TitleI believe that today the proudest boast is ‘Man Irani hastam’

The power of words

26 Feb 2010

■ Ann De Craemer
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To cut a long story short: it was Hafez who brought me to where I am today. I was madly in love, and that is a feeling no poet has described more compellingly than Shams Al-din Muhammad Hafez-e Shiraz. He handed me the key to the paradise of Persian poetry, which has kept on enchanting me ever since. Reading Persian poetry openened an entirely new world: that of Persian history, culture and literature. After five years of getting to know the country from a distance, I was last year finally walking through the streets of Tehran, thrown back to glorious Persia on Isphahan’s Meidun-e Shah and lying down flowers on the grave of King Cyrus the Great. That was in June 2009, when I covered the presidential elections for a Belgian newspaper, traveling from Tehran in the north to Bandar Abbas in the south – a voyage about which I have written the book Thousand-and-one dreams. A journey along the Trans-Iranian Railway.

Ann De Craemer by the tomb of Hafez in Shiraz, on June 20th, 2009

Going to Iran has changed me deeply, both as a journalist and a woman. There is a ‘rule’ in journalism saying that a reporter should always remain neutral. You have to observe your ‘subject’ from a distance, keep your opinion to yourself and not ever choose sides in a conflict. Witnessing the hope of Iranian people before the elections of June 12th and the nationwide disappointment afterwards made me throw that rule in the waste bin. How can I possibly be neutral to the fight of millions of people for the most basic of human rights: freedom? How can I forget the voice of a young woman in Meybod who burst into tears when telling her story, begging me to please let the world know what was going on in her country?

How can I possibly be neutral to the fight of millions of people for the most basic of human rights: freedom?

I cannot be neutral, for the very simple reason that I am a human being. If I choose for neutrality in the struggle of Iranian people against oppression, I deprive myself of humanity and intellectual honesty. It would be a lie to what sparkled my enduring love for Iran, and that is a lie I would never forgive myself. I have chosen to openly write about the hardships of Iranians today, and I can assure you that this choice has its consequences: three times already have I been refused to enter Iran, even when I just applied for a tourist visa and did not have any other intentions than to pass a short holiday in the country that I love.

Often openly pointing the finger at the Iranian regime puts me in a difficult position as a journalist: to do my job properly, I have to be in Iran and give a voice to people who have so often been silenced, but doing my job properly also means being critical, which makes it impossible to enter Iran. Faced with this dilemma, I do however not hesitate one second to make a choice: never will I keep silent about the oppression of Iranian people in order to get a visa. I will not lie to myself. Not being allowed to go to Iran has made me cry several times already, but there is one consolation in these bitter tears: they make me feel what countless Iranians both in their country and in exile are feeling. The dilemma of being a journalist with a passion for Iran has made me Iranian. Not only do I now share the love for poetry with Iranian people – I also share their pain.

On June 26, 1963, the American president John F. Kennedy addressed the people of West-Berlin in a famous speech underlining the support of the United States for West-Germany. We all know his famous words: “Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’ ”

I believe that today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Man Irani hastam’. I myself have become Iranian, and I will use my pen to try and make Belgium, Europe and the world Iranian. I cannot phrase it any better than with the words of the late Persian writer Hushang Golshiri, who told this about his country in an interview with the American journalist Elaine Sciolino: “We have no wish for another revolution. We’re looking forward to a time when we can write in peace. We don’t want to leave the country. This time, it’s their turn to leave the country. We will kill them with our pen. We will kill them with our presence.”

At a time in Iranian history when words can be heard all over the globe, I will do the same. I will honour my master Hafez and use the power of words to let the world know what is going on in the country that I have fallen in love with.

Tehran Review
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