July 24, 2013
Recently, when Mohammad Nourizadeh bestowed a kiss on the foot of a child, he threw the whole contemporary political and social history of Iran into turmoil and challenge. Nourizadeh is a well-known Iranian writer and critic film-maker who until a few years ago was closely affiliated with the Iranian clerical regime and its supreme leader. When he kissed the foot of a Bahai child recently, he sent a message much stronger and louder than tens of books and stories on the subject. The Bahais, after all, have been persecuted in Iran for hundreds of years and the religious establishment views them as the “rejected”. Pressure on them has multiplied since the establishment of the Islamic republic in 1979.
When I saw this photograph, it brought back memories of a past event. During my rush and hectic attorney days in Tehran, I had entangled myself in a lawsuit which took me places I had not even imagined before. Government agents pretending to be regular folks had strangled a woman in her house. I took up the case as the defense attorney for the family members if the victim. They were not in Iran and were afraid to return. The victim however had not left on her own behalf and insistence and pressed on her ownership rights to a large garden house single-handedly battling the onslaughts of the revolutionary prosecutor’s office. Her émigré family members wrote me and asked me to press for blood money and retribution for their loss on their behalf. I felt ashamed to tell them in the phone conversations that from the perspective of the Iranian law and the judiciary enforcers of the theocratic regime in Tehran, Bahai blood had no value to be reprimanded for. I felt ashamed to tell them that if a Muslim killed a non-Muslim, he could not be subjected to the ghesas principle, i.e., an eye for an eye retribution in Islamic law. All the perpetrators had to do was to pay blood money. But even this principle of paying blood money was only valid if a Muslim killed a Jew or a Christian, not a Bahai.
The Iranian regime collects taxes from the Bahais. It conscripts them into the military to serve the mandatory service but it does not allow them to attend a university. And when Bahais create an online university with their own money, the regime is so challenged that it immediately charges them with complicity with Zionism, an accusation that its hand-picked and imposed judges can “prove” without any effort.
But let me return to that kiss and the memory it invoked in me. The event is tied to that lawsuit and on the events of that fateful day when I went to the courthouse determined to convince the judge that accept the claims of my clients. I knew that the blood of the murdered woman had no value, but if the court ruled that murder had indeed taken place, then it would be a consolation to the children who had been forced to live thousands of miles away from their home. It would also have been a comfort for endangering myself through the case.
In the last years of her life, the victim woman had handwritten numerous letters in which she said that she knew that her tenant was an agent of the revolutionary prosecutor’s office who would eventually kill her if she did not pass her property to the country’s revolutionary agencies as a “present.” So I gathered the letters and took them to the judge, whom I trusted because he had been young and a law school graduate. He was not a cleric. His presence in the unfriendly legal community of the Islamic republic was heartwarming. When I entered his office, he looked clean and neat. He bowed out of respect from behind his desk when I entered his office and openly welcomed me. I opened my briefcase and handed him the case folder and some of the victim’s letters. But as he extended his hand to take these from me, his hand froze midair. So did mine. He asked whether these were the victim’s letters and when I confirmed, he retracted his hand, pulled a tissue from a box on his desk and used them to take the letters, while all along mumbling something that I could not understand.
I do not remember how I made it back home to my house. But his disgusting look, words and the action of his hand felt like a knife in my heart. What he did was a historic revulsion, not necessarily a political one. It was not a government decree, nor a judicial order. It had an educational foundation in it. Even a higher university education could not and had not cleared it. And he was not alone in possessing that hatred. He believed that the hand of the Bahai woman who had touched those letters may reduce the history’s mark that had been dumped on his mind. He did not have the ability to replace that hatred with kindness. He could not see my astonished look. And I lost sight of why I had come for the retribution of a person whom a judge deemed so dirty that he would not even touch a piece of paper that the she had touched. He probably viewed her murder to be just.
So when I saw the photograph of Nourizadeh kissing the Bahai child’s foot, what came to my mind was the image of that ugly educated judge and the thought that perhaps there are similar judges who are striving to turn the page of history of hatred for the “non-believers” which has been hacked in our minds and which has found its ways into the laws of the country.
This kiss comes out of the tortures, beatings, persecutions and hatred that have filled Iranian prisons, and it is an invaluable feat. Nourizadeh, a Shii writer who for years had the love of the rulers of Iran, has been so tortured and disgusted with the Shiite regime that his message with this kiss is that his fate is now tied to that of the Bahai child.
Without any doubt, Nourizadeh has probably lost many of his old and new friends with his kiss and photograph. But so what? The act has challenged history. It carries a message and it shall bear fruit. There is no hurry. It is a seed that that has been planted long overdue.
July 24, 2013