The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran
In The Lonely War, Fathi interweaves her story with that of the country she left behind, showing how Iran is locked in a battle between hardliners and reformers that dates back to the country’s 1979 revolution. Fathi was nine years old when that uprising replaced the Iranian shah with a radical Islamic regime. Her father, an official at a government ministry, was fired for wearing a necktie and knowing English; to support his family he was forced to labor in an orchard hundreds of miles from Tehran. At the same time, the family’s destitute, uneducated housekeeper was able to retire and purchase a modern apartment—all because her family supported the new regime.
As Fathi shows, changes like these caused decades of inequality—especially for the poor and for women—to vanish overnight. Yet a new breed of tyranny took its place, as she discovered when she began her journalistic career. Fathi quickly confronted the upper limits of opportunity for women in the new Iran and earned the enmity of the country’s ruthless intelligence service. But while she and many other Iranians have fled for the safety of the West, millions of their middleclass countrymen—many of them the same people whom the regime once lifted out of poverty—continue pushing for more personal freedoms and a renewed relationship with the outside world.
Drawing on over two decades of reporting and extensive interviews with both ordinary Iranians and high-level officials before and since her departure, Fathi describes Iran’s awakening alongside her own, revealing how moderates are steadily retaking the country.
Trapp’s seven children. We ran around the pool and sang “Do do doshab Nakhabidam, Re rooyeh mahat didam,” meaning, “I did not sleep for two nights, until I saw your beautiful face.” The rest of the song rhymed with Julie Andrews’s “Doe a deer, a female deer, Ray a drop of golden sun,” but was a diﬀerent lyric in Persian. We weren’t deprived of Western movies for long. By the mid-1980s, ﬁrst-run American movies were arriving in Iran soon after they opened in the United States. But because of the
another helicopter returned the body in a metal coﬃn. By the end of the day, eight people had been crushed to death. These were the masses that Khomeini had galvanized; for them his word had been law, but now without him no one could control them. The foreign radio stations my father listened to, Israel Radio, the VOA, and the BBC, constantly proclaimed that the Islamic Republic was faced with a crisis: no one was able to replace him. He’d embodied the power that he had amassed as one individual,
their brothers, husbands, or fathers, and the judge exploded at Kar for her transgression. “How dare you speak to a strange man in my court,” he yelled. “Get the hell out or I’ll have you 146 The Lonely War kicked out.” She resigned as the man’s lawyer but continued her work on behalf of other clients. Her subsequent victories in Islamic courts would make her the most popular lawyer among defendants on death row. The third pioneering activist is Shahla Lahiji. A publisher, she publishes books
and I already knew that her name was on the “death list”—an ominous list of eighty dissidents and public ﬁgures (including the four victims of the chain murders) that I had received via fax, as had many other journalists. Many activists, she said, had locked themselves in their homes, feeling vulnerable and helpless. Along with ﬁfty other intellectuals, Ebadi had written a letter to Khatami, appealing to him to use his power as president to ﬁnd the murderers. She advised me to carry my cell phone
eventually forced the king to cancel the tobacco concession he had granted to Great Britain. (Golestan Palace Collection) Reza Shah, the founder of Pahlavi dynasty, and his five children. The British forced Reza Shah from his throne in 1941. His eldest son, the future Mohammad Reza Shah, stands second from left. (Etelaat) The author in 1978. I wore T-shirts and shorts before the revolution, and was free to swim in the pool at our housing complex. (Author’s collection) After the 1979