What does it imply to belong? For Jason Rezaian, the Washington Submit reporter who was imprisoned in Iran for 544 days on spurious fees of espionage, that query is difficult. Rezaian, an Iranian-American, holds the file for longest imprisonment of a Western journalist by Iran. He explores this dichotomy of affection for a rustic and disgrace for its actions — notably after his arrest and imprisonment — in his new memoir, Prisoner.
He was born in america to an Iranian father and a white Midwestern mom. Like many children within the Iranian diaspora, he grew to become used to straddling two warring cultural identities, notably rising up within the 1970s and ’80s. On the time, there was an more and more fractious relationship between the U.S. and Iran — one which was exacerbated by the 1979 hostage disaster.
“I’ve at all times felt you can be an American of any sort of background, and that’s going to be roughly supported by the American plenty,” Rezaian instructed me. “I don’t assume the identical is true of a hyphenated Iranian. I feel that the folks of Iran that I encountered every day in all of the years that I lived there accepted me as by some means Iranian … however by some means not.”
Prisoner is a harrowing, darkish and surprisingly humorous learn. He and his spouse, journalist Yeganeh Salehi, have been arrested in 2014, not lengthy after they appeared on Anthony Bourdain’s CNN present, “Elements Unknown.” Armed safety brokers of the Iranian regime collared Rezaian within the parking storage of his Tehran house and arrested him and Salehi. (In one other revealing second emphasizing a way of placelessness, he admits that his Farsi wasn’t fairly ok to know when his captor instructed him he was being arrested.)
Right here, the couple’s tales diverge. Rezaian was transferred to the infamous Evin jail, separated from his spouse. His imprisonment started with 49 days of solitary confinement, which he describes as a “residing grave,” and after a closed-door trial, culminated a number of hundred days later in a dramatic U.S.-led diplomatic effort to launch them.
The lingering sense of disgrace and love for the Iran he depicts — even after his imprisonment — resonated with me deeply. I’m British-Iranian, and residing with that twin identification can continuously be uncomfortable, notably when the Islamic Republic transgresses. In Prisoner, Rezaian tells a narrative that completely encapsulates this: His father, a rug salesman in San Francisco, gave a $1,000 rug to every of the freed U.S. Embassy hostages, with a certificates that basically mentioned, “As an American, I welcome you dwelling — and as an Iranian, I’m so sorry for all that you simply endured in my dwelling nation.”
I assumed I had a chance to go there and inform a extra nuanced story of this place.
Rezaian’s want to replicate the fact of individuals in Iran — away from the narrative about it introduced by Western media and the Islamic Republic itself — was, he mentioned, one of many motivating elements for transferring there as a contract reporter within the late 2000s.
“I assumed I had a chance to go there and inform a extra nuanced story of this place. It’s a large nation, 80 million folks. And admittedly, the Islamic Republic has performed a greater job of anyone at making a unfavorable picture of its nation and its folks,” he mentioned, referring to the “Loss of life to America” rallies held usually. “However I assumed to myself, ‘If I can go there and I can spend a while there, I can inform a extra full image.’”
Many Iranian-Individuals prefer to level out that there’s a stark distinction between the Iranian folks and the Islamic Republic regime. After I requested Rezaian about the truth that the system is run by folks (individuals who subjected him to psychological torture that he mentioned made him really feel he was being “damaged down right into a scared animal”), he was reflective. “I feel that in the event you don’t consider that individuals are malleable and in the event you don’t consider that individuals can develop and may change and will be re-educated — or educated, on this case — then you definitely can be rather more inclined to consider that there’s no hope and we simply need to do no matter we are able to to topple the present state of affairs,” he mentioned.
He has since filed a lawsuit in opposition to Iran for damages of $1 billion — a transfer he mentioned he undertook partially to discourage the nation from imprisoning journalists and hostages once more. Regardless of his therapy by the Iranian authorities, he’s crucial of the Trump administration’s dismantling of the nuclear deal and rejecting any transfer towards diplomatic rapprochement.
And in contrast to these murmuring of regime change, at numerous occasions floated by the likes of nationwide safety adviser John Bolton, Rezaian is adamant that Iran’s future ought to be decided by the Iranian folks. “I prefer to consider that there’s at all times some hope. It’s what bought me by a yr and a half in jail and different troublesome issues in my life,” he mentioned. “I used to be any individual who typically, for a very long time, promoted the notion of people-to-people contact between Iran and america. I nonetheless promote that. However I can’t advise folks to go to Iran anymore.”