Fatwas outrageous, laugh for sanity: Iranian writer

Jaipur: A thousand jokes go around in Iran every day mocking President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the pretensions of the powerful, says Iranian writer Kamin Mohammadi, outraged that Salman Rushdie was forced to cancel his visit to the Jaipur Literature Festival here.

In a freewheeling interview with reporters, Mohammadi said she is overwhelmed by the crowds at the grand literary show in the Pink City on her first visit to India, but is unable to make sense of all this holy brouhaha about forcing Rushdie to stay away from this carnival of the word.

"It`s a shame that human rights take second place to freedom of speech and expression. It`s disappointing," Mohammadi said when asked about the so-called security threat to Rushdie, the author of the controversial ‘The Satantic Verses’, in the country of his birth.

"It`s absolutely outrageous, this business of fatwas. Islam is a peaceful religion," said the author-journalist when asked about the fatwa imposed by Iranian rightwing leader Ayatollah Khomeini over two decades ago that made Rushdie a target of fundamentalists all over the world.

"I don`t know how ordinary Iranians feel insulted by Rushdie`s book," she said.

An Iranian exile living in London, the tall 30-something Mohammadi, sporting jeans and a trendy jacket, laughs a lot as she speaks, and feels satire and laughter are a sensitive individual`s weapons in illiberal societies and regimes.

"A thousand jokes go around in Iran. They poke fun at the regime and at President Ahmadinejad. They pronounce Ahmadinejad in Iranian in such a manner that the word means silly, stupid," she said.

"Laughter is a way of coping with illiberal regimes."

Mohammadi was nine years old when her family fled Iran during the 1979 Revolution. "Oh, how they laughed hiding from the bombs," she said, a trace of sadness creeping into her voice, while talking about her book "The Cypress Tree", a moving and passionate memoir about three generations of her sprawling clan. The book evokes her journey home at the age of 27 to rediscover her Iranian self and to discover for the first time the story
of her family.

Is the Iranian society on the cusp of change? Is a variant of the Arab Spring around the corner? Mohammadi has sanguine and tempered views on the quiet but incremental process of transition under way in Iran.

"There is not enough appetite for revolution in Iran. They have seen the violence and the bloodshed. I believe the change in Iran is going to come in a gradual incremental fashion, and not from the pressure from the West."

Revolution may have become a dirty word due to the way it has been abused in the past, but the author is confident that Iran is navigating its way to liberalism and modernity as the yearning for change cuts across all classes.

"The change will come. There is no appetite for the present system. Human rights, freedom - that`s the idea of Iran they have. This yearning for change cuts across all classes."

"A lot of Iranians have come out in the open about it. The diaspora has a strong connection with society."

The author has a word of caution for the West, specially the US, which is often speculated to nurture a plan to attack Iran.

"If you think by attacking my country, you will get to change the regime. You are deluded. That`s a great misunderstanding," she said.

"That will not happen; on the contrary, the Iranian people will band behind the current regime. Attacking Iran will be a total disaster."

"Don`t forget, we are the oldest piece of land occupied by the same race."


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