...An interview with Marie...
This is the first in a series of interviews we are beginning. We are starting with Marie, a woman who has been commenting on this site for several years. Marie is an award-winning filmmaker, artist, and teacher who lived in Iran for over a year during the American hostage crisis. Her love affair with Iran did not end when she left the country but rather continued. She is currently expanding into the fields of acupuncture and herbal medicine and looks forward to fusing her knowledge of art and healing into effective and unexpected paradigms.
Marie, Your comments on our blog have intrigued us for years. You were in Iran during the revolution. Can you begin by telling us a) How much time you spent in Iran and b) Why you went there in the first place?
First, I was not there during most of the revolution. I arrived at the tail end, although I felt like I was there, as my husband at the time (Nader) was there and had used my photographic portfolio to get a job as a Time Magazine photographer and free ticket to Tehran.
I arrived in Tehran in September of 1979, and left December 22, 1980, so I was there between 15 and 16 months.
Nader had left for Iran in November the year before, and became very involved in the revolution there. He started a newspaper that year with some colleagues of his from CBS called Tehran Times, which is still being published, although he's no longer involved with it. I believe it became sort of a mouth piece of the government.
I came to be in Iran because Nader came to New York in the summer of 1979 and convinced me to go back with him. He secured jobs for us as stringers at NBC. In case you don't know, stringers are usually 1 or 2 man crews that work for the networks when news is light. He did camera, and I did sound. I went because a) the job b) Nader, whom I was in love with, but we had a complicated relationship c) I have always been intrigued by Iran d) I wanted to see the 'revolution' up close.
Unfortunately our job was short lived, as the hostages were taken the first week of November. The American Media poured in and I became radicalized :-)Seriously. I had always been somewhat delusional regarding our television networks, that while they don't show the whole thing, they made an effort to tell the news. What I learned very quickly was this was not true. I discovered that the story is decided prior to any fact finding. I quickly became disillusioned.
It was a very difficult year. Money was scarce. People were nervous. There was a lot of anarchy in the true sense of the word and there was a lot of hope. The hope really started to dissipate in the spring and summer of 1980. The mullahs consolidated power. I remember Bani Sadr giving history lessons on tv: how the Russian Revolution was hijacked by the Bolsheviks. It was so obvious what he was trying to tell people, but he was also complicit from the beginning. The mullahs had supported his presidential bid.
I will never forget the moment when I walked up the hill to television (where I worked) and heard that the 'sister' had to go home and change her clothes. I had been working there already for many months, and the guard was very embarrassed as he knew me and we were friendly. I was wearing a scarf, but now I needed a long shirt that covered my rear end. I stamped down the hill in absolute fury and for some reason felt terribly humiliated. It was very hot that day too. It was summer, probably in August that policy was implemented. All women who worked in government buildings had to observe hejab - dress code.
Wow, that was really interesting. I have so many questions to ask now. You bring up something interesting. We tend to think of the revolution in Iran as an Islamic one, but the reality is that there were many different factions (including Communists) involved in the overthrow of the Shah. So you were in Iran as the revolution was "Islamifying." In addition to the hejab, what would you say was the most striking example of the change from secular rule to Islamic rule?
It was not an Islamic revolution but it had an Islamic leader in the tradition of Iran; a charismatic leader and that was Khomeni. He was a magnetic personality and many gravitated toward him. But yes, the 'people' did not give up their power to the mullahs all at once. It was a consolidation of power in areas the previous government had ruled, such as television and the secret police, and required additionally the formation of the Revolutionary Guards and other supportive and intimidating structures. Mullahs executed a lot of people that year. I met and interviewed Judge Khalkhali, also known as Judge Blood. Quite an experience.
Shortly after I arrived in Tehran, a woman in a tight skirt was walking down the street. At the time, Iranian women ( in Tehran) sort of amazed me because they were either wearing the black chador or a floral chador wrapped around the body, or they were dressed like Italian women: skin tight jeans, very sexy etc. Very few women dressed in the rather asexual style in loose skirts or pants favored by Americans at the time. So this woman in her skin tight skirt was not that unusual. A man ran up and grabbed her skirt from the hem and ripped it straight up in protest. But from several directions, men converged upon him and sort of roughed him up and reprimanded him, and more people flocked to the woman and covered her with their coats. The crowd faced him off with indignation. He was an individual against a wall of disapproval for his extreme and insulting action.
At that time, people would socialize outside the walls, families would enjoy outings and music would play from cassette players with even a little dancing in the street. My impression was that Iranians like to have a good time. There was also happiness at the success and peacefulness of the revolution. Iranian soldiers had not massacred the people. By the time I left over a year later, that was over. The war had started and the squeeze was on. People had already left during the revolution, and another wave left in the fall of 1980. It was clear where the country was going.
Many different factions (including Communists) involved in the overthrow of the Shah...
Yes, the Tudeh Party were the communists. The Fedayeen were the leftists. And the Mujahadeen were the Islamic Leftists, if you want to call them that. I went to a Mujahadeen rally in the winter of 1979/1980. It ended in tear gas and guards opened machine gun fire into the crowds. It was utter chaos. People flattened to the ground in an instant to avoid getting shot.
In addition to the hejab, what would you say was the most striking example of the change from secular rule to Islamic rule?
Please understand that when I went to Iran, it was a time of flux. The shah was gone. I heard a great deal about what life was like under the shah but did not experience it first hand. Many people had already left, and many Jews were fleeing Iran when I arrived. Many people and intellectuals who had been banned and tortured under the shah had returned. For example Reza Baraheni, whom I met and interviewed, had returned. He eventually left again. There was hope for a period of time that Iran be a place that would accommodate free and intellectual thought, there was hope for real change, land distribution and rights for the peasants.
The change toward an Islamic state was creeping and gradual. But of course, like with Nazi Germany, the writing was on the wall. Khomeini made his intentions very clear. But people were really in love with him. He inspired loyalty to the extreme. Even people who were not religious.
If I had to say what the change was, it was in the growing presence of Revolutionary Guards. It was the way people who had started things, like the Tehran Times, eventually gave up and drifted away. 2 of the 5 founding members of that paper had left for France by the time I left. The war really changed things. There were long lines for bread, rice and sugar. Tehran was being attacked, and the nights were dominated by the terrifying sounds of anti-aircraft missiles and actual bombs. Every late afternoon the air raid sirens screamed, warning people to get home before dark. This was a good opportunity for the mullahs to really move in and dig deep.
You may find that things have changed in this country. There has been damage done to our constitution. This administration used the attacks from 9/11 to do some very insidious things. War is always useful for undermining any democratic process because fear is a great weapon for manipulating people.
What is the one thing that you miss most about Iran?
Before I answer, I want to point out to you that the biggest thing that happened in Iran since I left is that the population has tripled (or something like that).
I miss most its light and colors.
What are your favorite blogs/sites?
I read your blog and through yours have started reading SERENDIP. I read the CATO website sometimes. NPR, WNYC - Look at the Bush/Blair Love Duet, at http://www.atmo.se/zino.aspx?articleID=399 - it's very funny. I have too many interests, agricultural, apiary, avian and environmental... it gets overwhelming.
Thanks Marie... This was a great start to our interview series.