Saturday, September 17, 2011

Then They Came For Me

The anticipated return of the two American tourists from their Iranian imprisonment makes the story of Maziar Behari of great interest to me, since I discovered that Behari encountered the three Americans late in his own imprisonment. Behari’s book, (Maziar Behari/Then They Came for Me/NY/Random House/2011) gives me some idea as to what to anticipate for the two young Americans awaiting release.

Three young American tourists made the mistake [?] of transgressing the Iran border--two men and the fiancée of one of the men. Iran eventually released the female and she returned to America. She has continued advocating for her two male counterparts. Now, the world awaits their soon release, as promised. When the three were arrested, they were accused of leading the Iranian branch of the American CIA, et al, which I considered both interesting and humorous.

Behari, an Iranian-born Canadian citizen, was arrested while filming the 2009 mass protests in Teheran, with the savage repressions that followed. Although he was a 12-year-journalist with “Newsweek” magazine, he was imprisoned as a spy and spent 118 days in Evin Prison. Tortured, fearing for his life--thought lost--he held to the secular values that sustained him.Late in his imprisonment, he encountered the three Americans apparently coming into the Iranian prison system. He also reveals the truth about the [crooked] election of Ahmadinejad, as well as his relationship to the present Ayatollah.

Behari gives a riveting, and at times heart-wrenching, memoir of his imprisonment for being a Western spy. I found his historical insights into the past seventy years of various regimes of Iranian history offering me a better feel for the land of his birth. I found him very empathic with Jewish people, whom he recognized as being a wholesome part of Iranian culture since the days of King Cyrus of the biblical days of Daniel.

Behari’s family experienced wars, coups, and revolutions under oppressive regimes. In reading his story, I could feel the aspirations of his people living under oppressive, totalitarian [fascist] regimes as they did (and do), and looking for any kind of philosophy or faith to enable them to live freely and enjoy those qualities that go with human rights, economic and religious freedom, et al, that I and all other freedom-loving Americans enjoy.

Maziar’s father belonged to a Communist circle, through which he sought those social and economic benefits to which we all aspire. Maziar grew up as what I would consider a secular Muslim, drawing strength from his father’s courage during his imprisonment as a Communist. He drew additional strength from his sister’s imprisonment under the shah of Iran, the American-supported Muslim dictator-king, whom the Ayatollah Khomeini eventually overthrew. Moreover, he continued to draw strength from the surprising and feisty resilience of his 84-year old mother who had seen it all but continued to cope, even when her son Maziar was all she had left.

The book traces the democratic impulses of freedom-loving people long-tired of oppressive government, most of which they experienced in the name of religion. I readily understand why the author is a secularist in his desire for democracy; he had never experienced human and civil rights otherwise. While Behari continues to hope for, and press for, democratic expressions of civil society, his story reveals the corruption of power, and Lord Acton’s confession that absolute power absolutely corrupts.

In Behari’s experiences, I could only guess at the “real” treatment of the two young Americans, and especially at the face-saving loops they are must go through as they anticipate their soon-freedom, which some suggest will not come until they accompany Ahmadinejad, when he comes for his soon-anticipated appearance in America.

What interested me most was Islam's obvious lack of a personally life-transforming faith, and the fact that there seems to be a significant number of Muslims who are freedom-loving non-totalitarians. The problem in Islam is the religious institution, just as it was in Judaism during the days of Jesus. The religious establishment has become quite institutionalized, and Muslim leadership can no more tolerate diversity and individuality than could the Pharisees and Saducees when challenged by Jesus.

Power corrupts. Absolute power (Islamic theocracy or Christian theocracy) corrupts absolutely, whereas Jesus taught the truth shall make you free (not the institution). From Warner's World, I am

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