Between Two Worlds
My Life and Captivity in Iran
By Roxana Saberi
For a person like me with a curious mind, sustaining a high level of concentration is often the most difficult thing to do. However, when I started reading Roxana’s book, Between Two Worlds, I could not put it down until I had finished it. Roxana offers an intriguing account of her arrest and imprisonment in Iran’s notorious jail, Evin. The details of her stories are so vivid one might think she had kept precise written records of what happened to her every hour of every day. The truth is she was prohibited from even having a pen in her jail cell. One may wonder how she could remember every specific encounter of every day so lucidly. Roxana explains how her captors coerced her into making a deal with them by promising her that if she cooperated with them, implying that if she responded to their questions the way they wanted her to, she would be freed.
Exhausted by days of inhumane treatment and hoping to regain her freedom, she finally succumbed to the pressure and agreed to make a deal with her captors. Having thought about people who may be harmed by her false confessions and fed up with the deceitful game her captors played with her, she later decided to recant all the false confessions and tell the truth even at the cost of her freedom or her life. She says “My entire dilemma, I realized, rested on whether I should keep my lies persistent or to put a stop to them while I was still in jail. In short, should I risk my freedom to pursue the truth?” She courageously decided to renounce all the false admissions that had been extorted from her under duress, chicanery, and what she calls “white torture.” Invoking her deep faith, Roxana decided to tell the truth because as she put it “Koran told me if you tell the truth, you may suffer, but in the end you will prevail.”
From that point on in her book, she frequently expresses shame and regret about her earlier attempt to get back her freedom by lying or making untrue confessions to the interrogators. I believe such repeated apologetic expressions are indicative of her sincerity and integrity. She does not have to apologize and in fact she owes no apology to anyone. Any human being in that horrible situation, even a toughened man, would most likely behave the same way she did, especially in light of the life-saving promises made to her by her captors. She charmingly called her false confessions doroogh maslehat aamiz, lies justified by their purpose and recommended even by Islam under certain circumstances, taghyye. Even though she “did not want to be freed by telling lies,” she did so, as she states in her book, not out of weakness but because of expediency. I like her sincerity in telling the truth about her lying and not remaining silent about it by covering up the deal she had made with her interrogators.
Roxana uses her power of storytelling to tell a hair-raising tale of her life in captivity, a story so mesmerizing it keeps you steadily longing to find out what will happen next. Meanwhile, she frequently and properly shifts gears in order to draw our attention to critical issues badly ignored in Iran such as brain drain and human rights, etc. I was really astonished by the breadth and depth of her knowledge concerning these and other vital subjects. She has incorporated them immaculately into the main narrative of her book. In addition, she wastes no opportunity to remind readers of the plight of other political prisoners like her by discussing their cases intermittently. She acknowledges that “Some of my former cellmates had exercised this ability [to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances] by refusing to be robbed of their dignity, morality, and inner freedom despite their difficult conditions.”
It is a conundrum why sometimes innocent people like her have to suffer undeservingly. Time after time tears fell down my face uncontrollably as I read Roxana’s heartbreaking stories. This was especially true when she explained how her captors bossed her around, ordering her what to do, what not to do, or even what to say when she was on the phone with her parents. They would cut her off, forcing her to end her conversation with “Dad I have to go now.”
It also makes me wonder why a beautiful, successful young lady talented enough to earn the title of Miss North Dakota and seemingly enjoying all of life’s amenities in the United States would decide to live in a country like Iran, a well-known repressive regime with no reverence for human rights. I think only Roxana can answer this question and she has done a good job of doing so in this book. She writes eloquently about her love for her Iranian heritage, love of journalism, and more importantly, her desire to write a book about Iranian society. Judging from what I’ve read in her book, I have no doubt that Roxana was not a spy as charged, or knowingly participated in any espionage activity. She was, however, as I put it, a victim of her own inattentiveness.
While doing research in Iran for her book, she had inadvertently provided a few clues, which she discusses extensively in her book, to government intelligence authorities that aroused their suspicion. That was why she was arrested, incarcerated, and regrettably had to suffer an unbearable ordeal at the hands of her interrogators, the men inhabited by nothing more than mean spirit. To them, it seemed fitting to incarcerate and punish anyone suspected of opposing or even questioning their dogmatic ideology. It seems, as she put it, the IRI intelligence agents consider every journalist, especially in her circumstances, guilty until proven innocent. Had Roxana been more careful while researching and preparing materials for her book, the whole ensuing ordeal could have been avoided.
The fact that Roxana has made great strides by writing this book in which she presented the facts of her case and speaks unequivocally about human rights violations in Iran is testament enough per se to her innocence. While I admire her strength, her love of Iran, and her superb writing ability, I think that Roxana was the lucky one. She was freed unexpectedly by an appellate court mostly because she was a well known prisoner whose case received massive publicity and because of the international pressure put on the Islamic Republic government of Iran to free her. I can’t help thinking about the numerous cellmates she met during her time in Evin prison and other political prisoners in Iran who get little or no attention because they are not as celebrated and as lucky as Roxana. When I think of them, I view them as innocent beings languishing in obscurity, living lives of deprivation, and eventually vanishing in vain.
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