Iranian Writers Uncensored

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

The twelve writers interviewed in IRANIAN WRITERS UNCENSORED, the anthology published recently by Dalkey Archive, speak out frankly about "freedom, democracy and the word" in contemporary Iran. Their candor in addressing these topics makes one believe that some freedom of expression is allowed in the Islamic Republic--that is, until a statement from the book's editor, Shiva Rahbaran, shoots that notion down.

"These interviews were carried out in the last days of Mohammad Khatami's presidency--the reformist politician under whose administration the Ministry of Islamic Guidance loosened its grip on art and literature to some degree," Rahbaran writes. "The free manner in which the writers speak about their work in post-revolutionary Iran is to some extent due to the relatively tolerant atmosphere during Khatami's two terms of presidency (1997-2001; 2001-2005). However, Khatami's half-hearted reforms and unrealized 'dialogue of civilizations' disappointed the great majority of Iranians...and also strengthened the reactionary, conservative power structures and paved the way for the power seizure of the regime's right-wing politicians and revolutionary guards under the leadership of Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005."

As a result "many writers, poets, intellectuals and members of the opposition were assassinated both in and outside Iran at the hands of a reactionary wing before the eyes of a helpless president. The very fact that this book was closely examined by the Ministry of Islamic Guidance for over a year, only to be found unfit for publication, testifies that the changes under Khatami were more or less cosmetic."

Thanks to Nilou Mobasser's English translation--and to Dalkey Archive, of course--we are now able to read what can't be read in Iran itself. We are also able to understand just how precarious life is for Iranian writers and poets, any one of whom might be next in line from a visit by a death squad.

After reading IRANIAN WRITERS UNCENSORED I came away with a deep respect and admiration for all those who were interviewed by the Iranian-born Rahbaran (an academic who now lives in England). The bravery, intelligence, wit and humanism of these people is quite remarkable. If democracy and freedom of expression should ever come to Iran, these poets and writers will undoubtedly lead the country to artistic greatness.