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Me and My Basij Friend

by Special Correspondent in Tehran

29 Sep 2009 04:0819 Comments
madreseh.jpg

More surreal than a movie.

[ essay ] It was July 4, 2009. The protests had almost died out, but we were determined to make a last stand before the anniversary of 18th of Tir, the day marking the Iranian student protests ten years ago.

Salman, my old childhood friend, and I were standing only 20 meters apart. His face was full of rage and animosity - like a monster waiting to be set free. It had been six years since the last time I had seen him. He seemed to have grown up beyond his age; maybe it was the commando fatigue that he was wearing, or his bushy beard, or perhaps the baton that he was clenching in his fist.

I looked him in the eyes. I had immediately recognized him, and from his expression I was sure that he had recognized me as well. This recognition did not affect my determination, and he did not show any signs of backing off either. It wasn't up to either one of us anymore: we were parts of two opposing waves that faced each other. A confrontation was inevitable.

Earlier, I was in the protests further south in the Seventh of Tir Square, but the riot police had charged us. We stayed put for a while, but after a few minutes the tear gas became intolerable, so we broke up into small groups and ran into alleys and side streets. Here, a few blocks further north, we had regrouped, about 200 of us.

We started marching south, chanting Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein (Oh Hossein [Shiite Imam], Mir Hossein), Raye mano pas bedid (Give back my vote), Doroughgoo, Doroughgoo, Rosva bayad gardad (The Liar must be exposed).

By the time we passed the first junction we saw them - about 300 Basij militiamen with a few police officers among them.

An officer spoke to us through a loud speaker: "Disperse: this is your last warning."

The sight of them made my knees tremble, but the wave pushed on and so I went along. We weren't chanting anymore; we didn't want to give them any excuses. We marched forward until we were only a few meters from them. We were standing silently, flashing V signs. There was a pregnant silence. They were getting uneasy, as were we.

Just as this scene felt ripped from a powerful movie, so did the flashbacks of the memories conjured up by seeing Salman's familiar face in the ranks of Basiji. Salman and I had attended Mofid High School, one of the most religious schools in Tehran. Salman and I shared a bench in the second year of school. Both trouble-makers, we immediately clicked, and within an hour of sharing the bench we found ourselves in trouble. Thus, an hour into our friendship, we were expelled from class and sitting in the principal's office being lectured by our ultra-hardliner dean. He never failed to mention a few Qoranic verses or revolutionary slogans when he reprimanded someone. Our friendship lasted for the remainder of our high school years.

At Mofid High School, we were under a constant barrage of the state propaganda machine. Like many religious schools in Iran, it serves as a recruiting ground for the hard-line camp. They need clever young men to fill their ranks and they know that the sooner they prepare the human resources for their future tasks the better, so high schools like Mofid are used as brain-washing camps whose graduates would go to university and from there to high-ranking managerial posts within the government.

But the actual result is mixed. Such high schools give rise to two kinds of graduates. On one hand, there are the ones who take the message to heart and become members of the student Basij. Then there are those like me, who rebel against this constant pressure of religion and state. So my high school friends became either ultra-hard-line Islamists, or they became leftists, anarchists and liberals.

Salman became one of the hard-liners. He was accepted at Amir Kabir University, and I went to Tehran University Art School. Except for a few phone calls in the first year after graduation, we did not hear from each other again.

That is until six years later, facing each other in the street, one of us among the ranks of the Basij and the other protesting against the election. I actually felt relieved. I knew Salman must have become a big shot within the University Basij, and so I thought that he could pull some strings within the ranks of the Basij who were now facing us. I thought perhaps I could get out of this with just a great story to tell. Well, I got my story, all right.

That heavy silence suddenly broke, giving birth to yells of Basijis running towards us wielding their batons. In the ensuing panic, I got pushed to the ground and within seconds a few Basijis were over me, looking down on me, like a wolf pack looking at its prey. They were grinning, as if they were enjoying my fear. One among them, Salman, was not grinning though. But his face was emotionless and sinister. Still, I felt saved. We used to be best friends, after all.

At that moment, I felt like an actor in a film, expecting to hear someone yell "Cut! Great job guys."

Instead, the Basijis, Salman included, began bashing me with their batons. I blacked out. When I came to, I was in a cramped, hot van with blood running down my face. In my state of shock, I didn't feel any pain, even though my skull had been cracked in four places.

The van took me and the other captive protestors to one of the most dreaded destinations in all of Iran - Evin Prison.

It took me a week to inform my wife and parents where I was. And it took them 20 days of wrangling and pleading with judges and authorities to finally bail me out. Now, they hold the deed to my parents' house prisoner, and I am out here, a prisoner of the harsh realities of my land, trapped in a film co-written by myself and my old friend, Salman.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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19 Comments

I love the way you said it! But not what you said it!

Iranazadma / September 29, 2009 5:22 AM

I will pray for your healing. No one deserves to go through that.
Thank you for your courage in breaking the silence that the regime is trying, and failing, to impose.

Bless you very much, Peg

Peg / September 29, 2009 5:53 AM

It is so very sad!!! Such a wonderful Persian Nation with such a great past is constantly provoking terror inside and outside its borders. You could have it all, with your oil, your nuclear facilities (for energy purposes), your great civilization... but instead of all this positive sides your regime persists like a lunatic in terrorizing its own people, killing and torturing them. After such terrible acts of barbarism upon it own I wonder who in his right mind could ever trust this regime? The West? Even the Arabs are uneasy...but happy...since you continue to give billions to Hezbollah and Hammas (who by the way didn't mind at all to give a heavy hand beating and killing the peaceful protesters) while your citizens are unemployed and are now stuck in a delusional psychotic regime. What a waste for the Brave Persian Youth.

Monique / September 29, 2009 6:18 AM

Beautifully written, and another disturbing chapter in Iran's book.

Yashar / September 29, 2009 6:26 AM

This truly is a beautifully written piece. I just so wished that the content differed. I pray for you to heal and grow stronger from this experience. I believe in my heart that this regime will have its day of condemnation soon and Iran will be free. Thank you to all of you who are putting your lives in danger for that Freedom. I only wish I was there to fight it with you. Peace and Freedom may be with you.

solange / September 29, 2009 9:24 AM

This made me cry tears for you my friend. Thank you so much for sharing your story! How brave you all are in your fight for Freedom. I hope and pray that day will come very soon. I also hope and pray that this experience, and the memories you and your family carry, with heal and those that must stay with you, make you stronger. This regime is appalling, it's human rights abuses are shameful and the World's leaders should be condemning them in LOUD VOICES like the people on Facebook and Twitter are. FREE IRAN V V V

Tricia Neda Sutherland / September 29, 2009 10:41 PM

I don't and perhaps never will understand it. Where does this rage come from? How is it accepted by any Iranian? These actions, these violations, these abuses seem so alien Iran but at once seem so persistent and present. Can it ever be countered? Can it ever be tamed?

Behrooz / September 29, 2009 11:02 PM

Thank you, Lover of freedom, for sharing this heart-breaking story.
I pray that Salman reads your story, and realizes that he has sold his soul to the wrong side in this struggle, which will eventually result in greater freedom, though it may take much too long.
Recall how long it took for Gandhi and his followers to win freedom for India, despite obvious overwhelming reasons and justification, and a colonial power that prided itself on its rationalism and love of individual rights. Many such lessons of history should give you patience to persist, while also showing how freedom is not given by those already in power, it has to be won.

Roger / September 30, 2009 2:40 AM

I pray that both you and your friend are healed and reconciled. You suffered physical pain at his hands but his suffering may continue beyond this world if there is no repentance and reform. Obviously those who are in charge and have brought about this situation are even more culpable and, God willing, they will face justice one day. But I would be weary of Americans and their allies who because of their dislike of Islam and support for Israel will seek to win your friendship and cause internal discord and division. I do hope and pray that sensible and moderate people within the Iranian leadership will abandon their hostility to the reformists and come to agree a national accord to solve all disputes and ensure the upholding of Justice and constitutional principles which are based on Islam.

rezvan / September 30, 2009 2:44 AM

It is the story of the cruel reality.

Bita / October 1, 2009 3:03 AM

A terrible personal account, I hope will get spread and into our MSM, and a lovely photo too.

>But I would be weary of Americans and their allies who because of their dislike of Islam and support for Israel will seek to win your friendship and cause internal discord and division.

aha rezvan the useful idiot. Who is trying to cause discord and division ?

There is no '..but.' O believer of after-life justice, be wary (not 'weary') of present life justice, that often catches up many years later in some way or another.

pessimist / October 1, 2009 5:06 PM

Many Americans and others do not realize the full effect of the cruelty and threats the people of Iran must live with. No one should ever die or be beaten for their beliefs. The Iranian students who come out of college as hardliners didn't get an education...they got indoctrination. So what did you learn hardliners, Bomb-Making 1 & 2, Hour to turn in your families and neighbors to the government, Underwater Sandbox, HATE 1, 2, 3, Learn to create a halocaust in 3 easy lessons.
GO BACK TO SCHOOL you FOOLS AND help SAVE YOUR COUNTRY.
Your leadership is sick and twisted. FREEDOM TO THE PEOPLE OF IRAN!!!! WE STAND WITH YOU.

chris taylor / October 2, 2009 3:26 AM

Many Americans and others do not realize the full effect of the cruelty and threats the people of Iran must live with. No one should ever die or be beaten for their beliefs. The Iranian students who come out of college as hardliners didn't get an education...they got indoctrination. So what did you learn hardliners, Bomb-Making 1 & 2, Hour to turn in your families and neighbors to the government, Underwater Sandbox, HATE 1, 2, 3, Learn to create a halocaust in 3 easy lessons.
GO BACK TO SCHOOL you FOOLS AND help SAVE YOUR COUNTRY.
Your leadership is sick and twisted. FREEDOM TO THE PEOPLE OF IRAN!!!! WE STAND WITH YOU.

chris taylor / October 2, 2009 3:26 AM

Many Americans and others do not realize the full effect of the cruelty and threats the people of Iran must live with. No one should ever die or be beaten for their beliefs. The Iranian students who come out of college as hardliners didn't get an education...they got indoctrination. So what did you learn hardliners, Bomb-Making 1 & 2, Hour to turn in your families and neighbors to the government, Underwater Sandbox, HATE 1, 2, 3, Learn to create a halocaust in 3 easy lessons.
GO BACK TO SCHOOL you FOOLS AND help SAVE YOUR COUNTRY.
Your leadership is sick and twisted. FREEDOM TO THE PEOPLE OF IRAN!!!! WE STAND WITH YOU.

chris taylor / October 2, 2009 3:26 AM

"Where does this rage come from? "

One source is the mind of Khomeini. Just look at any photograph of him: did you ever see such a grim, bitter, hate-filled man?

He has had an entirely bad influence on Iran, as Lenin had on Russia.

A second source is the Iran-Iraq war, which must have left many who fought in it and survived in a state of post-traumatic stress.

I can think of other sources. No simple exsplanation.

Don Cox / October 2, 2009 7:44 PM

yes, only the under 25's don't suffer from it, their parents, are no doubt like our grand, or great grand parents, in europe (and israel) after the 11WW, and that took decades to heal, even still today.. Wars take generations to heal, even if the people didn't actually participate, it is a generational memory that is present. Politics have to deal with that

pessimist / October 3, 2009 5:19 AM

sorry, i should of course include americans, asians, north africans, autralians, indians, ... and others .... who fought in the last world war and have suffered

pessimist / October 3, 2009 5:26 AM

We've been inundated now with stories about green members and their perspectives, mostly coming from north Tehran. This is only half of the story, if that.

What would be truly interesting is to read a perspective coming from a young Basij member. That we haven't seen yet in the Western media.

How 'bout it Tehran Bureau? Any contacts with the other side of the political divide? Or are we stuck hearing the same old, one-sided story coming from the opposition? (which, according to the WPO poll is a slender minority)

Pirouz / October 4, 2009 11:58 AM

Brave Brave Persian. Sleep well. May God keep you and yours safe from harm. May tomorrow be the day you arise a free nation.

Redcrossmom / October 5, 2009 2:57 PM