On my mind that day will be the story of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a young woman whose sole crime was to have dreamt of love, for which—for dreaming—the predecessor of the current president condemned her to death by stoning. An international campaign of protest forced the regime to back off and eventually to pardon her. But it was a very close call.
On my mind, too, will be the case of the great filmmaker, Jafar Panahi, tortured, imprisoned, and under a gag order to this day. Well known are the risks he ran, the nightmarish, surrealist conditions under which he had to operate in making the masterpieces of cheekiness and paradoxical liberty entitled This Is Not a Film, Closed Curtain, and, most recently, Taxi.
Nor will I forget the thousand official assassinations perpetrated each year by a legal system run on the whims of a minister who, in his youth, was one of the three members of the regrettably famous “Death Commission” that in the late 1980s was responsible for the execution of more than thirty thousand political prisoners. Mullah Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi—that is his name—still has not answered for his crimes to the survivors of his horrific jails.
Nor the unbreakable alliance, based on a shared ideology of hate and putative purity, that Iran maintains with some of the most fearsome terrorist organizations of our day: Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and—what amounts to the same thing—the state-based terrorism of Bashar al-Assad, who has ten times more blood on his hands than his twin, the incarnation of absolute evil that is the Islamic State.
And, finally, on the day of Rouhani’s visit I will be thinking how close, how very close, the mullahs’ regime, operating for so long outside international law, came to obtaining the nuclear weapon that they had coldly announced they intended to use—target number one of which would be Israel, the “Little Satan.”
With all that fresh in mind, since the nuclear agreement with Iran was signed in Vienna in July, and since France, after fighting hard to toughen the terms of the deal, has ratified it, there are five essential reasons for us to move forward with the process and to play, determinedly but without illusion, the card of rapprochement and dialogue.
1. Because the facilities for the production of military-grade fissile material have not been dismantled but rather frozen in place under heavy surveillance, we have no alternative but to hope that the Iranians have understood their interests well and to be ready, if we discover that they have not, to remind them of the inevitable consequences of violating the agreement.
2. Whether the subject is Yemen and the Houthi insurrection, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kurdistan, or, of course Syria in its devastation, where one day it will be necessary to find an exit for the executioner in chief, Iran is a key actor that no major diplomacy can pretend to ignore or keep at arm’s length.
3. In the great game playing itself out in the region—a game in which the most dubious players (both false allies of the West) are Erdogan’s Turkey, which is making war on the Kurds, and Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, which yesterday was in theopolitical symbiosis with Al Qaeda and today is in the same place with the Islamic State—the former Persia may represent a counterweight that someday may have to be figured into the geostrategic balance.
4. For anyone willing to admit that contemporary history is written not solely in the present but also in the distant past, it is clear that the Persia of Cyrus and Xerxes, but also of Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Suhrawardi, Ibn Kammuna, and Jalal al-Din al-Dawani is not the enemy of western civilization but an interlocutor with a long history and rich culture.
5. If in that part of the world there is a society that aspires to openness and, for two decades, has never ceased to demonstrate that aspiration in every election, despite the merciless repression of the Basij, the Revolutionary Guards, and other henchmen of the regime—if there is a people who, in the majority, are ready for spring and whose hopes and desire for freedom will be reinforced by the lifting of sanctions, that society has its epicenter, its heart, in Tehran, Isfahan, and even Qom.
The prospect of a reformist Iran reconciled with its greatness is a gamble on which countless opponents of the bloodthirsty republic founded by Ayatollah Khomeini, both inside Iran and out, have staked much.
It is the gamble taken by the founder of the Green Wave, Amir Jahanshahi, whose book on Ahmadinejad (whom the author termed the “Iranian Hitler”) I was honored to review and who today is choosing what Samuel Pisar, at the time of detente with the USSR, called “the weapons of peace.”
Although vigilance is more necessary now than ever; although we must not cease demanding evidence, proof, and definitive action with respect to women’s rights and human rights in general, we would do ourselves an injustice if we did not give the benefit of the doubt, cautiously and gradually, to the new Iran that is trying to escape from Hell and take the first steps through Purgatory.
Translated by Steven B. Kennedy