The Commons: Standing Up to Revolution

Forgiveness has the power to stop endless cycles of violence.
Appears in Fall 2016 Issue: Join the Anti-Revolutionary Party
September 1st, 2016

In 1982, after the success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, I was arrested at the age of sixteen. I was a student who didn't like the new Islamist rules. I wanted to dance in my greenand- white polka-dot bikini on the beach with boys, but the new regime had decreed that having fun was illegal and satanic. I rebelled, was arrested, and taken to Evin Prison.

Two men tied me to a bare wooden bed, took off my socks and my shoes, and lashed the soles of my feet with a length of heavy rubber cable about an inch thick. I would have gladly sold my soul to go back home to my family. Later, I was raped. A revolutionary court I never attended called me an "anti-revolutionary" and a "corruptor of the earth."

When I think about the revolutions of history, what most of them have in common—no matter the ideology—is a terrible violence whose body count is now at tens of millions. Revolutions are usually uncontrolled explosions of rage, hatred, and fear that have accumulated under the seemingly calm surface of societies.

Within the Iranian diaspora there are many like me who have been victims of the brutalities of the Iranian regime. Many of them are brimming with hatred. They want to do to our enemies— the agents of the Islamic Republic—what they have done to us. This is a typical pattern throughout history: the victim becomes the torturer and the torturer the victim, with no end in sight.

When I say that I have forgiven my torturers, some individuals become even angrier. They yell at me, saying that we cannot forgive and forget. But they have not really listened. I have forgiven my torturers for what they have done to me. I have the authority to do that, but I do not have the authority to forgive them for what they have done to others.

And I have never forgotten. I am a witness—no more, no less. I stand, unarmed, in the way of tsunamis of hatred. I speak about the destructiveness of violence and stare down those who want to kill, no matter whose side they claim to be on.

Forgiveness is the real revolution: refusing the bloodthirsty cycle that serves the lust for revenge. If some wish to call an unrelenting, brutal, and thoughtless explosion a "revolution," so be it. The real revolutionary is not the one who stays within the status quo of violence, but the one who exposes it and stands in its way.

 

Marina Nemat was born in 1965 in Tehran, Iran, and came to Canada in 1991. Her first memoir, Prisoner of Tehran, has been published in twenty-nine countries and her second book, After Tehran, in four. In 2007, Marina received the inaugural Human Dignity Award from the European Parliament, in 2008 the Grinzane Literary Prize in Italy, and in 2014 the Morris Abram Human Rights Award from UN Watch in Geneva. She is the co-chair of the Board of Directors at the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (CCVT), the chair of the Writers in Exile Committee at PEN Canada, a member of the Board of Directors at Vigdis, a Norwegian NGO that aids female prisoners of conscience, and a member of the International Council at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Marina regularly speaks at high schools, universities, and conferences around the world and teaches memoir writing at the School of Continuing Studies at University of Toronto.

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