has been circulating widely in Iran these past few years:
One day, a fox sees a friend running fast through the forest. "Why
are you running?" asks the fox. "They are killing foxes who
have three testicles," the friend replies. "So, why are you
running?" the bewildered friend asks again. "After all,"
he adds, "all the males in our skulk have only two testicles."
As he quickens his pace, the fleeing fox says, "Yes, but they kill
you first, and then count your balls."
When a regime is paranoid and when it tries to interfere in every aspect
of private and public life, its citizens will run like the fox. In Iran,
every unexpected ring of the phone, every unexpected nocturnal knock
on the door produces a racing heart and a sense of imminent danger.
The scars of living under a paranoid regime last a lifetime. Today,
even after I have resided in California for almost a quarter of century,
a ring of the phone can still provoke fear and trembling.
Earlier this month, I received a phone call. One hundred leaders of
the Iranian opposition had been placed on trial and this was the first
night of the grotesque spectacle. "You are mentioned in the indictment,"
the caller told me. Even though it was a good friend relaying this information,
I felt a familiar rush of foreboding.
In style and substance, the trial of the hundred emulates the infamous
Soviet show trials of the 1930s. Like their Bolshevik mentors, the mullahs
are at least as keen in destroying those who share their ideology as
those who oppose it altogether. Stalin, for his part, killed far more
leftist writers than those of a tsarist persuasion. Pasternak was always
safer than Babel or Bulgakov. In the Tehran trial, we witness leaders
(former government ministers, a vice president even) who served the
Islamic republic for 30 years paraded in front of the cameras, broken
in spirit, wan in countenance, and wearing, for maximum humiliation,
pajamas. For them, the indictment is the ultimate betrayal by a regime
they had long served, and by an ideology they had long shared.
The first warning that I would be assigned some role in the regime's
paranoid scenario came a few months ago. An editorial in Keyhan--Ayatollah
Khamenei's mouthpiece--described the lawyer Shirin Ebadi, the scholar
Abdol-Karim Soroush and myself as partners in an "American plan"
to overthrow the regime. At about the same time, a number of so-called
intellectuals and journalists began to accuse the three of us of the
same alleged crime. Sometimes the language shifted: In the sterile jargon
of the left, we were described as "comprador intellectuals"
who pave the way for "imperialism."
But these were fulminations. And the indictment is meant to provide
the definitive portrait of the "outside" influences that have
incited demonstrations in the streets. "The velvet revolution has
three arms, intellectual, media, and executive, and each of these have
relations to a number of American foundations." Of these foundations,
"the most important is an institution called Hooffer, at Stanford,
created during the Cold War. In this institute, there is a project called
Iran Democracy project, and three intelligence officers direct it: Abbas
Milani, Larry Diamond, and Mike McFour." Despite the chills the
indictment sends down my spine, I chuckled when reading this. Hooffer
is, of course, the Hoover Institution, not Stanford's school of tap
dance. Mike McFour is the esteemed academic Michael McFaul.
The indictment goes on to describe my past by declaring that "Abbas
Milani was imprisoned under Mohammed Reza period for working with a
leftist group. He later became a fervent royalist, so much so that after
the revolution, he lived in Iran for a couple of years, and then left
for America, where he published a number of books praising the accomplishments
of the Pahlavi regime." In actuality, I lived in Iran for the seven
years following the revolution, as well as the four preceding it. During
much of my time in prison, I was in the company of future Islamic luminaries--men
like Montazeri, Taleghani, Rafsanjani, and Mahdavi-Kani. I suspect in
the soon-to-be-prepared indictment against Rafsanjani, this coincidence
of life will absurdly date the beginning of our "conspiracy."
Surely my friends at Hooffer will be jealous that I'm assigned such
an outsized role in the indictment: "[G]radually he became one
of the most important leaders of the opposition, and his one big difference
with other leaders is that he has close relations with reformists inside
Iran." The indictment ends by suggesting that, "For the CIA,
Abbas Milani is even more important than [the deposed Shah's son] Reza
Pahlavi, because he is in close contact with the reformists, and has
defrayed the entire cost of [the reformist cleric Akbar] Ganji's stay
abroad." For the record, I have had no contacts with the CIA. I
do know that Ganji survives in the United States only by hard work--not
by hand-outs and certainly none that I have given him. If the authors
of this baseless indictment lived in the America, one could easily fight
them in the court of law. Sadly they live in a country where they govern
absolutely and with violence.
Indeed, it is only a matter of time before they apply their most ruthless
methods to the likes of Moussavi, Khatami, Karubi and even Rafsanjani.
These barbaric trials, these shameless and cruel spectacles, are merely
I know I am reasonably safe here in California, but I also know that
the regime has assassinated more than a hundred of its opponents--from
activists and journalists to scholars and artists--in Europe. Mostly
I feel a pang of shame--the shame common to the survivor spared the
consequences of a great calamity, the fate of those hundred brave but
shackled, dignified but tortured prisoners.
Abbas Milani is the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Director of Iranian
Studies at Stanford, where he is the co-director of the Iran Democracy
Project. His latest book is Eminent Persian: The Men and Women who Made
Modern Iran, 1941-1979 (Syracuse University Press).