Between 2 Worlds

My Life & Captivity in Iran by Roxana Saberi

Deanna Davis, 2B, 1/4/16 Bennett

1) Pg 4, par 3, ln 2-4

"Since fuel rationing had begun in 2007 in this oil-rich, gas-guzzling nation, cabs seemed to have become harder to find on the streets."

Maybe because it's being mostly shipped off to western countries like the US. According to what I've heard, terrorist groups such as IS use natural resources of the middle east to fund their efforts. While IS in particular didn't exist when this book was written, I have a hunch that quite a few oil companies and various radical groups intertwine while away from the public eye. Protecting the environment could be a reason for fuel rationing, and it would serve as a great cover-up, too.

2) par 4, ln 1-3

"My boyfriend, Bahman, had urged me to always use a taxi agency instead of privatly owned taxis and shared cabs, in which total strangers often sat next to one another. I usually heeded his advice..."

Bahman sounds wise. He knew that as an independent (female) journalist, she was at risk to be kidnapped among other dangers. What easier way to kidnap a person could there be than a phony taxicab at the right time & place? Journalists are always informed. If someone wanted to keep the public ignorant about a certain situation, they could easily have them kidnapped in the light of day.

*3) par 7, ln 1-4

"As we entered the highway, he cranked up the Iranian rap music on his stereo and began to hum along. It was one of those songs available only on the black market but largely tolerated by the authorities if played in private."

In Iran, entertainment that is not considered "clean" or religiously moral enough is outlawed/banned from mainstream media. As a result, this makes the black market ever more prosperous and common. Much like the US's "prohibition" in the 1920s, you will find the middle-eastern equivalent of "speakeasies" somewhere in most cities as well! Why governments are concerned enough to censor the 1 true joy in life, i will never understand.

4) pg 4-5, par 8, all lines

"So where are you from?" the driver yelled over the music. "Iran" I yelled back. Although i had been an American citizen since birth, i was in Iran on my Iranian passport. He turned down his music and glanced back at me. "you look Japanese," he remarked. "Yeah," i said. "My mother is Japanese." "Really? The Japanese are very hard workers."

While this nosiness could just be an innocent thing from taxi drivers, inner cities of Iran can be crawling with government informants (for lack of a better term). They spy as ordinary citizens on every well-informed, suspicious, or foreign person they come across. By stalking and reporting findings to the Iranian Culture Ministry (or other "hard-liner" groups), the cycle of political slavery is reinforced and finally multiplied. This is how it goes:
1. Innocent citizens are purposefully accused of espionage or treason
2. "plainclothes" govt officials drag person from home for interrogation
3. person is made to wear blindfold so they can't see what the Prison looks like.
4. Person is intimidated and/or physically tortured with promises of freedom if only they "cooperate".
"cooperation" means agreeing to any & all false charges they present you with.
6. Video shoots of fabricated confession (until it looks natural enough) so it can be aired on mainstream TV as propaganda for tighter security measures!
7. Deal with the interrogator to "spy" for the Islamic Regime as a "parole" or spend life in jail and/or be executed on the spot.
8. Keep silent and continue working for the Iranian Culture Ministry or die in mysterious "car crash".
9. Inform your new masters of anyone as "suspicious" as you once were and let the cycle continue.
10. Alternative: escape Iran ASAP, retract all "confessions", and garner as much attention from social media and/or human rights groups as you can; Just like Roxana Saberi was able to do!

5) pg 5, par 3

"Gradually, the car wove its way north up Sadr Highway, which Iran's authorities had named, like many streets and freeways, after a "martyr," this one, a grand ayatollah who had been executed by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime. Since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Islamic Republic had tried to equate the idea of martyrdom, a concept highly revered in Shiite Islam, with self-sacrifice for the state. Many Iranians were lured to the front lines of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980's with the promise that if they died, they would become martyrs and go to heaven."

What a recipe for zealots. I can make cookies, but certainly not this special concoction. Some people who don't feel they have a lot to live for might find the words "go to heaven" a very tempting idea indeed!!

*6) pg 6, par 1 ln 2-3

"...Voice of America Persian boomed from another neighbor's illegal satellite TV."

There it is again with the eerie, pseudo-fascist state of control over everyday details of life. It is one of many attempts at keeping people ignorant by banning any media that isn't strictly approved of by the state. This is how so many scholars, filmmakers, writers, activists, and journalists like Roxana Saberi are sent to Evin Prison and other little camps.

*7) par 3, ln 3-6

"As an Iranian-American journalist, i knew that my telephone and email might be at least occasionally monitored- a fact of life for many journalists, foreigners, and certain others in the Islamic Republic." ... "Captors collect seemingly insignificant information to use on future victims as an illusion that they "know everything" already."

Does this sound... familiar in some way?? What about post- 9/11 USA, does the PATRIOT act ring any bells?
Anyway, It would explain why Saberi's interrogators acted like they knew everything about her, [besides it being a technique of intimidation].

*8) pg 8, par 6

"This Tehran jail was notorious for having held Iran's most famous political prisoners, including students, academics, and activists. Torture was common, and hangings and a mass execution had taken place there."

It sounds alot like Pol Pot's regime. He usually cut the formality and skipped right to the mass slaughter, though. The Islamic Regime makes you wait and let the anxiety build up more slowly through paperwork, isolation, phony interviews, and a few kangaroo court dates in the hellish mix.

9) pg 9, par 1

"...journalist Zahra Kazemi was detained in Evin and shortly afterward, died suspiciously. No one had ever been held accountable for her death."

Kazemi was a dual-national freelancer much like Roxana Saberi, except that she was a photographer. Chances are she took picture of something the regime didn't want brought into the public eye, especially if potentially international public. We know who is clearly accountable for her death. People working for the new regime just had to keep another person silent, didn't they?

10) pg 9, par 3

"i tried to shut the door but couldn't. He had propped it open with his right foot and was now sneering at me."

What a horror scene- Miss Saberi should have punched this person in the face and kicked him square in the nuts as was necessary to defend one's personal sanctuary against the govt agents. I know i would- even if the people had guns, it might buy just enough time to make quick exit out of a back window or up a chimney. There wouldn't be many places to lay low, though!
...Yet it's no worse than what those lovely SWAT teams in the USA do to mostly harmless citizens in their own homes.

11) pg 10, par 4, ln 9-11

"She might have made it out all right, an Iranian official had once told me privately, if she hadn't resisted."

During an interrogation in Iran, you're environment is this gradual vortex of misery until they percieve that you're theirs to mold. Then you're a new recruit to spy for them, and if you don't do what they set you free to accomplish, you will be killed as it is made to look like an accident. If they can't break your spirit (or if you don't act broken) then all the torture starts; it's in some ways like the Spanish Inquisition.

*12) pg 11, par 6

" The 4 men made me move on with them to another room, where they dug through my desk and file cabinet. They confiscated several music CDs, old videotapes, and bank statements."

...Why? music CDs??? You care about my 80's porn collection & disco soundtracks???? Well knock yourself out, lawmen!

*13) pg 13, par 7

"A few other dual-national journalists before me had been forced to give up their credentials, and many foreign journalists had seen their visas either revoked or not renewed. The situation had worsened after Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, replacing a reformist administration with hard-liners. Iranian officials gave me no clear reason for their decision to pull my press pass, although they hinted it was part of a larger effort to restrict the western media from reporting in the country."

Journalists and a well-informed public can pose a threat to the security of those in power, but with a slight change of wording, it's called national security. The government in Iran doesn't even recognize dual-nationals, so if you visit Iran for more than a certain time, you're suddenly a citizen. We all know what you're doing, Ahmadinejad... The hardliners remind me of certain right-wing nuts in the US.
Just try to keep people in the dark as best you can ;)
"AY'm on ah HIIIIIGHWAYYYY TO fascism!!"

*14) pg 14, par 3, ln 1-3

"A little later, I started working on my book on Iran, a project that didn't need government permission to research and write. My hope was to portray the lives of everyday Iranians more thoroughly than i could in short news stories."

It sounds like a noble & worthy cause. The fact her work was an independent project made it tougher to monitor or censor, which adds suspicion in the eyes of the paranoid Iranian Culture Ministry. This posed as a perfect reason to bring her in for "questioning".

15) pg 18 (last par) to pg 19 (1st par)

"So I simply explained that the Culture Ministry had given me permission to send those reports to Fox. Anyway, I thought, if those stories had been such a problem, why was this man bringing them up six years later?

If there's something I've learned about unspoken rules in middle eastern countries is that many people don't often say what they mean. Nothing she did was officially "illegal". These govt agents were trying their best to collect just the right evidence over the years to construct a false conviction. By framing most major activists, intellectuals, and journalists as something they're not (spies getting under the population's skin, threats to "national security", etc), the current regime can more conveniently secure its place in power.

16) pg 23, par 3

"Iranian hard-liners claimed that such movements were not homegrown but masterminded by the United States. They said one way Washington was trying to achieve similar upheaval in Iran was by using American think tanks and foundations to invite Iranian intellectuals, students, and opinion makers to take part in conferences, workshops, and fellowships. The goal, the hard-liners asserted, was for these elites to then use the media and civil society groups to spread anti-regime ideas throughout Iran's population, which would eventually rise up against the ruling establishment. In arguing their theory,, these officials liked to point to the Bush Administration's "Iran Democracy Fund," which they alleged was aimed at changing Iran's regime- a charge Washington had denied."

Yes, because many people have to flee the country to speak freely about the regime and still live their own life afterward. Some move to the Americas, others to London or France. Despite all the meddling with other countries, the US is generally self-absorbed. Washington's not "trying to achieve similar upheaval in Iran", because upheaval has already been accomplished with every one of our foreign wars! The regime digs its own grave with every unjust action and law, as homegrown resistance gets more international support. Washington is just another capital city. Washington doesn't care.

17) pg 24, par 6

"I couldn't understand what he was getting at.
"Someone told you to gather this information," he went on.
"What do you mean?"
"The U.S. governemt told you."
"The U.S. government?" I exclaimed. "Really, the interviews were meant only for my book."
"More specifically than the U.S. government," he said, "a certain part of the U.S. government: the intelligence apparatus, the CIA.""

These people sure stink at brainwashing. They could learn a thing or two from Jean-Martin Charcot or Hitler. This part is step 5, where (regardless of the truth) intelligence agents make up your story for you.

18) pg 25, par 1, ln7-10

"But while the Iranian regime had legitimate security concerns, hard-liners frequently exploited these concerns by blaming domestic problems on foreign "hidden hands" and by using their cries of "espionage" to justify tightening their grip on power."

Somehow, I don't think a "tightening grip on power" would prevent the occurrence of "spying", but it sure would increase it. Want to know why? Because Iran's government is the one that does "spying"-- on its own citizens. Also, if someone with positions of authority happens to be incompetent, they would have plenty a motive to shift the blame for any problems they cause.

19) pg 26, par 3, ln 2-5

"...if i cooperated, maybe these men really would let me go."

It makes the reader very sad to hear prisoners letting the circumstances get to them. However, this is the thought that bought Roxana just enough time, mercy, trust by captors, [and resulting leverage] to turn on her interrogators later on. When Roxana changed her mind to the man's face so suddenly, the element of drama & surprise had visibly tripped him up! She started out with an attitude so stoic, cooperative, & docile to her captors, it convinced them she didn't "need" to be tortured physically or killed. Your actions have to take a sharp "U-turn" at precisely the right moment, which she didn't consciously plan to do!

20) pg 27, par 2

"some former detainees have reported being forced to sign confessions they were not even allowed to read."

...How can a person agree to something when they have no idea what it is in the first place? If that person is questioned personally later on, their innocence would become obvious (assuming they're not executed first). On the other hand, most people in Iran are aware that 99% of the confession videos shown on TV are coerced, rehearsed, and acted out.

21) pg 27, par 7 and pg 25, par 6, ln 3-5

"These videos were soon followed by the captives' release, as if confessing on tape had been a prerequisite for their freedom."
"I recalled with some irony the words of a foreign journalist once based in Iran: "The Iranian authorities think we are all spies because they themselves use their journalists as spies.""

Yes, because not only are they mostly innocent; they're all sent out with a collaborative mission as their "parole". One day, this practice is sure to backfire on the regime.

23) pg 93, par 5-6

"...But now a few minutes felt like an hour, and a few hours felt like an entire day. To entertain myself, I listened to my own heartbeat, but i stopped when i heard my life ticking away. The forced idleness was slowly eroding my mind, body, and soul. Loneliness. Isolation like i had never experienced..."

Solitary confinement is a form of torture; even if sophisticated. Her description of this daily activity sounds profound. One can use it as a clock to count the seconds on a gloomy Monday. Most of us take this feature of the human heart for granted.

24) pg 93, par 2-3

"I imagined myself released on Saturday and rushing to Bahman. He would help me flee the country, maybe in the dark of night in the trunk of a car- or perhaps he would chop off my hair, disguise me as a Kurdish man with a costume and a fake moustache from one of his films, and send me by donkey across the mountains to Iraq or Turkey. I must be going insane. But how could i not be? I was trapped in solitary confinement in Evin Prison."

...Why didn't she? Those are fine ideas. If someone from Jack@$$ can create a full beard out of pubic hair & super glue, then so can ordinary people make do with a few film props. She was far from insane- desperation can spawn creativity.

25) pg 94, par 2

"At least its constant droning reminded me that life existed somewhere nearby. So did the intermittent whimpering of the prisoner next door. I whispered through the holes in the heater on my wall that she shouldn't worry, everything would turn out all right. But she didn't seem to hear me, and I couldn't raise my voice, out of fear that the guards would notice."

Saberi wanted to comfort & convince herself as much as the poor woman next door. If I were the women next door and heard her voice, i'd assume it was a ghost or auditory hallucination. Both activists' ghosts and coming "around the bend" are probably more common in prison than "everything turning all right". However, her gesture was one of the sweetest, especially in a prison.

26) pg 299, par 4

"Not all prisoners, however, are pressured to confess. It is often those who represent something, such as a group/ideology/country, whose confession/[perceived surrender] have propagandistic, symbolic, or other value for the captors." This is why "High-profile activists, political figures, and people [...] who have had contact with Americans are more likely to be coerced to confess than are lesser-known prisoners...

This mildly reminds me of a horror film where cannibals eat people who have a special quality they want, thinking that by consuming the victim's flesh, that they, too will have these qualities. As for any "symbolic" value of a person's surrender [to the regime], i think there is a name for this kind of diplomacy- Theatre. The confessions of public figures who are dear to the public make for better propaganda anyway, particularly for the regime's "hardliners".

pg 298, par 3, ln 7 to pg 299 par 1 ln1-3 (27 unreplied)

"Ervand Abrahamian had explained to me, interrogators often give prisoners a list of topics they should mention but let them write their own confession in an attempt to make the wording fit the victim, sound believable, and therefore serve as a tool for swaying public opinion."

pg 299 par 2 ln 2-10 (28 unreplied)

"Interrogators rarely believe the confession [that they themselves] force out of prisoners...If they believed those confessions... they wouldn't release anybody. The fact is they have freed several supposed spies and people who have allegedly acted against national security. They are incapable of finding real spies, if there are any, and by arresting innocent people, they want to intimidate others." -Omid Memarian (former Iranian journalist who was detained and coerced into making a false confession in 2004, who retracted [his statements] after he was released.)

pg 298, par 3, ln 3-4 (29 unreplied)

"We didn't want to take you to Evin," Javan said nonchalantly, "but we gave you a chance, and you didn't cooperate. Now we have no other choice." He began to gather his numerous dossiers.
I felt the blood suddenly drain from my face. "But i have been telling you the truth. Please, believe me!" i begged.
"You haven't been cooperating," he said calmly.
"What do you mean by 'cooperating'?"
"You have to confess."
"Confess to what?"
"To using your book as a cover to spy for the CIA."

Thematically speaking:

1) #'s 1,3,6,7,8,12,13, 14~ government censorship and its reach in everyday life.

2) #'s 1,4,5,9,11,15,16,17,18,20,21,26,27,28,29~ strange facts of Iran and its govt

3) #'s 2,10,12,14,19,23,24,25,29~ the Experience in Roxana Saberi's shoes

The most interesting and evident theme was a collection of the dishonest, conspiratory, and paranoid practices of the Iranian govt which a lot of innocent people's lives suffer from. If a certain power-hungry organization can't achieve genuine support from the masses, it resorts to force and/or manipulation when it fears losing control and/or position. For example, foreign or un-Islamic media is "banned", activists or any outspoken people are sent to Evin [political] Prison, and the phrase "national security threat" (a real thing for most middle-eastern nations) is used to excuse many executions and assassinations. I would imagine tyranny such as this would just increase the urgency for a "soft revolution", thus making the Iranian govt twice as insecure as it digs its own grave. It is a vicious cycle of crackdowns and insecurity of govt that may end in at least 1 of 3 things:

1. masses of people leave (akin to Syria and North Korea)

2. Iran is admitted as an official fascist state

3. revolution ("soft" or bloody)

Also, i am willing to guess about half the people working for Iranian government were forced to take their job by the method of extortion that Saberi went through. After all, "I recalled with some irony the words of a foreign journalist once based in Iran: "The Iranian authorities think we are all spies because they themselves use their journalists as spies."" Since dual-nationalism is not recognized in Iran, Saberi was "theirs" to try and mold as far as Iranian authorities were concerned. Quote #4 explained how people are plucked from their lives and either loyally serve the regime or be killed/spend life in prison.

"Free Roxana": Sources of International support~
Reporters Without Borders
Human Rights Watch
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran
Amnesty International
ABC, BBC, Fox News, NPR, PBS, The Wall Street Journal, and other news
Asian American Journalists Association
Swiss ambassador Livia Leu Agosti & president Hans-Rudolf Merz
Overseas Press Club
Radio Television Digital News Foundation
Society of Professional Journalists
The Japanese Embassy in Tehran
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Austrian ambassador Michael Postl
UNITY: Journalists of Color
The Aspen Institute
European Union
Rotary International
Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq
Miss North Dakota and Miss America organizations
Barack Obama
Hillary Clinton
The State Department
individuals in Fargo Public Schools, Concordia College, Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, University of Cambridge, and Fargo VA Medical Center.
ND Governor John Hoeven
ND Representative Earl Pomeroy
senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan
Sadegh Zibakalam- political science professor @ University of Tehran
Iranian attorneys Shirin Ebadi and Abdolfatah Soltani

Farsi Vocabulary & groups in Iran~

taknevisi- when a prisoner is forced to write [lies] about people they know personally. It sometimes involves "admitting" to have sexual relations/affairs with them.
velayat-e faqih- the Islamic Republic's "supreme leader".
el yasin- a spiritual freedom group led by peyman fattahi, 200k members, founded in 1996
revolutionary guard- iran's most powerful military institution, +125k members, forms companies in construction/oil/gas/other, has oversight over the nuclear program!
baha'is- religious minority discriminated against and considered "heretics" by the regime in Iran.
na mahram- people of opposite genders who are not related or married
nowruz- The Iranian New Year, celebrated by fireworks and jumping over makeshift fires for good health in the coming year, pre-islam Zoroastrian tradition.
hejab- the required conservative clothing
ta'arof- Iran's complex system of formalized courtesy
"hardliners"- a political party that pushes for more and more national security, typically by limiting domestic freedoms
"Green Movement"- opposition to the regime
Imam- top religious leader in Islam
"kangaroo court"- 1. a judicial tribunal/assembly that blatantly disregards recognized standards of law or justice, and often carries little or no official standing in the territory within which it resides. Common in the Wild West (US history). 2. an unofficial court held by a group of people in order to try someone regarded, especially without good evidence, as guilty of a crime or misdemeanor.