At Khomeini's funeral, jostling mourners dropped his body out of its coffin and tore at its shroud, exposing the dead man's naked legs in a scene that must have given even lingering utopians a shiver.
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Khomeini's successors — Ali Khamenei, who became supreme leader, and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who became president — put reconstruction and regime security ahead of Khomeinist ideology. As Iran's isolation lifted a little, Fathi found work as a fixer for foreign journalists notably for The New York Times' Judith Miller , and out of that, a career in journalism.
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Those in power in Iran have tended to view journalists as spies, traitors, and foreign agents, thanks in part to a history of British imperial mischief, and in part to a paranoid style of politics sustained by autocracy. Fathi, like all journalists working openly in the country, had from the outset of her career to negotiate the suspicions of a minder from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and to assume that she was always under a degree of surveillance. Nevertheless, she could plausibly assert that her wish to portray the human face of a country that had gone behind the moon for ten years did not contradict the interests of the state.
That point was, and remains, contested in Iran. Throughout the s, Fathi explains, Iranians forcefully rejected their solitude by acquiring satellite dishes and Internet connections that secured their access to global culture, even as the Iranian state remained constituted for isolation. Attempts to elide this tension — notably by the reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who promoted civil society and a "dialogue of civilizations" when he took office in — failed because Iran's security organs rejected them through violence and intimidation.
Fathi first heard the anti-regime slogan "Death to the Dictator" after Khatami failed to stand up to the security state in , and would hear it again following Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's contested re-election in By , Fathi had been the Times' Tehran correspondent for nine years, and had helped document the most intellectually and civically active decades in Iran's modern history. The rejection of political solitude she had witnessed culminated in great crowds chanting, "Don't be scared, we're all together.
Under threat and fearing arrest from those same organs, she and her family fled to Canada before moving to the United States. Although exile remains a lonely fate for Iranians, they have learned to expect great things from their compatriots; their hopes for a happy return to Iran are, if optimistic, not utopian. Roland Elliott Brown lives in London. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.
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Read our community guidelines here. By Nazila Fathi. Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability. Published: Basic Books - December 9th, Not Signed or Personalized. September 22, pm. Politics and Prose at Union Market. September 23, pm. September 24, pm. GW Lisner Auditorium. September 25, pm. John DeDakis - Fake.
The Lonely War: One Woman's Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran
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Nazila Fathi - The Lonely War | Book Passage
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