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Sa’di, the thirteen century Iranian poet, was a man for all seasons. Distinct among his peers for a rare poetic talent and a sharp humor, he was a traveler, teacher, and master ghazal writer all in one. But, above all, he loved to tease and to question. In a most serious love poem, he warned the beloved: I was ruined by your love. I will not go to others to get well. And lest the beloved gets all the credit for uniqueness, he added: broken gold vessels cannot be repaired with glue. In real life, Sa’di offered his own glue for fixing broken lives and social relations, a set of compassionate and pragmatic ethical teachings published in his two celebrated books, the Orchard, and the Rose Garden. Despite hailing from the 13th century Iran, what Sa’di has to offer is relevant to our contemporary lives in the 21st century U.S. Let me tell you how I found him to be alluding to “enhanced” interrogation techniques (pc for torture), and the House Resolution 362, when reading The Orchard last week: “Children of Adam are limbs in a single body,” Sa’di concluded an anecdote. “If one is hurt, none will be able to rest.” Let me elaborate.
The Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) who earned the 1997 Nobel for Peace, due to their efforts to ban Landmines, have just published an important 120 page report. Prepared by tens of physicians and other health professionals, the report looks into systematic use of torture by the United States during its interrogations of detainees at US detention facilities, including those at Guantanamo Bay, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan. In the words of General Antonio Taguba, himself a US army official, the report “tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture.” He goes on to say “This story is not only written in words: it is scrawled for the rest of these individual’s lives on their bodies and minds.”
The report is fraught with gory details pointing to physical violence, psychological abuse, and sexual humiliation. However, as you move forward, if you have the stomach to read the details, something rather unexpected happens. You start to feel sorry not just for those subjected to these “enhanced” interrogation techniques but also for those who implemented them. This is not because it is easy to overlook the responsibility of the torturers. It is because you know deep down that no one can injure someone else to this degree without injuring himself or herself in the process. And you don’t have to struggle to explain the reasoning behind your feeling. Sa’di has. If one limb is injured, the whole body suffers. Interrogation techniques may have been “enhanced” so the inflicted pain leaves minimal trace in the tortured body. But nothing can protect the torturer from knowing what he, or she, has done. The global human connection, which Sa’di refers to, is written into our beings.
Almost at the same time that the PHR report was released, US Congressman Ackerman proposed a legislation (House Resolution 362) which calls for intensifying the sanctions on Iran and imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran. Analysts say that this would require a US naval blockade in the Strait of Hormuz, which amounts to an act of war! Are we talking about more wars, more prisons, and more “enhanced” interrogation techniques? How many more limbs can we hurt before the whole body goes into a state of shock? Even Sa’di refrained from taking the metaphor that far. Perhaps he hoped we would be wiser.
FATEMEH KESHAVARZ is Chair of the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literature at Washington University and the author of Jasmine and Stars: Reading more than Lolita in Tehran. She is currently working on a monograph on the Medieval Persian Poet, Sa’di of Shiraz.