treatments were useless and she died and was buried hurriedly before any investigation could be done. This is only one example of Mortazavi's handiwork.
Again, it is known to anyone who can read Persian (and actually takes the time to read Persian newspapers) that he is responsible for the closing of more than 100 periodicals in Iran and the imprisonment of many real intellectuals who attempted to make their voices heard. In fact many of these intellectuals are now residing abroad and it is so strange that the editor of Let Me Tell You Where I've Been has decided to ignore those who have been in the Islamic republic's prison and have told us about their horrifying experiences. Aren't they part of the diaspora? And of course it is not just about Mortazavi and only about the editor of this collection. Hakimian is absolutely correct in considering this editor and her interview only one example of a larger phenomenon but I think she is too easy on them!
These are the same kind of people I referred to in a few short pieces I wrote a while ago about such intellectuals. As I mentioned there, these people represent a category of so-called intellectuals who have found the perfect following formula: show yourself pro-Iranian without making any distinction between the Islamic Republic and Iranian people, make sure you don't seriously criticize that government because that might jeopardize your situation (this includes criticizing the Islamic nature of that government, its inhumane policies, its prisons, its executions, its tortures, and even its stoning of women and men) and every time you are faced with questions about these actions just put on a "progressive" mask by comparing those atrocities to those committed by the current US administration.
This is a perfect formula because you don't need to actually work hard and learn something about that country and its issues and at the same time you can pretend to be very progressive while you can make sure that you are in no danger. These people know that if they criticize the US administration nothing will happen to them˜and in fact they will have a better reputation in the academic environment˜but if they say anything about that Islamic regime they will be in trouble; at least they won't be able to travel easily to Iran and benefit from the hospitality of pro-government entities which love this kind of people.
By the way, this is the difference between human rights violations in the context of a democratic system and the same thing within a theocratic dictatorship. In the second case any criticism of those violations is fatal. And of course our sellout intellectuals know the difference quite well. Besides that, they are not stupid! They have not forgotten what happened to Zahra Kazemi. And if they are decent enough to at least follow the recent news of women's struggle in Iran they certainly know that a few weeks ago, a very peaceful demonstration by Iranian women was interrupted in a most violent manner and many women were beaten and arrested and ... I am sure if you ask them to react to this piece of news they will tell you "Well, here, too, there have been many examples of police brutality!..."
But these are things everybody knows. We should be more direct; so, frankly I am disgusted by these self-serving individuals who think only about selling their book by following the most obvious niche in the market and who do not hesitate to identify themselves with anyone and anything, no matter how sickening they are. Many of these people (I know some of them) cannot even speak Persian but they do not hesitate to market themselves as "experts" on Iran and its literature and culture and "multiple voices". Unfortunately, nowadays, in many American universities all you have to do is to pretend that you are "defending Iran against the policies of the US Imperialism and its allies" and that's it! Nobody is going to ask you whether you can even read or speak a few sentences of Persian properly.
Heinrich Boll, the great German author once said every human being needs a minimum of conscience to be able to live. These people have proved him wrong! They pretend putting together a collection of writings by Iranian women in diaspora and they have forgotten to include even one example of an Iranian woman tortured and raped by the prison keepers of the Islamic republic. (We still remember the unwritten law based on which virgins had to be raped so that they do not end up in paradise after their execution). Usually, sellout intellectuals avoid these topics and the editor of the book has exactly followed this safe, rotten approach.
Let me finish by saying that we should not allow such individuals to appropriate the emotions and experiences of Iranian and Iranian-American women. The experiences that we have gone through are much more complex than this. In order to understand and analyze and capture this complexity, the most important requirement is intellectual integrity. This editor does not have it! I will not buy this book.