WORLD

‘WHATEVER I WRITE IS POLITICAL’

An Iranian-Canadian poet gets silenced by the censors back home

MICHAEL PETROU September 3 2007
WORLD

‘WHATEVER I WRITE IS POLITICAL’

An Iranian-Canadian poet gets silenced by the censors back home

MICHAEL PETROU September 3 2007

‘WHATEVER I WRITE IS POLITICAL’

An Iranian-Canadian poet gets silenced by the censors back home

MICHAEL PETROU

Saghi Ghahraman doesn’t seem dangerous. The Iranian-Canadian poet is soft-spoken and writes about sex, rather than advocating violent insurrection. Yet earlier this month, one of Iran’s leading reformist newspapers, Shargh, was shut down after it published an interview with her.

Ghahraman, who escaped Iran as a refugee in the early 1980s, is gay and is one of the founders of the Iranian Queer Organization, a group that works to help Iranian homosexuals—both inside Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death, and in countries to which Iranian gays have fled. “The main reason for the ban was an interview with a counter-revolutionary who promotes immorality,” Alireza Malekian, director of press in the culture ministry, told the state-controlled

Islamic Republic News Agency. Kayhan, a hardline daily edited by an appointee of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, chimed in to describe Ghahraman as possessing “a sick sexual identity,” “dissident views” and a “porno-personality.” Shargh published a front-page apology. Iran’s religious judiciary will now decide its fate.

Ghahraman, 50, who now lives in Toronto, does not dispute at least one of the charges levelled against her. “A counter-revolutionary? Well, I am. Because I don’t believe in this [Islamic] revolution,” she told Maclean’s. “They think differently than I do. When they talk about me as a whore, this is how they think. It doesn’t bother me as a person. But when they call a woman who thinks freely a whore, it hurts every woman in my country. I have to explain the whole issue. I have to explain what a whore is, what a woman is, and what is my right to be a whore and not to be a respected woman. They only allow me to be a respected woman, and this is not my choice.”

Ghahraman says she did not promote homosexuality in her interview with Shargh. Instead, she talked about poetry and the links between gender and language. But Ghahraman says that in Iran, sexuality and even poetry are not divorced from politics. “Whatever I write is political. The issues I’m involved with are political. Gay and lesbian and women’s issues are political,” she says. “Don’t forget that I am from Iran, and my culture always comes with having a cause. It’s an identity. Just as my homosexuality is my identity, my being a poet is my identity. You can be hurt by that, and you can be happy by it.”

Ghahraman’s poetry, written in Persian and in English, is smuggled into Iran or is downloaded-there on the Internet. She has never been back to the country of her birth but still feels a bond with the people who live there. “I believe in what I write,” she says. “I believe I write both good poetry and that what I say is important. So people who read it, who understand it, and people who think it is important, I feel a connection with. I feel they understand me, and they understand the issues. They understand the importance of the issues I challenge.” M