Review: Death to the Dictator! by Afsaneh Mozadam

Death to the Dictator!
Afsaneh Moqadam
Sarah Crichton Books

Less than one year after Iranian demonstrators took to the streets to protest the fraudulent re-election of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President of the Islamic Republic, writer Afsaneh Moqadam tells the true story of Mohsen Abbaspour, a man in his early twenties who votes for the Reformist party and its leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Swept up in the euphoria of possible change, the once politically apathetic Mohsen finds himself alongside his friends and fellow reformists in the streets posing the greatest challenge to Iranian authorities since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The Presidential Guard, Basijis and police eventually suppress the demonstrators through brutal force and mass arrests. Like many fellow citizens, Mohsen is arrested, taken to the notorious Evin prison and then to Kahrizak. He is repeatedly interrogated, tortured and raped until he is finally released on August 29, 2009.

In the letter that accompanied this book, the publisher vouches for the truthfulness of this account and informs us that a pseudonym has been used to protect the author’s identity. Given the relatively short period since the events of June 2009, the requisite anonymity is unsurprising, especially since Moqadam could well be Abbaspour.

This book offers an insider account of what transpired in June 2009 from the perspective of a twenty-something secular protester and gives the reader a rare glimpse into how a young Iranian views the ruling party, his parents’ generation of revolutionaries and the shift in power from the mullahs to the neo-fascist Revolutionary Guard and its protector, Ahmadinejad. This perspective is particularly significant when we consider that Mohsen and his generation are largely the result of a pronatalist policy implemented in the 1980s in order to create an Islamic army of 20 million. This policy backfired producing a baby boom made up of individuals similar to Mohsen: educated with bleak employment opportunities and little if any interest in military service. 

Another interesting aspect of the story is the speed at which change apparently occurred. Shadi, a veteran of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, tells Mohsen that it took them a year or two to get as far as the reformists had in just two weeks. Moreover, just 10 days after the stolen election, brazen and fearless protesters began chanting the previously inconceivable, “Death to Kamenei!” The story sheds light on how technology acted as a catalyst in this revolt. In spite of using spyware provided from a major cellphone maker and slowing Internet speed to a snail’s pace, the authorities were unable to keep up with the transfer of information and images through new technology and social media.

Although many readers will find the rape and torture difficult to stomach, this part of the story must nevertheless be told. The more people become aware of rape and torture, the greater the likelihood that one day they will take a stand against these acts. Besides, as we've learned from the press, rape and torture are also perpetrated by Western governments.

Death to the Dictator! reads like a true account; however, in addition to a few structural problems, the English was somewhat stilted, which did interfere with the flow of the story and led me to believe that this book was released prematurely, perhaps to commemorate the one-year anniversary. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in knowing more about one Iranian’s experience during this tumultuous time then you will enjoy this book.

This review was cross-posted at Elevate Difference.

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