On Thursday afternoon, students in Garneau’s humanities courses had the opportunity to hear a talk by Marina Nemat, author of Prisoner of Tehran. Ms. Nemat was a political prisoner in Tehran following the Iranian Revolution.
She quickly launched into her story, describing her ideal, Westernized childhood in Iran. She described the youthful fervour of the early Revolution when people of all ideologies flooded the streets of Tehran. However, the realities of the new Islamic government began to take hold. For the benefit of those among us who had never lived through a revolution, she explained that these things did not happen overnight; the loss of freedoms came slowly. First it was the singing, the dancing, and the mini-skirts. Then there was the loss of religious freedom, censorship, and arrests. Ms. Nemat participated in protests against these oppressive changes and wrote anti-government pieces in her school newspaper. Her actions drew the attention of officials and at the age of 16, she was imprisoned, tortured, raped, and came close to execution.
In her sharp humour and delivery, it is not hard to imagine the woman that lived through such traumatic ordeals and came out brandishing a pen. Drawn from personal experiences, her ideas are compelling. Just like with revolutions, democracy does not happen overnight. Democracy is fragile and complicated and requires a certain maturity. What’s more, the world is not divided into good and evil. Victims become torturers in an endless cycle of violence that can only be ended by the moral compass of each individual.
Her words of caution seem more relevant than ever with the recent revolutions in the Arab world, a process that she believes started with the Iranian Revolution. As the events unfold overseas, she encourages students to educate themselves about these issues.
To find out more about Marina Nemat, check out her books Prisoner of Tehran and After Tehran: a life reclaimed. Also check out this article she wrote about the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia for the Globe and Mail in January.