Life in a State of Terror
June 11, 2003
1. Crossing the crowded square during the morning rush hour, I could not stop crying. Was everybody looking at me? Maybe. I was feeling so desperate I did not care about the people bustling around. My name was on the black list of a pro-government group of assassins. I cannot remember now if I was shocked the first time I found out about it. There were other names as well. In front of each name, a brief description accused us of not fitting into a conservative society. My description was "an activist for women's rights." Some weeks before, two writers on the list had been strangled. This was not the first time my life had been at risk. But it was horribly upsetting that nothing, nobody could protect us. My anguish came from my profound feeling of helplessness. I thought that was why I was crying. Or perhaps it was because I could not find any justification for their violence. Our very existence was unwanted. I had wept silently, and sometimes secretly, during the weeks before, in the cemetery where we buried the bodies of our friends, at the ceremonies we organized, and during the nights afterwards.
2. I asked her if she were scared when she heard the bombs fall. Surrounded by some other Afghan women, Najibeh half jokingly, half seriously, answered that they had trusted in the high technology of the Americans. She said the US Air Force should have known where their houses were. I was wondering how she could calm her children down when they were terrified by the sound of the bombs. When Iraqi missiles started to attack Tehran regularly, back in 1988, I used to take my daughter (and her cousins, who were with us then) into the bathroom and put them in the tub, hoping the thicker walls around the tub would protect them. To amuse them, I would put our small TV on the washing machine that faced the tub. A packet of chips and some fruit would keep them there until the attack was over. I always wished for an exciting noisy movie or cartoon to drown out the deafening sound of the bombs.
3. I do not know Arabic, but the interpreter helped me understand what Mokarameh was saying. She had fled her village in southern Iraq, along with her family, and sought asylum in Iran. Too delicate for thirteen, she was asking for a tailoring course. This was in the fall of 2001. She then married one of the brothers of her sister-in-law. A few months ago, her own brothers broke her legs, tied her to a barrel, and shot her dead. She had been forcibly divorced, because her brother had not gotten along well with his wife and left her. As part of that divorce arrangement, Mokarameh was no longer allowed to live in the house of their common in-laws. Apparently, a young man in the neighborhood had flirted with her. Even the slightest indication of such a relationship was enough to make her the victim of an honor killing.
4. There are times you do not feel terrified. How long does that last? It depends on where you live. The longest I have had during the last twenty-five years was two hours; two sweet hours of feeling strong, like I was walking on a solid, permanent foundation. Then my confidence, my sense that I could be victorious over any evil inhumane thing began to evaporate. I was left alone with a hollow in my heart, my fear, and my desire to grasp power myself. When I was a teenager, I had a fantasy that one day all the "good" people would collect the weapons of the world and throw them out. When I became older, I got cynical. I would tell myself the same story, but continue by trying to sort out where all these weapons of the world could be thrown away. If they were to be hidden or locked up, who could be relied to keep them intact? As long as outer space had not been explored to the present extent, I thought it would be a safe place for getting rid of all arms. Since September 11, I have told this story several times, asking others what they thought we should do to bring about hope instead of devastation, joy instead of hopelessness, and peace instead of terrorism, be it state terrorism, political terrorism, or patriarchal terrorism. Since September 11, my only relief, my only hopeful moments of feeling strong, have been the times I felt connected to a universal effort to stop war and terrorism.
5. Long live peace; long live the solidarity among "good" people.
Nastaran is a writer and activist living in Iran.