Iran’s new popular struggle

Fariba Hachtroudi was waiting for me in the large hotel lobby where we’d arranged to meet; she appeared almost unworldly, exuding a sense of restrained impatience even though I arrived early. I recognized her at once from a small photograph I’d seen in one of her books that circulated in Greece – the reason for our meeting. «Iran, Les Rives du Sang» (Metachmio Publications, translated into Greek by Vicky Demou), a book awarded with the Nouveaux Droits de l’ Homme 2000 prize, is a heart-wrenching account of modern-day Iran. Hachtroudi is an elegant, pleasant, 52-year-old woman whose demeanor reveals the influences of her two homelands, France (where she has lived since 1964, in Paris) and Iran. In France, she is recognized as a polemic journalist. In Iran, she is seen as a Pasionaria. Just a few minutes with her confirm what is suspected: She lives for Iran. She tries to convince me that she has a clear purpose: «Only death will stop me from telling the truth,» she says, and I believe her. There is something about this woman, who is struggling to overturn the regime of the mullahs, that is absolutely sincere. She is overcome by the committed patriotism of those who watch their country crumbling from afar. «Why?» she asks. «Why has the world remained silent for past 24 years in the face of this regime? So many years of unbelievable suppression and crime, so many years that the Iranian people are being robbed, and the West does nothing.» She cannot believe that the French government changed its stance toward the members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, an opposition group, and ordered mass arrests. Such is her fury at the French government that she says she is ready to tear up her French passport. Mariam Radjavi, the president of the organization which the EU (in concert with the US State Department since 2002) placed on the terrorist list, is currently being detained in Paris and will be executed if she is ever handed over to Iran; as will be Hachtroudi. «They don’t like me because I won’t be quiet,» she says. Hachtroudi writes all the time. She passionately represents the political press, because of the situation, I assume, since she actually studied archaeology. She has already encountered closed doors in France. She creates »problems» with the Iranian Embassy, which is constantly intervening, trying to silence her. She also writes regularly for the Italian and Spanish press, publishing pieces in Panorama and El Mundo, among others. Hachtroudi says there is only one priority right now: Overthrowing the mullahs. «There is no salvation for the regime. The overthrow will be bloody. You cannot imagine how much hate there is. Soon the mullahs’ veil will be torn to pieces and the world will see what they have committed against the people.» Hachtroudi does not belong to the masses. Her father was an intellectual, a university professor, a mathematician and a philosopher. She spoke fluent French from a young age and dreamed of studying in Paris. The middle class of Tehran, despite the fact that it gave birth to the anti-Shah opposition, was in direct dialogue with the West until 1979. Everything changed after that. As a teenager in Paris, Hachtroudi grew up watching her country sink into despair until it became just a speck on the horizon. She saw Iran for the last time in 1985, when she entered illegally, risking her life, and has never returned since, not even to attend her mother’s funeral. «I miss my country. Look, it is not easy to hold a resistance against real life. This craze with political correctness has changed people, brought everything upside down. Victims are no longer victims, but a lever of interests,» argues Hachtroudi. The writer believes that the sudden change of stance of the European Union, and the French especially, toward the members of the Mujahedin (a group with a long history of resistance dating back to the 1960s against the Shah) is due to the fact that new cards are being drawn. «All the members of the organization have enjoyed protection in Paris for so many years and suddenly they have become terrorists?» she wonders. «I am not in a position to know what goes on behind the scenes, but it is certain that a new exchange has taken place.» Hachtroudi contends that the arrest of Radjavi and other Mujahedin members was a move of flattery toward the regime in Iran so that it would cooperate on the issue of its nuclear weapons development. After visiting Greece for a few days Hachtroudi is now back in Paris, caught up in turmoil. She knows that she doesn’t have a choice. Her set goal in life is to witness the complete, violent end of the theocratic regime. She does not see a middle, transitional, ground. «I go crazy when I think that the revolutionaries [the Muhajedin group] are considered terrorists. I challenge anyone to tell me what their terrorist activities were,» she says. «The targets were always political. Their target was always the regime, never the people. There is no violence in the organization. We support a worldly, progressive Islam. If they sacrifice us in the name of new deals, then that will be the end.» Hachtroudi is convinced that if free elections were held in Iran tomorrow, the Mujahedin would win a landslide victory. «The Iranian people have suffered a lot,» she says. «We had three revolutions in the 20th century. The first, in 1906, was the Constitutional Revolution, in which we succeeded in bringing about many years of struggle. Then, was the case of Mohammed Mossadeq, who in 1951 nationalized all the oil fields and everyone rose against him. Next was in 1979 with the ayatollah [Khomeinei] and the fall of the Shah. The ayatollah was very sly. He split the opposition and found the opportunity to prevail. He was the first Bin Laden, but no one ever spoke out.» Hachtroudi’s judgments are uncompromising. She doesn’t give an inch, not even to the new wave of Iranian filmmakers who have won such acclaim in the West. «Let me tell you something. All these directors are good as artists, but bad as citizens. Kiarostami, for example, who is especially known, is a great front for the regime. I would ask Mr Kiarostami, ‘do you have a conscience as a citizen?’ I would love for him to be the Costa-Gavras of Iran, but he’s not. And there are so many wonderful Iranian filmmakers making political cinema – outside Iran, of course – but which no big festivals invite. And I ask, ‘Why?’ A big why.» The issue, argues Hachtroudi, is that no one really wants the explosion of Iran without the country’s future having been determined from the West first. «Many of the media have demonized our resistance, as they did with the Kurds. But everyone knows that the end of the mullahs is near. The point is that the West wants to get rid of all of us who are fighting for our country. They want to sacrifice us so that we don’t turn the situation in our favor. Let us return to our free country. Let us hold free elections. And then come see who is really popular in Iran. I openly challenge all those journalists who revile our fighters and paint them as terrorists. We want a free Iran with a free government of its people.» Over the course of our conversation it became obvious that Iranians feel a sense of regional superiority. They had (and probably still have) the highest level of education in the region, «though the situation at universities is falling apart,» adds Hachtroudi. Hachtroudi has become internationally known with her book «Iran, Les Rives du Sang,» which has been put out in Greek by Metaihmio Publications. For a Western reader, this book provides an opportunity to become immersed in the darkness of modern-day Iran, and it focuses on the situation of women’s rights, through which she calls out to her compatriots and informs the people of the West. Hachtroudi became known in 1985 with «The Exile,» the testimony of her illicit entry into Iran, and is now writing her next book. «Did you know that 80 percent of the population of Iran lives under the poverty level? And that 80 percent of the national wealth is in the hands of 25 percent?» asks Hachtroudi. Her book relates the loss of dignity and the complete humiliation of women. “Women today are being stoned, children are raped and sold, people disappear. And the problem for the West is the resistance, not the regime? There is no way back for the people. As far as we are concerned, yes, we are radical. We are fighting the regime. Only that our radicalism is opposed solely by their fundamentalism. Khatami has seduced the West temporarily. But his so-called humanitarianism would make Voltaire turn in his grave.»