I met Masih Alinejad in New York. This brave Iranian-American journalist, who has pleaded the cause of her countrywomen (and men) before Antony Blinken, Mike Pompeo and Hillary Clinton, is an exceptional political animal, her strong head surrounded by the mane of a lion, an iron will behind the Baudelairean lightness of her “fleecy hair, falling in curls to the shoulders.”
I admire her casual air in describing the kidnapping and assassination plots she has survived in the U.S. She mentioned that she’d like to have a photo taken with me and my friend Salman Rushdie. I observe the maturity with which she explains that the wisps of her angry sisters’ hair will become—if we support these women against the bats and rifles of the basij—the wicks of a moral bomb capable of blowing away the chadors of shame, the veils of humiliation, the leaden yokes of the regime.
When she mentioned France—which, like many of the world’s dissidents, she views as a homeland of democracy along with the U.S.—she voices her respect for President Emmanuel Macron, whom she sees, along with Joe Biden, as a co-leader of the free world.
When I send the request, Mr. Macron agrees to see her. With the help of Tom Kaplan, chairman of Justice for Kurds, and Emily Hamilton, JFK’s director, the meeting is arranged. Soon enough she’s getting off the plane in Paris.
The meeting takes place, face to face, without me or anyone else present. First, only Ms. Alinejad and Mr. Macron. Then Ladan Boroumand, Shima Babaie and Roya Pirayi, the other women of the delegation she put together.
As she described the meeting to me, Ms. Alinejad goes on the attack over Mr. Macron’s handshake with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Mr. Macron listens, takes it in, explains that, faced with an uprising of this nature and the repression with which it has been met, the head of a democratic nation can’t forgo the weapon of diplomacy.
She answers the French president in the spirit of the duke of La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt. “Is this a revolt?” Louis XVI asked in 1789. “No, sire,” the duke answered, “it’s a revolution.”
Mr. Macron responds in the terms he will use in the press release issued after the meeting: France supports the revolution in Iran. Yes, he said “the revolution.” He is the first head of state in the world to use the word, which changes everything and earns him the fury of the mullahs.
His response puts me in mind of Ernst Kantorowicz’s 1957 book, “The King’s Two Bodies.” The French president has two hearts. One is the heart beta-blocked by a blend of etiquette and strategy that beats to the rhythm of the clock, of necessity, of the balance of power. The other is that of a mortal man, vibrant and alive, a brotherly heart struck by the suffering and the hope of four women sitting opposite him.
These moments—when the man behind the leader becomes visible, when he casts off the armor of his position, when, nudged by a meeting and a face, the sensitive heart trumps the methodical one—are among the most beautiful in political life. Such moments justify the effort to knock at history’s door.
Mr. Macron had nothing to gain by getting involved, by breaking with a regime that shames the Persian spirit, and by closing the dark page of history that was opened nearly a half-century ago when the French village of Neauphle-le-Château served as the rear base for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. So go the politics of reparation—and honor.