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Farnoosh Moshiri: An Open Door in the Bend of an Iranian Alley

Author Farnoosh Moshiri was born in a literary family in Tehran, Iran. She holds a B.A. in dramatic literature from the College of Dramatic Arts in Tehran, an M.A. in drama from the University of Iowa and an M.F.A in creative writing from the University of Houston. Her novel The Bathhouse is the story of a young woman arrested and detained during the fundamentalist revolution in Iran.

Cover Image for The Bathhouse, links to Beacon Press page for book"It's happening and I'm not there," I embrace my belly, as if having unbearable cramps of a miscarriage. I hold back tears and move back and forth like a mother on her child's grave. On the TV screen Iranian youth chant, demanding justice. The election has been a fraud and they want re-counting of the votes. They want their elected president, not the little dictator, the puppet of the old despot, the "Absolutist Ayatollah." They march peacefully, some with tapes over their mouths, meaning they are quiet, all wearing green shirts, waistbands, or bandanas, holding flags and banners, arms up, showing V signs. They are millions—men and women, boys and girls, children, babies, sitting on the shoulders of fathers, green ribbons decorating the crown of their fluffy hair. It's a massive demonstration, a reminder of 1979, when I was one of them and we fought for a republic—not an Islamic one. This was before the West aimed the spotlight on Khomeini and he was shipped from Paris with his entourage and the people's revolution was hijacked.

I watch all this, remember my youth, sway like a pendulum, and swallow my tears. But suddenly men in black shirts attack the green sea of the peaceful rally and blood covers the streets of Tehran. Cell phones capture the clubbing and stabbing. Someone's camera records the shooting of a girl. I watch with disbelief. Blood gushes out of the girl's chest, a young man presses his hand over the wound to stop it, an old man screams, "They killed her! They killed my daughter!"

After this scene, I experience a turmoil unlike any emotional crisis in my life. Anger, sorrow, and the worst—guilt and self-hatred overcome me. I sob for a moment, then I shout at my husband, "Haven't I been telling you? Haven't I been writing for years that this is a fascist regime? Haven't I? So why has no one believed me? No one ever believed me! I was right! They are fascists. Look! They're killing our children!"

He rubs my shoulder to calm me down and gently reminds me that no one has ever rejected my books; no one has ever defended this regime.

But this does not help. I'm out of my mind. I contradict myself: "I haven't done anything! Nothing!" I weep. "I escaped and they are getting killed--"

With each new image, each YouTube film clip of beatings and stabbings of innocent people, I go through another wave of rage and sorrow, guilt and self-bashing. I mumble incoherently between tears—either insisting that I'd been right writing against this regime, or lamenting that I haven't done enough.

Have I been suffering from PTSD and have never been diagnosed? Am I remembering the Revolution, my forced exile, the execution of my comrades after I crossed the border, my father's arrest and beating and his subsequent blindness and stroke? Am I remembering the harsh life of the refugee camp in war-infested Afghanistan? Am I remembering everything at once and experiencing a breakdown?

And why such back breaking guilt, such self-condemnation?

"I want to be there!" I demand childishly. "I want to be shot, get beaten up, clubbed, killed! Why am I here?"

Why am I here? A question I've asked myself many times during the past twenty-five years, whenever I've felt the indescribable pain of homesickness. But now this pain is beyond sadness or melancholy; I'm suffering from the wounds of a knife that sliced this young man's belly. I'm feeling the hot bullet of the militia in my chest. I want to be there, and I cannot.

Then I remind myself that I'm no longer twenty-five years old. How can I run briskly and disappear into a narrow alley, when the guards follow me? I calm myself with the consolation that even if I were there, I wouldn't be able to run in the streets along with young people. My role would be different. I'd leave the door of my house open so that the youth would come in and seek refuge. Strange consolation. But it works somehow.

Iranian people are hostages of a brutal regime, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the prominent Iranian film maker says in his address to the European Parliament. Help them, he pleads. His words are moving. He warns the world about the upcoming mock confessions, forced by brutal and inhuman tortures with no mercy for the ill and the old. I'm familiar with this. In the 1980s many of the political leaders of different organizations confessed after severe torture and mind-altering drugs. Staring at the camera with jaundiced faces and lifeless eyes (and at times with bruises badly covered by make up), they admitted that they'd been spies. Their followers watched them on TV and became demoralized. This was the way this regime uprooted all the political parties, even those who were not opposed them. Ayatollah Khomeini proved himself a liar after a massive execution of political prisoners in the summer of 1988. Hadn't he promised the freedom of all political parties from his shrine in Paris?

Ironically now, the hardliners, who have grown into a Mafia type operation, are planning to uproot the moderate wing of the regime. We, the first generation of the revolution, still remember when these same moderates were interrogators at Evin.

At this very moment that I'm writing these lines, brutal interrogations are happening in the infamous Evin—a prison that has been the subject of my recurring nightmares for many years. In most of my novels and short stories, either directly or indirectly, I've written about the horrors of this facility. Now the regime of coup d'état is torturing the demonstrators to force them to confess (that they were under the influence of foreigners!). They are planning mock trials and executions.

Where are the human rights organizations? Where is the Amnesty International? What is the role of the United Nations in all this? Are these organizations closing their eyes on the crimes of the Islamic Mafia? Are they sacrificing our nation for oil?

"Don't forget us!" YouTube clips, Facebook messages and Twitter send desperate pleas of the Iranian youth to the people of the world. "Don't forget us! We are trapped here! We are hostages!"

They send thousands of green balloons to the sky, because they cannot gather in the streets anymore. They climb the rooftops in the heart of the night and shout, "Allah o Akbar—God is Great!" their voices reverberate. Rooftop to rooftop they send their message. The whole city calls God to witness.

But God is not God anymore. This is only a symbol, as is "green," as is Neda—that beautiful woman whose name means "calling."

Now that three weeks have passed and the fascists have killed and jailed and robbed people of their elected government and have announced their bloody coup d'état successful, ironically, a new hope is born. This hope is green, the color of grass, and is not depending on a leader in the establishment. Even if Mr. Mousavi does not support or lead the people, they will keep raising their voices-- if not in daylight, in the darkness of the night. This has become a grass-roots movement and nothing can stop it. The taboos are broken now. Because, who could believe that one day people would dare to shout, "Death to Khamenei?" That little ridiculous dictator, Ahmadinejad, is not worth mentioning anymore, it's the Supreme Leader, the Great Satan, the Godfather of the Mafioso, with his billions in the European banks, who is the target of people's rage.

I write this on July 9, 2009, the tenth anniversary of the student uprising which was violently suppressed in 1999. Today, people in the streets of Tehran shouted "Death to Khamenei and his son, Mojtaba." This Mojtaba is the head of the Basiji militia, the black shirt, vigilante Nazis. People chanted today and wished him dead.

The masses may not be able to appear in their millions anymore, but they can fill the streets in several groups of hundreds in different parts of the city. And this is what they did today. "Don't be afraid! Don't be afraid! We're all together!" They chanted and the riot police tear-gassed them, the militia clubbed them, and they escaped into the bend of narrow alleys. Someone-- a middle-aged woman-- had kept the door of her house open for the wounded youth to seek shelter and hide from the murderers.