When the Movement Starts to Grow

Posted: September 30, 2010 in Uncategorized
Live Generation

Live Generation

Since writing Live Generation and having it launch earlier this summer, I’ve been really touched by people who have reached out to me to tell me how the story moved them. For me, I set out on this project a year and a half ago, not to sell books, but to document what happened to us more than eleven years ago. What came to be known as 18 Tir, the student uprising in response to attacks on the dorms of Tehran University in 1999, is well known by Iranians. But for many in the West, 18 Tir is only a distant memory of the reports of the attacks in the news.

I set out to put down on paper what happened, who we were, and why it was so important. We believed that the work we did back then would eventually lead to the downfall of the Islamic Regime that has terrorized our country for 31 years now. We still believe that, and over the last year we’ve seen citizens come out in protest of the government more than ever before. In July of 1999 questioning the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran was unthinkable. Today the bravery it takes to stand up to them is no less, but there are more who are willing to take that step.

One of the most rewarding experiences that has come out of writing Live Generation is when Americans or Europeans reach out and let me know that they were enlightened to the opposition’s cause because of my book. I’m always delighted to see posts on Facebook and Twitter by non-Iranians who promote the book for nothing more than wanting to spread the word and grow the movement for freedom for Iran.

Last week a friend in the Bay Area sent a link to a video clip she posted on You Tube after reading Live Generation. She started looking up images online and pieced them together to create a multi-media montage with the background music of an American band named Slipknot. The title of the song is Wait and Bleed, and the lyrics are very powerful behind the images of an Iran that the creator of the video clip only knows through the written word. For me, this kind of support and inspiration makes the hours of putting pen to paper, going through edit after edit and the tedious tasks of publishing, so very worth it.

Last week we had our book release party in Oakland, and we have many book signings scheduled throughout California. The attendance to the book release was great, and was very mixed between Iranians and non-Iranians. And so the movement continues. We spread the word of our brothers and sisters who are continually persecuted by the Islamic Regime with complete confidence that the work we do will continue to grow until one day we will create a secular, democratic Iran where human rights are upheld and our children are free.

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Political Prisoners of the Islamic Regime as of September 30, 2010This week  Ahmadinejad made his annual trip to New York to appear before the United Nations. The seats where the U.N. General Assembly members should have been, quickly emptied in protest again this year when the fraudulent president took to the stage. Yet, this alone isn’t enough of a message of support for human rights for Iran. Later Ahmadinejad met with Larry King as he has in years past. I waited, just as I have each time Western media has interviewed Ahmadinejad, to hear the real questions: “What is Iran doing about human rights?” “How can you justify the torture and murder by your government of your own people?” Again, Ahmadinejad didn’t have to answer these questions.

This continues to work in Ahmadinejad’s favor. Prior to becoming president Ahmadinejad was largely unknown, but after his first trip to the U.N. he became famous for his outbursts. In truth, Western media has helped Ahmadinejad to become a familiar face to the entire world. He loves the attention he’s gotten by his ignorant tirades. He uses the attention he gets from Western media to keep the opposition to the Islamic Regime under control. He’s become something of a diversion that keeps the world talking about his outlandish claims instead of focusing on the real issues. He brings an entourage of some 200 people with him to the U.S. every September—each of them receiving visas to travel to the U.S. while thousands of political Iranian refuges are in holding camps outside of Iran waiting months and sometimes years for a visa to a country where they won’t be imprisoned.

News about what is going on internally in the Islamic Republic of Iran doesn’t often make it to mainstream Western media, and so the faces of political prisoners wasting away in prisons in Iran today rarely become noticeable to the global community. For those of us who have faced the tyranny of the Islamic regime that has controlled our country for the last 31 years, however, the faces of those currently imprisoned haunt us every day. We find it difficult to participate in activities that normal citizens enjoy without a certain feeling of guilt that innocent members of our country are being tortured day in and day out without notice from the outside world.

Human rights is all too often avoided when we speak of Iran from the Western perspective. Nuclear arms takes center stage, and there is good reason for concern on this issue. I believe that any country that can torture its citizens, that uses methods of punishment like lashings, amputation of body parts including eyes and tongues, and practices capital punishments as inhumane as stoning and suspension hanging where the prisoner is lifted via a crane, extending the time it takes to expire, should rightly so be kept from acquiring nuclear weapons.

What disturbs me, however, is that in the discussion of nuclear arms in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the opposition movements within the country are often forgotten. Members of any one of these groups, including members of the student movement, women’s movement, or labor activists, if captured, suffer the worst abuses against human rights. In the Islamic Regime, being suspected of disagreeing with the government can land a person in solitary confinement between hours of brutal interrogation and torture for days and months and even years.  Those who speak out, like student leader Majid Tavakoli, face cruelty that is unimaginable. Tavakoli gave a speech at Students Day in December of 2009, and ended up with an eight year sentence, convicted of intent to act against national security, insulting the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, and the government-selected president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Human right activists like Shiva Nazar-ahari are sentenced to six years in prison and 76 lashes. Long-time activist for secular democracy, Heshmat Tabarzadi, faces being imprisoned for as long as the government chooses to hold him. Young activists like Bahareh Hedayat and Milad Asadi continue to languish in Islamic Republic jails.

The list goes on and on, yet finding information in English about what has happened to these political prisoners is difficult at best. The fact that two nights ago again the cries of “death to dictatorship” were heard throughout the city of Tehran as citizens continued to protest the current regime, is no longer making headlines in Western news.

My point in all of this is that human rights cannot take a backseat when we talk about how to deal with the Islamic Republic. When we discuss the possibility of war with Iran being “back on the table” there is little mention of these abuses against humanity. Yes, the potential for nuclear holocaust must be dealt with, but we can’t turn a blind eye to the current situation in Iran. The accounts of torture are horrific. The extortion by the government in the cases of political prisoners whose families are forced to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars for the release of their loved ones, is a lucrative model that the Islamic Republic isn’t going to give up easily.

All too often we focus on the past when looking to the future. In the case of the Islamic Republic, we must focus on the present. We have to bring the images of the faces of those who have disappeared without a trace to the attention of the world, and we must not forget that basic human rights are non-existent in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Join us for a night of classical Persian music, light h’ordeuvres,  book signing and reading.

Live Generation Book Release Party

Live Generation Book Release Party

Bacheeso, Oakland
248 Grand Avenue
Oakland, CA 94610-4724
7:00 to 10:00, Pacific
Monday, September 20, 2010

18 Tir

Posted: July 17, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Student Protesters from our 1999 MovementThis time of year, every year, I remember. On the evening of July 8, 1999, I slept in the dormitories of Tehran University when it was attacked. We woke to the sounds of the Basiji as they screamed at us in the name of a god who was merciless. They beat us to a pulp. The sounds of that night have never faded from my memory. Students were battered, their bones literally broken like branches pulled from a tree. There were shots fired and the sound of breaking glass filled the night air. Students screamed in disbelief and horror as their sense of security was forever shaken.

In the days that followed, the youth of Iran did what was at that time, inconceivable. They didn’t back down. They came out in numbers the Islamic Regime would never have believed possible. Back then, questioning the government wasn’t common. But we did question it. We asked why our fellow students were beaten, why Ezzat Ebrahim Nejad was murdered. We asked how a government promising reform could attack its students with so much force. We questioned the Supreme Leader who later wept on the Islamic television station, promising to forgive us if we would only come forward—a promise we were sure would be broken just as surely as our bones had been on 18 Tir.

Our protests evolved from peaceful rallies to an all out fight for our lives. Our group was secular. We wanted a democratic government that separated religion from our government. There were those then, just as there are still some today, who believed that reform would be enough, that a democratic Islamic government was possible. Our group never subscribed to this idea.

Now, eleven years later the fight continues. Many of the names inside Iran have changed, and many remain the same. Student activist Majid Tavakkoli was arrested last December, and sits behind the prison walls of Evin. His young face reminds me of those of us who took to the streets eleven years ago. Majid is in good company as prisons all over the Islamic Republic of Iran are filled with political prisoners who have dared demand basic human rights for our country.

When I left Iran I believed I had a better chance of fighting for democracy from outside the country. I believed that those who were outside, those who loved Iran as I do, would be able to join forces with us and support a movement for peace and secular democracy in Iran. I have had moments when I questioned this move. There are times when I read about friends like Heshmat Tabarzadi and Shiva Nazar Ahari as they endure time within prison walls, and I wish I was there with them.

July 1999 opened the door and was a new voice for freedom and secular democracy in Iran. It was the first time that the children of the Islamic Revolution rose up. Today, when we talk about the Green Movement, the work that students did eleven years ago started a new generation of Iranian citizens. Because of their courage and their sacrifice, the people of Iran have come out to voice their opposition to the Islamic regime. The new generation is alive, and it is not only the youth of Iran but it is from every social class, gender, and age. Today’s opposition to the Islamic Regime is truly the Live Generation.

In the last year I have seen how, when we raise our collective voices against the Islamic regime, both inside and outside of Iran, we make the theocrats who have robbed us of our country for more than 31 years, bristle. They clamp down harder because they can feel our breath on the backs of their necks. They are watching us to see our every move, and they are afraid. To Ali Khamenei I say, we will not back down. The blood that you drew on 18 Tir eleven years ago did not flow in vain. You may continue to beat us, to break our bones and our backs, but you will never break our spirit.

Live Generation, the book I wrote last year about the student movement of 1999 in Iran, is finally out and available for purchase. The book details the events of 18 Tir, and provides historical background about the political landscape of the last 31 years of rule by the current Islamic regime and the student movement dating back to 1953. In writing about that movement, I have described the relation of our student movement to the current day situation in Iran—particularly the response to last year’s fraudulent elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran and how our protests a decade earlier were foundational to the response by protesters in 2009 and 2010.

The following is an excerpt from Live Generation.

I was only a boy in 1979, but the events that occurred during the overthrow of the Shah would shape how I was educated and would change all our lives almost overnight. When you ask those who lived through the Revolution what it was like, they often will tell you that one day the country was under the Shah’s rule, and the next day we lived under Islamic rule. All bets were off and it was a completely new game. I am often asked by people who are not from the Middle East how the Islamic regime could have taken power, and how they have stayed in power.

The answer isn’t a simple one, but one that has many factors involved. The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, had ruled Iran for twenty-five years following the coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeqh. In 1979, the Shah’s rule was considered a dictatorship. Ayatollah Khomeini had lived in exile for many years, and from Iraq and France he had voiced his extreme defiance against the Shah of Iran.

In those early days he never stated that he was going to turn Iran into an Islamic theocracy. He said he was against dictatorship and imperialism, and was very supportive of the poor in Iran. The other part of the equation was that Khomeini extended a hand of cooperation to other opponents of the Shah. Among them, the communists and other leftist groups, the National Front, and the Mujahadeen all had the common desire to overthrow the monarchy. What they didn’t have was a religious infrastructure to ensure that the changes they wanted for the country would stick. What Khomeini could bank on was the institution of the mosque. Then, just as it is today, every village throughout the country had a local mosque. As the mullahs blessed Khomeini’s campaign throughout the country, this would help later on when the model for a theocracy was presented. Once the Revolution happened, the Islamic clergy fought with the nationalists, the Mujahadeen, and the communists, and later completely turned on them. This is the time when Islamic enthusiasm proved not to be enough to sustain the movement. The ideology alone wasn’t reason enough for people to follow the strict rules set by Khomeini, and the Islamic Republic began its march toward violence as a means to control the masses. Thousands of those believed to be in opposition to the government were imprisoned and killed, and what was left was a theocracy that ruled with an iron fist. In November 1979, with the hostage-taking of fifty-three American diplomats, the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line, who were at that time new and fairly small in numbers, became visible all over the world. Still, they needed more control of the universities within the country because the secular movement was more powerful and popular among students. The students’ secular movement of that time was also better organized. The Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line would become what is now the Daftar-e Takim-e Vahdat and part of the Reformist movement of students who supported former Islamic regime President Mohammad Khatami.

In 1980, Iran began what the Islamic Republic called The Cultural Revolution—a term borrowed from Mao’s People’s Republic of China. As part of this movement, in April of that year the government closed all universities for what would end up being two years. This was an effort to cleanse the institutions of Western ideology and non-Islamic influences, and part of that cleansing included the expulsion of many students and professors who were believed to be leftist or Western-leaning. Students and lecturers who tried to protest the closures faced imprisonment or worse. The fallout of Iran’s Cultural Revolution was that many intellectuals left the country following the closure of the universities. Upon the reopening of the universities, only students who could prove that they had no affiliation with any “un-Islamic” organization were allowed to return to school. The Dafter-e Takim-e Vahdat grew during this time, establishing offices at universities throughout Iran and growing in numbers.

Later, the Basiji also had a presence within universities for the first time. A secular education was all but forgotten, and the universities were taught by members of the regime since they had been purged of any professors who had Western leanings prior to the Revolution. September 1980 marked the beginning of Iran’s war with Iraq and the regime of Saddam Hussein. Although the war that lasted eight long years came with heavy casualties for Iran, with some estimates as high as one million Iranian lives, the war secured Ayatollah Khomeini’s position and the new theocracy that he had started. Just as any other country would, when attacked from an outside force, citizens rallied around the ruling government. Those who may not have supported the Islamic Republic prior to the Iran-Iraq War quickly got behind Ayatollah Khomeini after the war began. As the war continued, and as the casualties became higher, Iranians grew weary of the war with Iraq. The promises broken by the Khomeini regime came to light in time, and the youth in particular, who had been impacted by the new government’s rule, started to voice their questions. The exiled Ayatollah who was opposed to dictatorships had come home to create one of the finest.

Farzad Kamangar died today, hanged from a crane with four other political prisoners. I re-read a half dozen times the letter he wrote last month entitled, “Be Strong Comrades.” In that letter he asks, “Is it possible to carry the heavy burden of being a teacher and be responsible for spreading the seeds of knowledge and still be silent? Is it possible to see the lumps in the throats of the students and witness their thin and malnourished faces and keep quiet?”

I woke this morning to the news that five more political prisoners had been hanged by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Today, as many of us celebrate Mother’s Day from the safety of our homes in the United States, in Iran five more mothers’ children have been taken by the Islamic Regime.

The political prisoners who died today were tortured for many months during their time in Evin’s Ward 209. They were not part of the protests that followed the presidential elections of 2009. These were Kurdish political prisoners who had been sentenced back in 2008. In one of the articles I read, one of the prisoners, the only woman, Shirin Elmholi, was promised only a week ago that her execution could be avoided if she would agree to go on Islamic television and admit her guilt. Ms. Elmholi refused. The odds are, they would have killed her anyway—a message from the Islamic Regime in hopes of dissuading those who are planning to come out next month in protest on the anniversary of the fraudulent elections of June 2009.

Having lived through similar treatment behind the walls of prisons in the Islamic Republic of Iran, I know these prisoners suffered greatly for their desire for freedom and equality for our homeland. Almost eleven years ago I lived through daily interrogations at the hands of the monsters who torture prisoners for a living. These beasts find great satisfaction in their jobs. They enjoy finding new ways to make their victims suffer. The physical pain is unimaginable until it becomes your reality. But the psychological torture is at least as damaging—perhaps more so because the physical brutality may have an opportunity to heal, but the mind isn’t quite as forgiving.

Night after night I was told that my execution would take place the next morning. I lived my last night on Earth thirty or forty times back then. I knew I would be hanged, and in the beginning I feared this form of death. Later, as the days went on, the constant beatings and new forms of abuse, I prayed that they would go ahead and end my life. Nothing could be worth living another day at the hands of my torturers.

Today five more political prisoners have died for freedom. They will not be the last to face a similar fate. It is only a matter of time before the next execution—particularly in these next few weeks as we near the first anniversary of the June 12 elections. The Islamic Regime does not want people in Iran to come out again in protest. They do not want those of us outside of Iran to come out in protest and support. They want our silence.

Tonight supporters of the freedom movement in Iran came out into the streets of Berkeley, California for a candlelight vigil. We are weary and tired. We are also angry and heartsick. This, we do for Farzad and Shirin and the thousands of others who have given their lives for freedom for Iran for the last 31 years. We do this in remembrance of the 5 mothers in Iran who lost their children today, and for the future students who will never benefit learning from Farzad Kamangar. We do this because we know the regime in Iran must change.

Like Water to a Fish

Posted: December 1, 2009 in Uncategorized

The other day I read an article by a long-time friend and fellow activist, Heshmat Tabarzadi. I was struck by the powerful words, the courage that
My dear friend, Heshmat Tabarzadi did not mince words, but cut directly to the point. Tabarzadi still lives in Iran, and it is for him and for the thousands of others fighting for freedom for Iran, that we must come out on 16 Azar.

I met Heshmat more than a decade ago. We were both growing our student organizations, and we forged an alliance called the United Student Front. In those days we didn’t agree on every point, but the one area we absolutely agreed upon was that the Islamic Republic of Iran had to change. Over the years we have remained friends.

The overall gist of the article was a message from Tabarzadi directly to the Islamic Republic of Iran. This, following the third time in six days of having his family threatened by the regime’s hired assassins who think nothing of abducting, torturing, and murdering innocent citizens of Iran. Last week one of them stopped Tabarzadi’s daughter as she was on her way to school. He told her that he had heard she was a good student, asking her to get in the car and promising to help her with her studies. Tabarzadi’s daughter was able to avoid him, returning home, understandably upset.

The rage Tabarzadi felt at the fate his daughter could have come to at the hands of one of the Islamic Republic’s thugs inspired a piece of writing that, if you read Farsi, you shouldn’t miss. For those who don’t read the language of Persia, I will tell you that there was great honor in the words of my friend. In each section Tabarzadi addresses different members of our country: The Forces of the Vali Faghih (Supreme Leader), Khamanei, the killers and rapists who prey upon young Iranians, the good people of Iran, and to the Reformists.

One of the threats Tabarzadi received via a letter from Evin Prison said that prison officials didn’t need a legal ruling to arrest him and put him back in jail. To this Tabarzadi said, “For activists, jail is the same as water to a fish.” I was struck by this, as it is exactly my own experience. Prison, when you are fighting for a cause, is bittersweet. You are there for your belief, and as painful as it is, whatever your fate, you are there for your cause.

When he goes on to address Khamanei, Tabarzadi says, “my wife and children, my honor, and all that I have, I give to my country and to my people.”

Tabarzadi ends the article announcing to the good people of Iran, the children of Cyrus, that on 16 Azar at 5:00 p.m. he will be at Tehran University with thousands of young people. He encourages others to join the protest, and he assures anyone reading the article that as long as he has blood running through his veins, he will continue to fight for freedom for his people.

To my friend, Heshmat Tabarzadi, I wish you safe passage in all that you do.

On 16 Azar I will stand with other Iranians and supporters of freedom, and together we will remember, not only the three students in 1953 who lost their lives, be we will remember all those innocent lives since who have suffered, and most specifically those who have been beaten, tortured, raped, and killed by the repressive regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

From across the world we will remember you and all those who stand for freedom for Iran. May we one day in the not so distant future be free from the shackles of dictatorship.

Long live freedom and democracy.

16 Azar Demonstrations

Berkeley
Sunday, December 6, 2009
3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Local Time
Bancroft & Telegraph

London
Monday, December 7, 2009
6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Local Time
Opposite the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran