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NEW YORK — Allow me to quote the British novelist Martin Amis, writing about Persia in The Guardian: “Iran is one of the most venerable civilizations on earth: it makes China look like an adolescent, and America look like a stripling.”
Iranians, aware of that history, are a proud people. They do not take kindly to being played around with, nor to seeing their country turned into a laughingstock. They do not like the memory of an election campaign that now seems like pure theater, the expression
What president would celebrate a “victory” by two-thirds of the vote with a clampdown resembling a putsch? What self-respecting nation would attribute the appearance in the streets of three million protesters convinced their votes were stolen to Zionists, “evil” media and British agents?
(The former British ambassador to Iran told me with a smile last January that Tehran was an interesting place to serve “because it’s one of the very few places left on earth where people still believe we have some influence!”)
What sort of country invites hundreds of journalists to witness an election only to throw them all out? What kind of revolutionary authority invokes “ethics” and “religious democracy” as it allows plain-clothes thugs to beat women?
The imprisonment of the frail reformer Saeed Hajarian exposes the callousness of Iran's leaders – and their lack of logic
Hajarian is confined to a wheelchair and able to speak only with great difficulty, having suffered severe spinal cord damage after being shot in the face by a fundamentalist who, though later convicted, hardly served any jail time. He survives only with the help of daily medication, intensive physiotherapy and regular consultations with a neurosurgeon. He cuts as unthreatening a figure as any government is likely to encounter. But that hasn't stopped Iran's intelligence ministry from locking him up in Evin's Section 209 – reserved for the most potent political suspects – and subjecting him to regular interrogations.
Hajarian's captors fear his brain. They are trying to force him to sign a confession owning up to plotting a "colourful" or velvet revolution that would have seen the Islamic republic toppled and replaced by a pro-western puppet government, the political bogeyman that keeps Khamenei and his acolytes awake at night. In return, he would be allowed to leave prison – thereby handing the regime a propaganda coup and sparing it the increasing embarrassment of imprisoning a man whom it is already responsible for reducing to a shell.