Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Massoumeh Ebtekar

Masoumeh Ebtekar, Iran’s Minister of Environmental Protection during President Katami’s second term, was on the front pages of online newspapers this week. In commemoration of the anniversary of Ayatolah Khomeini’s return to Iran, she wrote an article “Neauphle le Chateau.” I read the article expecting some forgotten anecdotes or some of the Imam’s words of wisdom which might have been overshadowed by the excitement of the Revolution, like some of those delightful stories that Mr. Abtahi writes once in a while on his website. (Indeed, his story about the Imam during his airplane journey back home was wonderful.) Much to my disappointment, the article was just covered with bragging about how privilege she was to have met the Imam and recited prayer behind him. One piece of bad news for Ms. Ebtekar is that thousands of people who did not even know how to pray (whom I knew personally) and many others who were not even Moslems, including Bahi’is, were among the people who had that honor. What the reader like me expects is to really hear Imam Khomeini’s voices and message, his real and simple words. Unfortunately, the man who within a short period of time managed to be elevated to such an exalted position as Imam is still unknown to many of us. I do not even make apology to say that a year before Revolution, one of my neighbors, who was a devout Moslem and the only one that I knew as such, knocked on my door in and asked me if I knew who Khomeini was. I said yes, and told him that he was a cleric who was in prison in Shah’s time for his anti-land reform protest and that while in prison, he was promoted to the rank of ayatollah, thanks to Ayatollah Shariatmadari and his lawyer Mr. Rasekh (oddly enough a Bahi’i). I told my neighbor that I thought he was dead because he was suffering from some sort of cancer. He was amazed, since he didn’t know even that much. As far as I know, after revolution our knowledge did not improve much. He remained a source of mystery to many of us.

After Revolution, most of his speeches, unfortunately, were tinted with politics and did not reveal his real ideas and philosophy. It was just the occasional anecdotes and memoirs of those who have known him privately or have heard him out of the political context which have given us a portrait of him. I do not, however, recall any women’s perspective on this matter beyond the writings of one or two western reporters who had their own agenda when interviewing him. It was with this expectation that I read Ms. Ebtekar’s article, and I was disappointed.

The man who impressed her so much and showed her the ultimate way of salvation, the man who was do decisive in her life, the man whose she later became has remained as alien and unknown as ever. There is neither a single quotation from his speeches nor his conversations nor any words of wisdom from this man in her memoir. All she said was how privileged and honored she felt to have been graced by his presence—and honor she shared with thousands and thousands of others. Unfortunately, in spite of my two or three times a year trips to Paris, I was not there to have that honor, I would have gone there even though I had to look out of the corner of my eyes at others to know what to do when praying, and when and how to do “sojoud” and “rokoud.” I’m certain, however, that the experience would not have increased my knowledge of him either.

Writing a memoir, be it one page or a book, does not mean describing the course of events. Yes, thousands of people prayed behind him twice a day. But what does it mean but praying with him? What did it signify? And when do we want to go one step beyond the superficiality of events? Why don’t we try after some quarter of a century to know the man who had that effect in our history? So far, thanks, to Abtahi, we know for sure that he did not believe in forcing people to go to Heaven. If you, Ms. Ebtekar, know him a little better, you should just let us know. His thinking and his wisdom will surely help us all, including Ahmadinejad and Mesbah Yazdi. More adjectives and adverbs do not add to our knowledge. It just makes the image more crowded.

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