As we marked the 32nd anniversary of mass political executions of 1988 in Iran, and the 42nd anniversary of the 1979 Revolution, the publication of Voices of a Massacre: Untold Stories of Life and Death in Iran 1988 as one of the first extensive scholarly books in English is a significant contribution to the current scholarship on the post-revolutionary Iran. Nasser Mohajer, the author who has compiled, translated, and edited the text, is a scholar of modern Iranian history based in Paris. He combined and translated old and new materials into English and the six chapters of the book contains, state document, testimonies, eyewitness descriptions, reflections and memories of the loved ones of those executed and their friends and comrades. Prior to the publication of this book, along with International human rights organizations which have documented the massacre, a few exiled Iranian writers, artists and political analysts have published articles and made documentaries about the crimes. Ervand Abrahamian’s Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Iran, University of California Press, 1999 is a significant scholarly work on this topic. There are also publications by the Persian section of US government-affiliated human industrial complex like Geoffrey Robinson’s The Massacre of Political Prisoners in Iran, 1988, published by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)-affiliated Abdorraman Boroumand Foundation in 2013 that provided witness testimonies, and official statements exposing the crimes.
The editor of Voices of a Massacre covers the chapters mostly with secondary literature and recorded oral history interviews. This is a valuable collection of primary sources for non-Persian speaking scholars to extend their knowledge on the most crucial events/tragedies of the post-1979 Revolution in Iran throughout the survivors’ voices. The politics of memory, “no to forgetting!” is at the heart of this book. As the editor argues, “the absence of Iran from discussions of more or less similar tragedies” is one of the reasons why this project was undertaken. (p.28.) Angela Davis who wrote a foreword to this book, compared the great massacre to other crimes against humanity in the twentieth century, such as the massacre in the Latin America, or those part of European’s settler colonialism projects like the native American genocide.
“Voices of Survivors,” begins with the testimonies of women prisoners. The moving narratives of the female Marxist prisoners describing the situation inside the prison give the readers an account of the deeply embedded nature of their agency and subjective experience in one of the darkest periods of contemporary Iranian history. The daily namaz(Salah/prayer) torture (consistent of five lashes at each of the 5 prescribed times for namaz) pictures the heroic resistance of these female prisoners is at the heart of this book.
Along the same lines, the book goes beyond the capital’s prison which has usually been the focus of most scholarships on this topic; it brings us to the other prisons in the provinces across the country such as Mashhad, Isfahan, Gilan, Hamedan, Shiraz, Tabriz, Semnan, and Dezful through the narratives of the survivors.
All the Money to My Child and The Sazman (Organization)
“The Mothers of Khavaran,” the Iranian version of Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentine, delves into the struggle of the mothers of those revolutionaries who were executed in the 1988 summer and buried in mass graves in Khavaran. Some aspects of the agony, efforts and struggles in the aftermath of the 1988 national disaster are documented through an exclusive interview with Forough Lotfi Tajbakhsh, the mother of Anoushirvan(Anoush) Lotfi one of the leaders of The Organization of Iranian People’s Fadaian, Majority [OIPF (Majority)] and a political prisoner in both the Shah’s and the Islamic Republic’s regimes, and Dr. Brigit Behzadi, the wife of Dr. Manuchehr Behzadi prominent journalist and members of the central committee of the Tudeh Communist party of Iran(TPI,)both executed in the massacre.
“We shouted, ‘Why are you beating us?’ They said, ‘You are the mothers of these communists…’” (p.232.) Forough Lotfi known as “mother Forough,” or” Mother Lotfi” who in her last visit to the Evin prison had promised her fallen son Anoush not to put on any black clothes but to dress in white with a red flower on her chest describes the frustration and devastating moment after she heard her son had been executed.
Before leaving Iran, writing constantly and openly about this Islamic Republic’s off-limit subject, the 1988 massacre, was considered a major felony for me resulting in my capture and imprisonment in section 209 which is an unofficial secret detention center inside the well-known notorious Evin prison, run under the administration of the VEVAK (Islamic Republic of Iran’s Secret Service.) While in prison the first thing the interrogator showed me was a copy of a letter written by Mother Forough(Mother Lotfi) in my support as an evidence of my transgression.
In this interview in the book, she delves into her ongoing battle with the prison’s authorities to save her son’s belongings of including his will. With her persistence a guard finally gave her a piece of paper after tearing up the top part of it. Anoush had written, “give my watch and my wedding ring to my wife. My mother has my permission to spend all the money I have on my child and the organization [OIPF (Majority),] “they had crossed out the word.” She then describes how she made it to Khavaran shortly after the execution and found an area covered with fresh soil, started shoveling and saw Anoush’s hand, along with parts of his shirt which was exposed.
That is how they found Anoush’s final resting place, next to Kumars Zarshenass)aka Q) one of the first activists in the Confederation of Iranian Students (the 1960s and 1970s,) and the leader of Youth Organization of the communist Tudeh Party of Iran (TPI,) Sa’id Azarang a high-ranking agent for Navid, an underground branch of the TPI who continued to operate covertly after the 1979 Revolution, and some other fallen revolutionaries. The translation of the moving letter of Dr. Brigitte Behzadi in Der Spiegel is the last part of this chapter. Brigitte fell in love with Manuchehr Behzadi while he, a member of the Political Bureau of the TPI, was living in exile in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the 1970s before his return to Iran to actively participate in 1979 Revolution. She received the news of her husband’s martyrdom while none of the media of the GDR such as Neues Deutschland (“New Germany”) and Die Weltbühne (“The World Stage”) accepted to report the final sequences of this prominent Iranian communist journalist, the editor in chief of the newspaper Mardom (“The People”.)
The Voices of Iranian Red Diaper Babies
The intergenerational transmission of trauma that arises from political repression in Iran’s 1980s is still an untold story. The witch hunts during the Islamic Republic’s McCarthy era have significant differences and similarities with what happened in the other parts of the world; it needs exploring the psychic effects of the political terror and silencing that accompanied the generation growing up as a Red Diaper Baby and the profound internal shifts that occur when the social surround becomes a place of danger. Through the untold voices of sons and daughters of those perished, some of them, Iranian Red Diaper Babies (born and raised in communist families,) the book depicts the aftermath of the disaster and the way they have been grappling with the question of remembering and trauma. Lale Behzadi a Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Bamberg University and the daughter of Manuchehr Behzadi stipulates that his father is one among thousands who were imprisoned under the most deplorable conditions and, in the end, slain, hence they are complicit in these crimes “if we remain silent.” Chowra Makaremi a Paris-based anthropologist who lost her mother Fatemeh Zarei, a former candidate of The People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) at the legislative elections in Shiraz in the early 1980s , during the massacre, tackles the question of traditional motherhood, and the meanings of childhood in a political family, she stipulates that her mother gave them the most beautiful proof of her love, beyond material comfort, “by fighting for the future of her children and that of others.” Stefan Parvis Töpelmann the son of Ahmad Danesh a member of the Central Committee of the TPI who lived in the GDR exile for two decades is another Red Diaper Baby whose narrative is part of this volume. His father was a urologist and surgeon and became known for being the first to successfully perform a kidney transplant in Iran in 1978. In the translation of his letter to Die Weltbühne after the massacre, he mentions the so-called confessions of the leading members of the TPI by the Islamic Republic regime, “these were extorted through unspeakably ferocious torture.”
The Question of Justice
Nevertheless, the major issue of this book emerges when it comes to the editor’s main framework on the question of justice. Although the notion of “no to forgetting and no to forgiving” directs Mohajer’s collection of testimonies, his volume heavily relies on the notorious Iran Tribunal Campaign (ITC) despite its main organizers close links to the US-government and the infamous National Endowment for Democracy (NED,) whit its known history of fighting communism/socialism in favor of the free market all over the global South and the Eastern Bloc. The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center’s (IHRDC) is an organization supported by the United States Department of State which has received millions of dollars funding has been a key element in documenting the details of Iran Tribunal, in the heart of the right-wing politics supported by and supporting the US and EU hegemony in the global South, an ideology opposite to those anti-imperialist/ leftist revolutionaries murdered in Iran massacre. Since the realm of memory like a river is at the center of Mohjaer’s book, it is crucial to learn how the waves in this book no longer evoke continuity— the ﬂowing water, the chain of generations— but rather an abyss. Hence, the way the 1988 massacre has been portrayed by the dominant ideological and political forces in the world is an indispensable part of the politics of memory which is the major absence of this volume; the book heavily relies on Iran Tribunal without mentioning the whole controversies over this as part and parcel of the stages of memory. Hence, it begs the questions: what does constitute a massacre? Why is one such event, merely “a crime against humanity” as understood in international legal terms, and not elimination of “anti-imperialist revolutionaries/communists” in Iran along with anti-communism in other parts of the world?! Why the actors of the past need to achieve the status of “victim” in order to conquer a place in public memory?! Although the editor tries to put politics of memory at the center of this volume, the left amnesia creates a vacuum which is the crux of the matter. As the leftist historian Enzo Traverso in his beautifully written book Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory refers to Nanni Moretti’s 1989 movie Red Wood Pigeon(Palombella rossa,) there are times in which this vacuum becomes amnesia, “his hero is an Italian communist who, after a car accident, has lost his memory. Pieces of the past— his own as well as the collective past of the Italian [Iranian] left— fragmentarily return during a water polo match, a sport that gives him a feeling of community in a universe of individualism, leaving him angry and astonished in front of an almost unrecognizable country.” (p.86.) If the Italian Communist Party changed its name (becoming “the Left Democratic Party”,) most of the Iranian communist parties and organizations in exile and those individuals in academia also went through the same kinds of abysses in the aftermath of the USSR collapse, and have updated their new version based on the human rights market demand; these upheavals, as part of the culture of defeat, have significantly affected the politics of memory, telling the way in which events had been experienced by human beings and the meaning they took from them.
“No to Forgetting and No to Forgiving”
Since to not forget and to not forgive, is at the center of this book, this is important to put in context what happened to the incomplete Iranian Revolution on the eve of its 42nd anniversary. United States had extensive contact with Khomeini before the 1979 Revolution, potentially under a policy of fighting the red threat by weaponizing Islam as they did in Indonesia and Afghanistan, United States and Britain traded the name of members of Tudeh Party of Iran with Khomeini, while sold him weapons in war with Iraq and used the same money to fund the “Contras” to fight communism in Latin America.
It was the US Secretary of States who said:
“What is most important for world history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? Some Islamic hotheads or the liberation of Central Europe?”
United States and Britain and France used the Islamists war on left in Iran as an opportunity while CIA simultaneously helped Khomeini and his Foes , then 20 years later after what is called “fall of communism” which in fact was return of the free market to the Eastern Bloc, the same United states funds IHRDC which manages the Iran Tribunal – in which we see a high ranking member of the same Britain Government – as a part of “Human Right Industrial Complex” working closely with the “democracy promotion” apparatus (e.g. USAID / NED) and driven by direct investment of the NATO governments and billionaire funded foundations (e.g. Gate, Ford, Rockefeller Foundations) to develop liberal democratic systems under the name of “Open Government” with clear objective to promote parade and investment within the boundaries of the World Bank. It is great to talk about “not forgetting” so let’s not forget all the facts.
In truth, does the definition of the act depend on who is committing, and critically, interpreting and disseminating for public consumption, the crime? As Western powers and “democracy promotion” machine seem more and more intent on bombing faraway places for “humanitarian” reasons, remembering the political and ideological agency of those fallen revolutionaries is the crux of the matter. In lieu of this absent chapter in the book, one needs to know what the political nature of these active actors in the role of “saviors” in the West is who have been dominated the whole Iranian public sphere since a decade ago when it comes to “remembering” the 1980s elimination of anti-imperialist revolutionaries in Iran as part of the dialectic of defeat in the global left?
The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center’s (IHRDC’s) co-founder, Payam Akhavan received his international recognition acting as the legal advisor to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal(ICC) Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at the Hague, an international court arranged by the UN Security Council after the NATO’s invasion of Kosovo and proposed by German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel who original had requested NATO’s action in Yugoslavia and then proposed the court after destruction of Yugoslavia through 9 years of war supported by NATO; a through and through imperialist attack on former Yugoslavia legalized by the legal body of the Cold War machine: the UN, the NATO, and the Hague.
Akhavan who is a member of Permanent Court of Arbitration(PCA) which presently works under direction of Hugo Siblesz who has worked in the EU’s political systems as Political Counsellor at The Netherlands’ Embassy in Paris and subsequently at the Netherlands’ permanent mission to the NATO in Brussels, later on was appointed as the prosecutor for International Criminal Court (ICC) against Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi after the NATO’s invasion of Libyaand destruction of the country by the EU country in their quest to stop African Nations from any independent development after the end of the colonial era in the region.
IHRDC’s other co-founder, Ramin Ahmadi, working to progress U.S. neo-liberal economical agendas in Iran, has been working with Peter Ackerman , Founding Chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC,) a well-known Cold War organization working to take on neo-liberal agenda in the East-Bloc through development of “cultural resistance” to socialist programs. It is very important to follow the work of Peter Ackerman , a Council on Foreign Relations board member – a well-known neoliberal think tank defining foreign policy choices facing the United States- who also is Co-Chair in International Advisory Council of “United States Institute of Peace (USIP)”where high level security officials of US Government study and plan regime change in the region, and to think how people working directly with him could be fighting to get justice for the blood of the fallen anti-imperialist revolutionaries in Iran, or any other parts of the world.
The thirds co-founder of IHRDC, Roya Hakakian who is also Ramin Ahmadi’s wife, and has been working with Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, considers herself a former “comrade” of the Iran’s strong leftist movement in the 1970s and has been accusing Iran’s leftist/communist movement for being one-sidedly anti-Israel and even anti-Semite. In “Smelly Little Orthodoxies of Iran’s Left,” she clearly criticizes the left for “the necessity of Israel as a Jewish homeland so readily dismissed” and accuses left so as “why the dwindling community of Iran’s own Jews never fell within the otherwise generous purview of their concerns (Communists.)” Considering that Roya Hakaian is a fellow-member of the Wilson Center, a US presidential memorial (and think tank) that was established as part of the Smithsonian Institution by an act of U.S. Congress in 1968 and its leadership are U.S. officials directly appointed by U.S. President, with a budget approved by U.S. Congress it is not surprising that while working on the Iran Tribunal, the memorial of Iran’s communists, Roya Hakakian is an anti-communist neo-liberal, taking advantage of the crime of the Islamic Republic’s regime in Iran, working along her husband for U.S. foreign interests in the Human Right Industrial Complex.
Another member of IHRDC, Ladan Broumand, is part of the NED’s federally funded “Reagan-Fascell” Democracy Fellowship program, a governmental program part of the Cold War machine funded by US state. She -along with her sister – is also the co-founder of “Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran” which is heavily supported by National Endowment of Democracy, the foreign policy regime change organization working with USAID on changing the economic landscape of the Eastern Bloc and enemy states to align with U.S. interests.
The Iran Tribunal which refused to take a stand against imperialist treat of war and sanctions on Iran and was actively support by the mainstream right-wing lawyers and politicians such as Sir Geoffrey Nice, John Cooper QC and Maurice Copithorne has become part of the campaign to legitimize war and sanctions-Akhavan is one of the advocates of the “targeted/ “smart sanctions”– to enforce pro-western “regime change from above.” Ironically, Iran Tribunal organizers accused their anti-imperialist anti-Islamic regime’s critiques that they cannot have any faith in people and social power and thus sees everything through state powers and link their legitimate critiques to not believing in social power and grassroots movements. All of these above issues are part and parcel of the politics of memory and the way the different actors playing active role in shaping the way we remember the 1988 massacre in Iran.
However, by cooking the national disaster of the 1988 in Iran into a palatable dish for contemporary consumption of the human rights industry and democracy promotion in the West, the book obscures the political and ideological representations of those who were perished in the anti-communist Cold War era. In his book, Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam, based on decalcified files, Mark Curtis reveals the covert history of British collusion with political Islam in Iran, and the way the British were tacitly promoting “the Ayatollah’s Islamists.” (p. 278.) In it, he clearly demonstrates that in 1982, when Khomeini’s regime had stepped up its repression and executions of political opponents, Britain engaged in “an extraordinary act of connivance with it, by helping it nearly destroy the communist Tudeh Party, the main leftist organization in the country.” (p. 286.) The author stipulates that, after initially collaborating with the Islamic regime, Tudeh withdrew its support in 1982, criticizing it for continuing the war with Iraq, which had begun in 1980, “the regime then sought to suppress the Tudeh, imprisoning its leaders. When Vladimir Kuzichkin, a major in the Soviet KGB, defected to Britain in 1982, he passed on to MI6 a list of Soviet agents operating in Iran, following which MI6 allowed Kuzichkin to visit the CIA and also give it the list. In October, MI6 and the CIA jointly decided to pass this list to the Iranians, in order to curry favor with the Iranian regime and reduce Soviet influence in a strategically important country. Dozens of alleged agents were subsequently executed and more than a thousand members of the Tudeh arrested, while the party was banned. In December one hundred members of the party’s military organization were put on trial, drawing substantially on the information supplied by Britain; several were sentenced to death. The Tudeh was effectively crushed, though later managed to reconstitute itself and operate as an underground movement.” (p. 286.) As Curtis demonstrates, this episode showed that Britain was prepared to secretly collaborate with a ruthless fundamental Islamist regime in pursuit of specific common interests, “the repression of the Left – even though Iran was by now considered a strategic threat and overall anti-Western force.” (p.287.) These events had a crucial role in paving the way of the 1988 massacre in Iran and its aftermath to present as it was the case in the similar tragedies across the global South.
Nevertheless, Mohajer’s book is unable to give us the account on the massacre in line with the ongoing clash between the promise of the 1979 incomplete revolution and the realities of counter-revolution in the global anti-imperialist context, rather than “democracy versus dictatorship” cartoon. Although in the last chapter on the question of justice and the different strategies, two former political prisoners, as contributors to this volume, makes it clear that they are not reducing the movement seeking justice to “a legal debate or a discussion of human rights in a sterile and static fashion,” (p. 316) and eloquently delve into the class issue of this systematic massacre, the editor of this book gives a great deal of space to those who let Iran Tribunal’s camera extract the best out of their untold tragic stories. Nevertheless, it all boils down to the mainstream “human rights” framework the editor has adopted to dismiss the political and anti-imperialist aspects of this event; there is not a big surprise when this approach has been followed by “social democrats,” adopted human rights language as early as the 1970s and 80s since they reasoned it “could advance human equality and not just capitalism.” Samuel Moyn, Yale’s liberal historian traces the history of the dominant discourse of “human rights” in his influential book The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History, to demonstrate how it was used to hurt the USSR and blunt the Left.
Despite its value, Mohajer’s research is disconnected from the political and ideological representations of the event and its class roots politics, and he gives little attention to the political implications of this massacre, both in recent decades and now. As a matter of fact, in 1988, during the massacre of political prisoners, anti-imperialist-revolutionaries, whether radical Muslims or Marxists, any one of whom could have played an alternative role in the future of Iran, were physically eliminated; at the same time, numerous books about political philosophy were published and promoted in the Islamic Republic that essentially refuted any form of aspiration and radicalism as being “ideological.”
The Confused Leftist Public Intellectual in the West and Iran Today
Sadly, even a respected leftist public intellectual like Angela Davis has also praised the notorious Iran Tribunal, and compared it to the Russell Tribunal in 1966, without doing a simple click to read about the political nature of this balmaske of “justice.” Moreover, it clearly mirrors the relationship between today’s leftist public intellectuals in the West and the social existence of the struggle in the global South, particularly the Middle East today. It was a few months ago that she put her name on a controversial pseudo-antiimperialist statement which had instrumentalized the subject called “Iran” by dismissing political economy of the Islamic Republic casino capitalism and the ongoing struggle of the people within the country against the regime, and even simply insulated to the great incomplete 1979 Revolution as, “a monumental event that destabilized Iranian people’s lives,” for its targeted Euro-American “Axis of Resistance” market; she later had to withdraw her name from this statement. Wandering between the rhetoric of the post-colonial, post-al ludic leftist theory in the Western academia obsessed by the Islamic Republic’s “anti-imperialist,” rhetoric and the pro-humanitarian imperialist left adopted the mainstream language of “democracy” and “human rights,” has a lot to say about the functions of the leftist intellectuals in the West regarding the global South, particularly the Middle East today.
When it comes to the question of anti-imperialist solidarity, the constant confusion of the public intellectual in the West depicts the differences between today and four decades ago, when the counter-revolutionary fundamentalist pro-Khomeini Islamists (“Hezbollahi”) threw out Angela Davis’s giant mighty posters from the general office of the TPI in 1982 by calling the most iconic communist figure of anti-capitalist queer struggle in the world, “the bitch.” They turned the building of the TPI into first a “Quran house,” and then the publishing house of the books like The Secret of Success, yet Davis unknowingly is giving credit to the pro-West Iran Tribunal failing to mention the political and ideological representations of those who were eliminated by the Islamic Republic in Iran, the direct offspring of imperialism during the Cold War, in the exact year remembered for resistance to the 1988 IMF and World Bank Conference in West Berlin.
Mohajer shows similar blinders in the chapter “The Mothers of Khavaran.” While the mothers of the fallen Iranian communists in the 1980s are dying, and the plight of their sons and daughters is commodified in the human rights industry, the editor remains neglectfully silent on this interlinked relationship between remembering the past and the relevant present.
The Untold “Untold Voices”
A different issue emerges in the chapter “Voices of Survivors.” The leftist female prisoners whose stories are featured predominantly belong to a specific political section of the Iranian left who opposed the Soviet Union and in some cases China, known as the “khat-e 3” (the 3red line.) Locked up in the notorious Evin prison, these female political prisoners were known as “sho’be sheshiha” (the branch 6 of the “Islamic Revolutionary Court.”) This book is silent; however, about the experiences of female political prisoners of “sho’be panjiha” (the branch 5 of “the Islamic Revolutionary Court” 😉 excluding the voices of the members of the communist Tudeh Party of Iran and the Marxist-Leninist Organization of Iranian People’s Fadaian (Majority,) the other section in leftist spectrum in Iran in the1980s. Although many survivors of this group, both in Iran and exile, have explained elsewhere about their heroic resistance inside the prison, especially on the medieval prayer torture, this book fails to recount their stories. Monireh Baradaran’s prison memoir Simple Truth, Memories of Women’s Prisons in the Islamic Republic of Iran, for instance, is one of the books which have accounted on the resistance of these untold voices (p. 591.) Iraj Mesdaghi’s article, “The ups and downs of the Tudeh Party of Iran in the 1960s; from modesty to execution,” in BBC Persian is also another account of this.
Anti-Communist Orwell, as a “Symbol of Freedom” in the Book on the Fallen Iranian Communists
In addition to Angela Davis, the book is endorsed by Judith Butler, and the prominent scholars of the field such as Ervand Abrahamian and Shahrzad Mojab next to the NATO lawyer Payam Akhavan. Although these endorsements may be intended to signal the editor’s “diverse” and “non-ideological” framework, the book fails to see the fight of Iranian communists in the 1970s and 1980s as a part of communists rising to fight all over the word against imperialism’s hegemonic presence in the global South, prisoned, tortured and mass murdered from Indonesia, Chili, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Argentina to Greece, Turkey, Iraq, and Korea etc.
We live in a perplexing time. In his endorsement, the well-known scholar and leftist historian Ervand Abrahamian stipulates, “Mohajer writes for the same reasons as George Orwell, ‘desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and to store them up for the use of posterity.”” He names George Orwell as a symbol of freedom on a first extensive scholarly book in English about the untold stories of fallen Iranian communists; Orwell, a known anti-communist with his dystopian take on communism pictured in his book Animal Farm which was written in 1944 in the heat of war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany demonizing the Soviets in favor of Britain’s allies terrified of rise of communism in Europe; a man who gave a list of writers he deemed either “cryptos” (secret communists,)“fellow travelers” (communist sympathizers,) or outright members of the Communist Party to the UK’s Information Research Department (IRD,) a secret propaganda wing of the UK Foreign Office, dedicated to disinformation warfare, anti-communism, and pro-colonial propaganda. Of course, Orwell’s anti-communist sentiments are familiar to every student who has read Animal Farm. We indeed live in a confusing time, in the dusk of the Cold War era, we let the USAID fund a tribunal for the communists, and praise anti-communists in memory of falling communists, a tragedy in the name of a tragedy.
The Role of Persian Speaking Imperialist Propaganda in the West and Politics of Memory
Mohajer’s book in fact promotes a conservative political agenda. His failure to include a single chapter on the political and ideological nature of this national disaster is compounded by the absence of attention to the ways in which this massacre has been remembered/hijacked by the so-called international community, and the Persian speaking “democracy” promoters today, from Iran International and The Independent Persian to the IREX (the State Department and USAID) bilingual venue IranWire and that ilk. Hence, the striving of democracy promoter vultures in the West to extract the surplus value from the blood of anti-imperialist revolutionaries’ resistance is predictably absent in this valuable book , and the readers are not able to trace how betraying Khavaran, as I put it earlier, as the gist of remembering the past, has been obscured in these kinds of memorialization. Interestingly, around the same time, Oneworld Publications has also published a manufactured book, The Shadow Commander an authoritative’ biography of Qassem Soleimani shortly after the US crime. The book has been manufactured by one of the most notorious opportunist pseudo- “leftist” journalists/native informers who’s marketing and selling his commodities in Western academia, the one who is on the payroll of the US State Department at IranWire, Saudi-funded Persian Independent, Monarchist-satellite TV channel Man-o-To and other notorious “democracy” promotion venues based on the tendency of the rate of profit. The business of these kinds of individuals and their sales power are only the symptom of a much broader issue and echoes the current dynamics in media and academia today. It is important to remember that the emergence of the Persian specking satellite TVs of the West is the time that the large part of Iranian society heard the name of the 1988 massacre and “Khavaran” for the first time. Hence the framework these media adopt to “inform” the public has always been based on their own specific agenda which is nothing but the mainstream discourse of human rights and democracy promotion in the West. Thus, on the one side these media helped spreading the basic information on the 1988 massacre across the country, on the other side, these Persian speaking imperialist propaganda has played a crucial role in framing a specific apolitical narrative of the 1988 national disaster in the last decade for their own consumptions, and thus has a substantial degree of agency in shaping how the public under the Islamic Republic propaganda understands this tragedy; therefore, manufacturing consent is part and parcel of this narrative; however, Mohajer’s book is totally blind to these upheavals when it comes to the politics of memory, the political means by which events are remembered and recorded.
Archive That, Comrade!
While looking for appropriate images or illustrations for this piece, I was barely able to find anything without the trace of an exiled sect which remains of the MEK at the hands of Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton or the different sections of the human rights industry like “Justice for Iran,” to secure another grant from George Soros’s- affiliatedSigrid Rausing trust to extract the surplus value from the legacy of Iranian communists on the one side, and promotehomonationalism, to be queer is, in effect, to always have to “come out,” in the Iranian public sphere deprived of any Marxist and anti-imperialist queer venue, on the other side. The rest of these pictures have also mostly the visual label of Western and Saudi-funded Persian media. In the other word, the decades after the 1988 national disaster, beyond the products of philanthrocapitalism as a neoliberal (“development agenda,”) or imperial democracy promotion machine in the West, there is not powerful illustrations, graphical abstracts or posters in the virtual world to make “us” able to commemorate the tragedy internationally, as what has been made on the memory of those who were perished during the anti-communist “Dirty War” in Latin America and elsewhere. This reveals a lot about the process of commemoration, a profound amnesia about its counterfactual past and forecloses the sociological imagination of an alternative future, and the necessity to reclaim the “us” along with the political act of “not to forget, and not to forgive.” The moving imagesof these fallen Iranian anti-imperialist revolutionaries in 1988 which were taken by their comrades and relatives a few days after the tragedy in Khavaran, the largest mass grave so far identified in Iran, is still the most powerful images of the event. One should bear in mind that in 1988, the world is still far from “the digital revolution.” Photos are still taken in analog form and the internet is not widespread. Hence, the concept of time and boundaries in 1988 was different. The negatives crossed the borders, left the land of terror and repression in the periphery to reach a land in the metropole, where decades later extracting surplus value from them has become the order of the day in an industry.
Hence, when it comes to the question of justice, what is at stake is can the petitioner pleading for justice for the blood of thousands of anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist forces in Iran be their arch enemy? The whole story reminds one of what Walter Benjamin famously prophesied that “Even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins.” Three decades after the 1988 massacre and the end of the so-called Cold War, I would rather borrow from Vincent Bevins’s account of the anti-communist crusade and the mass murder in Indonesia, and raise the question, who took benefitted from the anti-communist mania of the 1970s and the1980s Iran?!
Although this book makes a substantive addition to the literature on Iranian cultural production of the post-revolutionary era and politics of memory and public history, its value is limited. Given its heavy depoliticalized mainstream human rights framework on a deeply political and ideological event, it cannot yield important insights for scholars interested in modes of narrating the past in the global context, especially the global South, an example of a failed attempt in transitional justice. However, its clarity, accessibility and inclusion of translations of the original Persian make it a strongly recommended text for scholars of Middle Eastern studies, especially post-revolutionary Iran.
“The 3red line” which was emerged in the early years after the 1979 Revolution in Iran was a critical reading of the experience of the Tudeh Party of Iran and the Fedayeen guerrillas (as two major communist forces of the time which were on the side of the USSR.) Among them are Organization of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class (Peykar,) Organization of Revolutionary Workers of Iran – The Worker’s Way (romanized: Rāh-e kārgar,) Union of Communist Militants, Union of Iranian Communists (Sarbedaran,) the Organization of Communist Unity(Sazman-e Vahdat-e Komonisti) etc.
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