My writings talk only about nonviolent change and reform, Ramin Jahanbegloo told his Iranian interrogators in the notorious Evin prison (below).
My interrogators would say that nonviolent reform is the same thing as a velvet revolution, but for me there is a distinction, he writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education:
“You have been brought here because you are accused of a conspiracy against the Iranian state. You are implicated in a barandazinarm.”
I had never heard that term before. The direct translation from Farsi would be a “soft overthrow.” Later I realized that he must have meant a velvet revolution. I asked him, in my confusion, to clarify.
“You know better than I what a soft overthrow is,” he said.
I realized that there would be no rational basis to our discussion. These men were not trained in political theory or in law. Their only skill was the ability to intimidate.
“You see, Mr. Jahanbegloo, we know for a fact for whom you are working. We’ve been through your emails. We have two rooms full of documents, with video clips and writings, newspaper cuttings, and voice recordings on you and all that you have done with your life. It all testifies to your guilt. So you’re better off telling us from the beginning what your role is in this soft overthrow and giving us the details of how your employers instructed you to carry it out.”
“What employers? What are you talking about?”
He exhaled his cigarette smoke slowly, patiently, and I felt it enveloping me from behind like a fog of uncertainty.
“The United States and Israel, of course. Do you think we’re stupid? We know you’ve been meeting with American and Israeli scholars, with politicians, with activists. You’ve done it all out in the open. There are video recordings of your meetings with them, countless articles and books that you’ve collaborated on with them. Shall I go on? You know best what role you’ve played in working with them, and that your intention has been to change the government of the Islamic Republic to better suit their interests.”….
How could I convince these men that I was innocent; that what they had interpreted as wrongdoing was merely my wish to see my country do better, to treat its citizens with respect and dignity, to show that reform did not necessitate a complete change of government or a swing toward subservience and the foreign domination we had endured in the past? But there was nothing to say. In their eyes, I was already guilty.
I had nothing to confess. I merely repeated their words, he adds:
Keeping my eyes down the entire time and reciting it all as bluntly as I could, I said that my work on nonviolence was directly tied to the interests and designs of the United States, that American agents had approached me and put me in contact with people at the National Endowment for Democracy, and that this had given shape to my plans and aims.
None of that, of course, was true. My fellowship at the NED required me to collaborate with the Journal of Democracy, which I did, and nothing more. But that was considered espionage here, although spies rarely have time to do research and write on philosophical or political issues. At the end of my fellowship, I said now, I had prepared a report comparing Iranian civil society with that of Eastern Europe at the time of the velvet revolution.
Ramin Jahanbegloo is an associate professor of political science and holds the York-Noor Visiting Chair in Islamic Studies at York University, in Toronto. This essay is adapted from his new book, Time Will Say Nothing: A Philosopher Survives an Iranian Prison, just out from the University of Regina Press.