The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran
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In The Lonely War, Fathi interweaves her story with that of the country she left behind, showing how Iran is locked in a battle between hardliners and reformers that dates back to the country’s 1979 revolution. Fathi was nine years old when that uprising replaced the Iranian shah with a radical Islamic regime. Her father, an official at a government ministry, was fired for wearing a necktie and knowing English; to support his family he was forced to labor in an orchard hundreds of miles from Tehran. At the same time, the family’s destitute, uneducated housekeeper was able to retire and purchase a modern apartment—all because her family supported the new regime.
As Fathi shows, changes like these caused decades of inequality—especially for the poor and for women—to vanish overnight. Yet a new breed of tyranny took its place, as she discovered when she began her journalistic career. Fathi quickly confronted the upper limits of opportunity for women in the new Iran and earned the enmity of the country’s ruthless intelligence service. But while she and many other Iranians have fled for the safety of the West, millions of their middleclass countrymen—many of them the same people whom the regime once lifted out of poverty—continue pushing for more personal freedoms and a renewed relationship with the outside world.
Drawing on over two decades of reporting and extensive interviews with both ordinary Iranians and high-level officials before and since her departure, Fathi describes Iran’s awakening alongside her own, revealing how moderates are steadily retaking the country.
‘Yes, they do.’” I nodded solemnly. She didn’t have to explain; these were the rules of the new Iran, and although I was only a child, I understood them all too well. Less than a year had passed since the 1979 revolution that replaced the Iranian monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, with a conservative Islamic government, but we had already learned that if our parents were identiﬁed as anti-revolutionaries, they could face the ﬁring squad. My friend’s father had been executed, my father’s friend
more since Masoud only made house calls with a four-tape minimum. We shared the ﬁlms with a neighbor to split the cost. We called Masoud a “video-man,” a job that the revolution had created after Khomeini banned almost all movies—except a limited few that were reviewed and censored before screening—and shut down hundreds of video stores in addition to banning Western pop music. He denounced movies, especially foreign ones and the Iranian ﬁlms made before the revolution, as un-Islamic, deeming
third-ﬂoor apartment with a big smile. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?” he asked. In a hushed voice, I explained that I needed to speak to him quietly, thinking that his oﬃce might be bugged. Shahram, who was over six feet tall, loomed over me as I stepped into his apartment. Once we were both inside, he sat on a couch and stretched both arms over the back. I sat on an armchair facing him and took oﬀ my headscarf to cool oﬀ in the air-conditioned room. After nearly a decade of
a hurry and had to leave. “Let me know how it goes,” Shahram said as I closed the door behind me. Before heading out on Saturday, the ﬁrst day of the Iranian workweek, I put on my most conservative clothes: a long black coat and a hood over my head. Climbing into my Fiat, I headed toward the address the agent had given me, navigating through Tehran’s rush-hour traﬃc. Twenty minutes later, in the lush neighborhood of Pasdaran in northern Tehran, I spotted my destination. It was a grey building,
basement of her apartment building, where she fought against discriminatory laws. The daughter of a lawyer, Ebadi is a tremendously strong-willed woman and took cases that no other lawyer dared to accept. I got to know her well when I spent a few months translating her book, History and Documentation of Human Rights in Iran, from Persian into English. Mehrangiz Kar is the second Musketeer. Also a lawyer and a writer, Kar got her law license just a few months before the revolution, after which she