Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Glowing men: a story from the research for my book

I met a young Iranian-Dutch storyteller a few weeks ago who told me a story from the Iran-Iraq war. “The children who fought in the war were told that a death in battle meant that they would go straight to Paradise. They were told that the body of a martyr would smell like rosewater so even when some recovered bodies that had been decomposing out on the battlefield they would swear that all they smelled was rosewater. That’s how much they believed what they were told.”

I can hear the groans already. Many Iranians who were in the regular military will dispute this story… but the storyteller was not talking about the regular military, he was talking about the child volunteers who cleared minefields while they listened to rousing religious music sung by Ahangaran, which my friends in Iran tell me is very hard to get a hold of in Iran now, but which you can hear on YouTube.

“Sometimes when morale was low,” he continued, “a glowing man would appear on the horizon. The young soldiers would point and say: 'It’s the messiah!'” The Mehdi, the last Imam appearing after centuries in hiding. “There is a story I heard that the Iraqis captured several of these glowing men. They were all painted with phosphorous.”

If anyone is reading this from the discussion list I belong to, you know that I queried about the veracity of this story. After all, storytellers are not the most reliable sources, just the most interesting. I could not get any confirmation and eventually thought that it was simply hyperbole.

A few days after I had given up either proving or disproving the story a broad-faced friend from Iran was visiting us with his wife and son. We were eating dinner together: roasted potatoes with chicken, rosemary, and garlic prepared by my excellent chef who, thank god, I am married to. (You should taste his gormeh sabzi or zereshk pollo… To die for…). I knew that Amir had been in the military. “Did you ever hear of men dressing as the last imam?” I asked him offhandedly.

“Have I heard of it? I saw it with my own two eyes." He pointed at his eyes for emphasis. "Tori, it was not to be believed. We were on a hill overlooking a battle being fought by the Basij. We were not in the battle ourselves,” he explained. “There was just a sliver of a moon. A cloud passed over the moon, and I turned my head and saw a glowing man in the distance. ‘What the hell was that?’ I asked. This guy was painted with phosphor and riding a white horse. I asked my commander about it. He told me, ‘They send men dressed in phosphor to ride with the Basijis all the time.’ Really. It was unbelievable.”

I told him that many Iranians I had had contact with denied that something like that could have ever happened. He told me that he saw this in 1983 (1362, for Iranians) at the Meymak Front, during one of the biggest battles and worst defeats for Iran: Valfajr-3.


Anonymous said...

SO WHAT!!?? Would you rather that Iran lost the war to the Iraqis? Nations are sacred, you know. More sacred than the lives of generations. Think!

Tori said...

Wow Ralph, Do you even read before you comment? And do you really believe that it was okay to send children to certain death in battle or otherwise?

Or are you so ashamed of what happened that you must assume that I am judging the event just by looking into it and writing about it?

Anonymous said...


You really need to read it carefully before you take you ready comment gun
out to shoot. Why do you want to be Mr right all the time.
Iran could win the war even if they ware not using children.

I think you need to think first more before you just post a comment.

Marie said...

Whew, that youtube piece... a celebration of blood, sacrifice,death and male bonding. The female principle is gone, children are told fairytales that lead to their death, and there goes Persia.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe it, and neither does my family. My father and 4 uncles were in the Iran-Iraq war, 4 of them in the army and 1 in the navy.
They never saw anything like this despite pointing out that many of the Basijis were unfortunately very incompetent, but they fought hard.

Anonymous said...

On the scale of deaths caused to ensure the survival of nation states, those of the Iranian youth are of very, very minor significance. Sad, but Iran lost no territory to the invaders.
And, tori, please! No accusations without details of evidence.

Anonymous said...

Tori is a propagandist. I think Ralph is right in bringing an intellectual perspective to her largely mindless musings. But, he makes no analysis of what she is up to, based on what she has shown of her work. Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

I have had many friends who fought in that war, some were killed or maimed. My extended family was full of those Basijis, and I never heard such a story from them. Well, there were always these rumors, but I never heard them from the guys who fought in fronts.
There is also this stupid story of "how the regime gave plastic keys to heaven to kids and send them to the fronts to walk in the minefields". You can read it in every other article of so called journalists in western media that want to show off their knowledge about iran-iraq war.

Were there propaganda during the war? You bet. Did they encourage young kids to go to the fronts.
You bet.

But these kind of ridiculous stories are really far fetched.

P.S: I'm no fan of today's Basijis or the current regime in Iran. Just wanted to clarify that

Mazdak said...

I participated in the Iran-Iraq war when I was 16. I never heard of Mahdi comming with a white hourse when I was there. And nobody offered me a key to paradise neither! So most of these stories are IMO fake stories.
I was young and stupid but not that stupid to believe these kind of craps!

Kamran said...

Ron, now that you are accusing tori of being a propagandist, is should just add this I totally believe that the Iranian could use these tactics to boost the morale of child soldiers. I should say that defending Iranian territories was the best thing the basiji did. During the first week of the war I went to register for the military, but I was kicked out for wearing shoes in the Prayer room (thank god).

It is no secret that representatives of the Islamic government raped girls in prison so that they would not be virgins (hundreds of records... from both sides: victim and rapist... ron I am sure you can read persian and the records yourself). So why is this story so surprising? Just because everyone did not witness it, does not mean that it did not happen. I do not have any reason to not believe our friend.

Anonymous said...

Phosphorus glows faintly on exposure to oxygen. And,

* Acute (short-term) exposure to high levels of white phosphorus in humans is charact-
erized by three stages: the first stage consists of gastrointestinal effects; the second stage is symptom-free and lasts about 2 days; the third stage consists of gastrointestinal effects, plus effects on the kidneys, liver, and cardiovascular system. (1,2)
* The acute fatal dose of white phosphorus in adults is 15 to 100 mg. (2)

* Dermal exposure to white phosphorus in humans may result in severe burns, which are necrotic, yellowish, fluorescent under ultraviolet light, and have a garlic-like odor. (1)

The pale horsemen Tori writes of must have been hermetically shielded from the effects of the toxin. And, what about the horses?

I think that the effects of contact with phosphorus on humans makes it unlikely that it was used as a costume.

Tori said...

it also might be that "fosfor" (as it is pronounced in farsi) is just what my friend said he saw w/o knowing exactly what it was.

my brother once wore a halloween costume made of glowsticks under white coveralls and achieved the same effect.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe the idiocy! Kamran, are you arguing that because one kind of crime was perpetrated, then it is reasonable to believe that the perpetrator is guilty of other crimes? And, tori, I am really saddened by the illogical extent you will go to defend a mistaken belief.

Kamran said...


I really had to laugh at your comment. You can not get me to fall in your trap.

You can say what ever you want. You may want to get your own blog since you are so export on everything. This way you can see how many idiots will call you idiot. Have a wonderful day.


Anonymous said...

No one has to invent myths to find a basis to criticize the regime in Iran. Forget the "glowing man" and the "key to paradise." Think "absence of equality" and "lack of freedom of speech" in Iran. My experience is that Iranians do not greet the world everyday with the expectation of being treated as an equal committed to treating others as equals. This is something precious Americans have. (Even though I deeply disagree with tori's project, I view her as an equal.) I also find that Iranians do not enjoy freedom of speech, another precious right guaranteed Americans. The comments to this blog prove our freedom. I've shared some of this with Iranians and, no matter the relevance, they do not comment in reply. I suggest we focus on and work toward freedoms for Iranians.

Anonymous said...

By the way, Kamran, logic is not a trap. it is a key to freedom.

Anonymous said...

Kamran, I know Iranians have a concept of "safsate" that is similar to English "sophistry." My dictionary defines sophistry as "a deliberately invalid argument displaying ingenuity in reasoning in the hope of deceiving someone." You will find no deliberate deception in my use of logic, though you are wise to inspect arguments closely. ba arezooye piroozi baraye shoma va khanoum.