If what happened to Maziar Bahari is the trend in Iran, the country just hasn’t figured it out yet. Bahari, an Iranian journalist, was imprisoned and tortured in Iran during the “Green Revolution” in Iran, which was the reformist response to the 2009 reelection of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. His memoir Then They Came For Me details his 118-day stint in one of Iran’s most feared prisons and sheds light on the controversial country’s tumultuous history (and will soon be a movie directed by Jon Stewart).
A big takeaway from Bahari’s experience, and something he writes about a lot in the book, is this: petty dictators + stringent fundamentalist religious dogma = bad, bad news. Bahari’s interrogator, whom he dubbed Rosewater due to his distinct smell, was a cruel mix of ignorant, dogmatic, pompous, and sadistic, but he was in charge of Bahari’s life. So Bahari had to stifle any hint of his anger, confusion, and religious irreverence simply to survive Rosewater’s erratic treatment and foolish reasons for falsely imprisoning innocent people. The true reason Bahari and his many of his jailed compatriots were behind bars wasn’t because they were criminals; while some were indeed drug dealers or something like that, most were merely critics of Khamenei’s regime and hadn’t been afraid to hide it.
Making the situation worse was the fact that Khamenei’s current regime, like other despotic governments, has no sense of humor. One of the pieces of “evidence” brought against Bahari during his imprisonment was a Daily Show piece he filmed a few weeks before he was arrested in which the correspondent Jason Jones pretended to be a spy and Bahari criticized Iran and Ahmadinejad. Rosewater thought Bahari was talking to an actual spy. In a cafe. On TV. As Jon Stewart said in an interview with Bahari, “we hear so much about the banality of evil, but so little about the stupidity of evil.”
Though this clearly was an experience that shouldn’t have happened, I look forward to seeing Bahari’s memoir come to life on screen, if only to understand what life is like for other prisoners who weren’t as lucky and well-connected as Bahari. The warmongering sabre-rattlers in both Iran and the U.S. will continue their campaigns for war or worse, but I believe what Bahari said in the Daily Show segment: that the two sides don’t understand each other. Here’s hoping that changes for the better.