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Razaq Mamoon: The Journalist, the Man, and the Meaning of the Acid Attack

by JOSH SHAHRYAR

20 Jan 2011 13:48Comments
RazaqMamoonResizedA.jpgIs Iran using violence to silence critics abroad?

[ comment ] I walked into our chief editor's office at Kabul Weekly one Tuesday afternoon to discuss an article and saw Razaq Mamoon for the first time. He was about five-foot-eight, a bit Neanderthalish, big bones, heavy chest, prominent cheeks, and a goatee as perfectly sculpted as any I'd ever seen. That was almost seven years ago.

Today, newspaper pictures show him covered in bandages and blood. An unknown attacker sprayed acid on his face as he walked in his Kabul neighborhood on the evening of January 18, another Tuesday. The injuries might look horrific, but I know the man who's sustained them. He's survived a bloody civil war, the persecution of the Taliban, and the U.S. invasion. This won't stop him.

Back to the story! The first time I met him was a Tuesday, the day Kabul Weekly went to press, so my boss usually didn't mind anyone just barging in without knocking. That day, however, Faheem Dashty was in no mood to forgive. "Josh, how many times have I told you to knock before you walk in like a madman with your cigarette?" I apologized and told him it was important. He glanced at me sternly and gestured toward the man in front of him. "I need to talk to him, get out!" The look on his face told me that my "fear-no-one" boss was meeting with someone he genuinely respected.

It was that time of the month when he consulted with Razaq Mamoon.

Controversy surrounded the man's ideas -- especially those concerning politics and the role of Afghanistan's neighbors in its troubles. But to us at Kabul Weekly, he was Marja taghlid, the source of guidance. Used as a title by high-ranking Shia ayatollahs to denote their exalted status, the term to us signified his importance among other Afghan journalists. He could be wrong -- but when he wasn't, no one was righter.

It wouldn't be wrong to say Razaq Mamoon to us was perhaps what Edward R. Murrow was back in the 1960s to U.S. journalists.

Kabul Weekly was his brainchild, although by the time I was there, he'd moved on to greener pastures, leaving the paper to Faheem Dashty. Faheem was his protégé, of course -- and as Faheem's protégé, I was two steps below him, so we never really spoke on equal terms. Not that I never dreamed of it back then.

I was 21, trying badly to impress my peers and ended up smoking a pack of Pine Lights before I wrote a paragraph. But I recall once, just once, he remembered my name when I greeted him. That made me feel like I'd been granted a doctorate by an Ivy League school.

Later, when I left Afghanistan and wasn't able to return, afraid the government would prosecute me for my views and writings, I learned he'd gone to Tolo, the country's largest television station, and was running a successful program there. He quit that a year ago. I quit Tolo too after a few months working there back in 2006. Television just isn't for print journalists, a wise man once said.

MamoonPostAttack.jpgAnd here I am, writing about the man who for years has been one of the most respected journalists in Afghanistan having been viciously attacked near his home. The attacker threw acid on the face of a man whose very presence inside Afghanistan gives hope to the younger cadre of reporters that freedom of speech means something. That media can do good. That Afghanistan is not a failure -- at least when it comes to Afghans who are willing to risk their lives to stand up for freedom of speech.

But more importantly, Mamoon claims the attack was not carried out by the government of President Hamid Karzai. He blames Tehran's mullahs and their agents. The reason: a new book, The Footprint of Pharaoh, he wrote about the ayatollahs' secret attempts to fragment Afghanistan during the 1990s.

"They [Iran] tried to ban the book. I had the feeling that they would do something. I don't think this will be the first and last. There might be other people too on their list," he told the BBC in an interview from his hospital bed. He added that his publisher had received threats from the Iranian embassy.

For now, he remains in that hospital bed, recovering from his injuries. Considering the incompetency of the Karzai government, I find it hard to believe that they'll be able to catch the perpetrators. Whatever the case may be, it seems that journalists' already precarious position in Afghanistan just got a bit more hazardous.

What scares me, however, is how far can Iran's arms reach? Should other journalists living abroad who've criticized the Islamic Republic fear for their lives? I don't want to sound like an alarmist, but that's my first reaction.

More on this as soon as we know more.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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