Prologue: "Then They Came for Me"
Maziar Bahari is an Iranian Canadian journalist, playwright and filmmaker. Bahari was imprisoned by the Iranian government from June to October 2009.
June 10th, 2011
11:00 AM ET

Prologue: "Then They Came for Me"

Editor's Note: The following is excerpted from Then They Came for Me by Maziar Bahari with Aimee Molloy.

By Maziar Bahari

I could smell him before I saw him. His scent was a mixture of sweat and rosewater, and it reminded me of my youth.

When I was six years old, I would often accompany my aunts to a shrine in the holy city of Qom. It was customary to remove your shoes before entering the shrine, and the servants of the shrine would sprinkle rosewater everywhere, to mask the odor of perspiration and leather.

The morning in June 2009, when they came for me, I was in the delicate space between sleep and wakefulness, taking in his scent. I didn’t realize that I was a man of 42 in my bedroom in Tehran; I thought, instead, that I was six years old again, and back in that shrine with my aunts.

“Mazi jaan, wake up,” my mother said. “There are four gentlemen here. They say they are from the prosecutors’ office. They want to take you away.” I opened my eyes.

It was a few minutes before 8 a.m., and my mother was standing beside my bed—her small 83-year-old frame protecting me from the four men behind her.

I sleep without clothes, and in my half-awake state, my first thought wasn’t that I was in danger, but that I was naked in a shrine. I felt ashamed and reached down to make sure the sheets were covering my body.

Mr. Rosewater was standing directly behind my mother. I would later come to learn a lot about him.

He was thirty-two years old and had gained a master’s degree in political science from Tehran University. While at university, he had joined the Revolutionary Guards - a vast and increasingly powerful fundamentalist military conglomerate formed in the wake of the Iranian revolution in 1979.

I would come to know that his punches were the hardest when he felt stupid. But when he barged into my bedroom early that first morning, the only thing I understood about him was that he was in charge, and that he had a very large head.

It was alarmingly big, like the rest of his body. He was at least 6”2’, and fat, with thick glasses. Later, his glasses would confuse me. I had associated glasses with professors, intellectuals. Not torturers.

I wrapped the sheet tightly around my body and sat up. “Put some clothes on,” Rosewater said, motioning to the three men behind him to leave the room so that I could get dressed. I found comfort in this: by the fact that whatever their reason was for barging into my house, he was still respectful, still behaving with a modicum of curtsey.

They kept the door slightly ajar, and I walked to my closet. Things were beginning to come into clearer focus, but his rosewater scent lingered and my thoughts, still confused, remained back in the past, at the shrine.

What does one wear in a shrine? What’s the best way to present oneself? I had just finished putting on a blue collared shirt and a pair of jeans when the men barged back into my room: Rosewater and another man, who wore a shiny silver sports jacket and a cap.

They circled the room, surveying everything. I had been spending most of my time over the last two years with my fiancée, Paola, in London. We had got engaged six months earlier, and been preparing for our wedding and the birth of our child in four months time, and I had never really settled in at my mother’s house.

I could sense their frustration as they took stock of the mess in my small room. Heaps of books sat on the floor beside stacks of videos and DVDs and an untidy pile of laundry. I had not organized my desk for months, and it was covered with old newspapers, notebooks and videotapes.

All journalists working in Iran have to be accredited by Ershad, shorthand for the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and I had given my mother’s address as my

place of work. They thought they were going to find an office at my mother’s house. Instead, they were picking through piles of underwear.

“If you want, I can organize things and you can come back tomorrow,” I said with a sorry smile.

“Zerto pert nakon, stop talking shit,” Rosewater said sharply. “Sit down and shut up. One more word, and I’ll beat you so badly, I’ll make your mother mourn for you.” He scratched his side under his jacket, revealing the gun strapped to his body. I sat down, feeling my body grow heavy with fear.

I, like most Iranians, knew of far too many people - writers, reformists, activists - who had been woken up like this, and then taken somewhere and murdered.

I thought of my father, my sister, each arrested and imprisoned by previous regimes, I thought of my mother, who had been forced to live through all this twice before. I could hear my mother’s voice in the kitchen, and my fear was joined by an overwhelming sense of guilt. How could my mother go through this again? Why hadn’t I been more careful? Why hadn’t I left Iran sooner.

“Would you like some tea?” I heard her ask one of the men in the kitchen.

“No, thank you.”

“Why not? It seems that you are going to be here for a while. You should have some tea,” she said.

“No, really. I don’t want to impose.”

I heard my mother laugh. “You arrived at my house at 8 a.m. You are going through my son’s personal belongings. I am going to have to put everything back in order after you leave. What do you mean you do not want to impose?”

The man ignored the question. “Madam, please put on your scarf,” he said.

Though I could not see my mother’s face, I could imagine the condescending look she was giving him at that moment.

My mother’s unveiled hair was illegal under Islamic law. I knew her obeying of the Revolutionary Guards’ order half-heartedly, was her attempt at defiance.

She was telling them that while they may be able to control her body, they could never control her mind. The Guards rightly thought of my mother and me as parts of “the other Iran,” a nation who did not want to be the subjects of an Islamic ruler, and wanted to live in a democracy.

“I am 83 years old. Why should I put on my scarf?”

My mother’s name is Molook. Growing up, we called her Molook joon, which in Persian, means dear Molook. Because my older brother, Babak, couldn’t pronounce the K, he called her Moloojoon. The name stuck, and it is this name I used as I called out to her, doing my best to keep my voice from trembling. “Please. Don’t argue with them.”

I heard her quick steps, and a few moments later, she walked by my room, a blue floral scarf covering just half of her hair.

“Fine,” I heard her say with polite disdain.

My room had a large book shelf full of western novels and music, with books signed by prominent Iranian reformists on one side and HBO DVD box sets and copies of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Newsweek stacked sloppily on the other.

It was surely foreign territory to Rosewater. He continued to thumb through my papers and books, despite the look of obvious bewilderment on his face.

I sat on the bed watching him until, a while later, Rosewater told me I could go to the kitchen and eat breakfast while they continued to search my room. In the kitchen, my mother poured me a cup of tea and placed a few dates on a small china saucer.

She then took a seat across from me at the breakfast table, and silently pushed the dates towards me. “Bokhor, have some,” she said, smiling and hoping, I knew, to assure me that I would find the strength to survive this ordeal, whatever was to come.

I was humbled by her courage but it didn’t surprise me. My mother’s strength has been a source of inspiration throughout my life. But I felt guilty as I thought about how painful it would be for her to watch yet another member of her family being carted away to prison for defying an Iranian regime.

Excerpted from Then They Came for Me by Maziar Bahari with Aimee Molloy. Copyright © 2011 by Maziar Bahari.

Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Topics: Iran

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    Bahari's ordeal was not unique in a totalitarian regime. Yet he was lucky that he got released after only 3 months behind bars. He had his status as journalist and influential friends to thank for. Stalinism hasn't been eradicated yet and seems to lend itself pretty well all the time and everywhere.

    June 10, 2011 at 11:56 am | Reply
  2. woodrow

    The Iranian government is struggling to hide while the whole world watches.

    June 10, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Reply
  3. Unemployed Editor

    Stop the presses! You might want to change "still behaving with a modicum of curtsey" to "modicum of courtesy" since the writer likely prefers courteous acts more appropriate to his gender, if for no other reason.

    June 10, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Reply
  4. ShariaLawyer

    When they come for me and my guns there is one phrase that some if not all of them will hear before they die.
    Come and take them.
    Let it be the final warning, the final rallying cry that we give to those who would seek to disarm us and rule us with law dispensed through the barrel of a gun.

    June 11, 2011 at 3:54 am | Reply
    • Fin

      You are awesome, Iranians need confident people like you.

      June 11, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Reply
    • True-Lu

      What's the NRA doing in this thread?

      June 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  5. ninamich45

    Why has America become the dumping ground for so many Arabs who are unhappy at home?? It is time for them to find their own freedoms in their own countries!! Arab women should have their scarfs confiscated before being allowed into this country.

    June 11, 2011 at 8:48 am | Reply
    • frank

      fuck you

      June 11, 2011 at 10:17 am | Reply
    • steven harnack

      A better question would be why has America grown so used to the ignorance and petty maliciousness of people like you?

      June 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Reply
    • justathought1919

      The US has been a "dumping ground" for more than 200 years for refugees from all over the world who are "unhappy" at home because they risk being tortured and killed.

      Wherever there has been persecution of the people by totalitarian regimes, the US has been the world's safe haven. It has been the undeniable strength of this country to provide this shelter, evidence that we strive to live to the spirit and the letter of our highest ideals as they are expressed in our founding documents.

      Unless you are an American Indian, you are here because someone in your ancestry decided to seek a better life with personal freedom and economic opportunity. These ancestors would hang their heads in shame if they could hear such ignorance coming from the mouths of their descendents.

      June 11, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Reply
      • Eric

        Good point, but when they got here they had to assimulate. This means they had to be Americans first. Not a bad deal if you ask me. I read a blog the other day where some former Russians were complaining about the morals of California girls of all things. Then they put down America as a whole on the basis of our culture. Don't let the door kick you on the way out I say.

        June 11, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • EWGuy

      He's Iranian-Canadian, you twit.

      June 12, 2011 at 1:15 am | Reply
      • True-Lu

        Be fair. ninamich45 may not know that Canada is a separate country. Or that Iranians are not Arabs.

        June 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  6. The Prophet

    No a bad deal at all. Three months or so in Evean and now you stand to gain a couple of million dollars selling the book. May be you should go back to Ahmadinejad and thank him for the opportunity they gave you. And that is not all, a couple of golden Pens etc., you could be in for Noble Prize for peace. Remember Ebadi, she is rich and tucked away somewhere in Canada enjoying her millions.

    June 11, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Reply
    • justathought1919

      Millions? It's not "Harry Potter," fool. He'll be lucky to clear $100,000.

      And what exactly is wrong with that? Writers have to make a living...I see no reason why he should not tell the story that was handed to him by Ahmajinidad's thugs. Don't you care about the global reputation of Islam and how these people defame it?

      t is important that the world know that like any other religion and/or political doctrine, "Islam" is not immune to being used as a weapon against its own followers. I am grateful to this man and other journalists and writers who risk their bodies and their lives to point out this simple fact – one which Ahmajinedad and his henchmen obviously find very threatening.

      June 11, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Reply
      • The Prophet

        You the wise man! I didn’t know that anyone not rejoicing at Mr. Bahari’s ordeal, yet not agreeing with his publication either (I leave it to you to establish the veracity of his account) , is a “fool” and “Ahmadinejad’s henchman”. Typical “Character Assasination” I guess. So much for your blabbing on democracy and freedom.

        I guess the choice is clear “agree” or you are “ Ahmaimad’s a henchmen”. Reminds me of the choice usually presented to real prisoner of conscience in Evin. One more thing, not everything is about Ahmadimad, his henchmen, Islam or its reputation. Not every stand people take is based on such nonsense and not everyone gives a damn about such issues. Run of the mill argument. May be reading more , ....more diverse source, ... could help in one's education.

        June 11, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
      • you are a turd

        Profit, I read you post and his reply and you are stupid

        I hope you get hit by a truck

        June 11, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  7. Reader

    Mr. Bahari, thank you for your courage and more importantly for sharing your experience through this book with others in the world who need to know. We wish you all the best. Keep up the excellent work.

    June 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  8. Alfred Brock

    A non-story. No one here in the United States cares, dude. Peddle your poison elsewhere. The War in Iraq is over. The War in Afghanistan is over. Americans continue to die because of a corrupt and abusive government that has run out of control. Write something of interest to Americans or go back to Iran. We won't have any Irish Republican Army hanging out here and we certainly don't want any of your civil war or family fued or jihad or whatever you call it this week. You want freedom? Go and get it.

    June 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Reply
  9. saeed radmanesh

    What Maziar fails to mention that the socalled "Islamic reformist " were complicit in committing thousands of murders of democratic minded young students, workers, writers and opposition members in the early days of Khomeini Regime. The People of Iran have you used any occasions to show their dissent. But, Islamic reformists are no different than the fundamentalist camp. They both follow Khomeini version of Shite Sharia, and have no respect for human rights. Their fight is only for power. If the Islamic reformist are looking for real chang, let them come out and say that they refute Khomieni's Islamism, and commit to secular democracy for Iran

    June 12, 2011 at 3:34 am | Reply
  10. James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil

    Keep in mind, these are the same maniacs that are working to impose Sharia law upon the entire world. We are in WW III it's the Muslim fundamentalists against everyone else. Right now, they are winning. Wake up, world or purchase your prayer rugs now.

    June 13, 2011 at 8:07 am | Reply
  11. saeed radmanesh

    It is a shame that news report are so one dimensional. Due to various commercial or political reasons it does go in depth, or cover the background leading to the events. Take for example the power struggle in Iran, the so called Islamic reformists are part of the estalblishment who follow the Khomeini's tradition of absolute clerical rule, it is basically a power struggle between two factions. Yet, many young people supported the "reformists" candidate in the hope of slight chance for liberal policies. 8 years of Khatami presidency showed that prime minister in the Islamic Regime of Velayat Fighah is power less. Considering that there has been hundreds of reporters covering the events in Iran, I have seldom seen objective reporting showing the true face of the Islamic reformists.

    July 10, 2011 at 3:54 am | Reply

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