What on earth is happening in Iran and to Iranian people? In the last three to four decades it has literally gone through hell and the people have suffered immeasurably. First, Mossadegh comes to power and earns the adoration of the Iranian people. In 1951, he nationalises the Iranian oil industry, formerly effectively controlled by western oil consortiums.
The consortia takes revenge by persuading the King, Mohammad Roza Pahlavi to depose Mossadegh the Prime Minister. Sentenced to death, Mossadegh was shown ?mercy? and merely sent to jail. The Shah is then overthrown?deservedly, as he had become a mere puppet of the CIA and to his eternal shame, the Shah who was at one time been received royalty from the White House, was refused entry into the United States to receive medical attention and had to die ignominiously in Cairo.
An Islamic revolution took place and a man in exile in France, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini comes to power. He was to turn out to be a worse disaster to Iran. Mossadegh'soverthrow had set a permanent grudge against the United States which has continued since then but the Ayatollah turned out to be a political remedy worse than the disease. And liberal Iranians have been made to pay.
During the Shah'sregime political opponents were tried not in regular courts but in military courts and invariably sentenced to harshest punishment including death. Things turned out to be worse during the Ayatollah'sregime. Conservative, feudal Islam took over. Shirin Ebadi had become a judge at the age of 23. She was in no time demoted. Orthodoxy took over. The status of women was lowered. The value of a woman'slife was reduced to half that of a man. The law, as Ebadi notes in her Memoirs, was turned back fourteen hundred years to the time when storming women for adultery and chopping off the hands of thieves were considered appropriate sentences.
Then came the war with Iran, started by Saddam Hussain'sIraq at the instigation of the United States. It was to last over nine long, painful years causing untold devastation to Iran. The war effectively stanched popular discontent against the Ayatollah regime.
Writes Ebadi: ?I would turn the pages, sometimes filled with macabre photos of gallows and dead bodies and shudder with revulsion at the secret show trials that preceded these executions?. Lives were cheap. But meanwhile, who helped Saddam Hussain? Says Ebadi: ?Saddam had the advantage of access to the West'smilitary cache, buying chemical agents from western union firms and stores of weaponry from the United States?.
The United States wanted to destroy Khomeini and take control of the country'soil reserves then, even as now an effort is being made to do the same thing in a different guise. The Iraq-Iran war cost Iran ?at least one hundred thousand? lives of young soldiers. The US couldn'tcare. Life for liberal Iranians became a nightmare. To belong to the ?Left? invited imprisonment and death Ebadi'sown brother-in-law, hardly 17 years old, was sentenced to 20 years? imprisonment for the crime of selling newspapers. Torture was freely practiced in Iran jails. On one occasion Ebadi'sjaw was broken. On another occasion the torturers broke his arms and relatives were asked to pay for his treatment. International opinion was silent. Iran needed to be punished for nationalising oil. So Saddam Hussain of Iraq even was supplied with satellite images of Iranian troops movement. Washington has blood on its hands.
In the circumstances, just as Iraqis are leaving their country in thousands, during the Iraq-Iran war, Iranians in their thousands left their homes and their country for safety elsewhere. It is a pitiable story. Says Ebadi: ?From working class to wealthy, they left in droves, filling the leather markets of Florence, dealing cocaine in the streets of Tokyo, running vast rag empires in Maahattan?? Roughly four to five million Iranians left their country in over two decades. But Ebadi refused to leave. She preferred to fight for the rights of political dissidents, women and the repressed and it came to a point when she herself was arrested and imprisoned. Hard to believe but that is a fact.
To stand up for human rights was a crime under Khomeini, no matter how devout a Muslim Ebadi otherwise was. The mullahs had their way. So vicious was the government that when her young brother-in-law Fuad died?or was murdered?the person marshal summoned Ebadi'shusband and Fuad'sbrother-in-law and told him: ?Here, these are your brother'spossessions. He has been executed. For one year you shall refrain from holding a funeral, or mourning his death in any public way. If, after one year, your conduct is deemed acceptable, we will reveal to you his place of burial?. It is unbelievable how the Iran of Mullahs behaved.
Ebadi shows how trials were conducted. The prisoner would be asked: ?Are you a Muslim? Do your pray? Is the Holy Koran the word of God? Will you publicly recant historical materialism?? If the prisoner?confused, blindfolded and unaccustomed to religious inquisition?answered correctly, there were more questions. But if he answered them ?incorrectly? there were no more questions and the execution order was immediately handed down. How Ebadi has survived, how she served a long prison sentence and ultimately won the Nobel Peace Prize for her splendid and courageous work to defend people has been told with a certain amount of detachment that bring tears to one'seyes.
One is driven to wonder what sort of Islam it is that can behave in this atrocious manner. But Ebadi remains a staunch Muslim, ever fighting for Human Rights, despite prosecution and persecution. She doesn'twant sympathy. As she puts it: ?The Iranian Revolution has produced its own Opposition, not least a nation of educated, conscious women who are agitating for their rights. They must be given a chance to fight their own fights, to transform their country uninterrupted.? It will call for sacrifice of the highest order. But it is to her credit that Shrin Ebardi has it in full measure. The enemies of Iran are not just the United States and Iraq. The enemies are the religious fanatics right in Iran itself. And that is a special tragedy.
(Random House Publishers, India, 301-A, World Trade Tower, Adjacent to Hotel International Ground, Barakhamba Lane, New Delhi-110 001.)