Judging from the books that cross my desk, the Iran-Iraq war is still going on (for those losing track, that was the one that started in 1980 when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran thinking he could capitalize on the turmoil in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution. It officially ended in 1988). There are entire publishing concerns in Iran which produce nothing but memoirs and biographies of martyrs, or Iranian soldiers who died in the conflict (a term not exclusive to Iran. Turkey uses it and Russia, too, apparently. Probably lots of others. Frustratingly, there is no Library of Congress subject heading which accurately captures the meaning). There are military analyses of the various battles. Laudatory poetry. Children’s books, complete with Aladdin-era Disney-style cartoons, explaining why Father never came home and why that’s ultimately a good thing.
The people who control the memory of the war have a very specific message they want to promote. It goes like this: “The war was just. We were attacked and everything that happened subsequently was justified in the name of defending Iran and in the name of God. Those who died did so willingly and even cheerfully, knowing they serving God’s cause and would soon be in His presence.” You see it in the books. You see it in the giant banners carrying images of young martyrs that hang in Tehran. I don’t think it’s likely there will be an Iranian A Rumor of War or All Quiet on the Western Front published in Iran any time soon, but if I’ve missed something, write in and tell me.
The following passage is a will written by an 18 year old martyr, a member of the Basij, the mostly volunteer force noted for adopting the “human wave” tactic of literally overwhelming the enemy with stacks of their own dead bodies as they rushed the enemy line. These days we see them telling women how to dress in the street and fighting college students. It comes from a collection that ran some thirteen thick volumes long, complete with photos, facsimiles of the original documents, and, thankfully, a typed transcription. Some of the wills were very formal, several page-long typed documents. This one, like many others, was scrawled on a piece of notebook paper. The author was young and earnest. In the space of these three or four short paragraphs, the editor corrected nine spelling errors. It caught my attention because of the appeal to his family members. It just sounded very much like an eighteen year old kid trying to justify himself to his mom. We’ve all been there.
[A couple of notes: vilayat-i faqih is usually translated as “guardianship of the jurisprudent.” I know, right? Want some dressing on that word salad? Books have been written, if you want more clarification. Here, it basically means Ayatollah Khomeini.
That phrase “the hope of Islam lives for the sake of us all” is literally
امید اسلام در روی فرشی به نام موکت زندگی میکند
If anyone has seen this phrase before, please write in and explain (“lives on the carpet in the name of the rug?” Seriously, what? One of those famous Persian idioms, I’m hoping).
“Prayer is the weapon of the believer, the pillar of religion and the light of the heavens and the earth.
Greetings to the great leader of the revolution, the Imam of the people and peace upon the martyrs.
My message for the nation that fosters the martyrs is this: follow the path of the vilayat-i faqih and do not abandon the Imam for a single moment. I glory in the fact that my leader, my Imam, the hope of Islam lives for the sake of us all. I give thanks that the whole world loves my leader. I give thanks that I have a leader such as him and one soul is too few to sacrifice to further him along his path, which is the path of Islam. I wish I had many lives to sacrifice for Islam.
And I have a message for my mother. My dear mother, don’t worry about me. Maybe I will ask a favor for you when I stand before God. And Father, do not be sad that your child has sacrificed himself in the name of Islam. You, too, must give thanks that you have had such a son.
And you, my wife, I thank. Thank you for your help. I hope that you follow the Imam in spreading Zaynab’s* message to all the oppressed. May God protect Islam.
And to my brothers I say “Follow the Imam and make his words your deeds, just as he does.” And to the sisters: “My sisters, you must glory in the fact that you gave your brother in the cause of Islam.” The only path is the path of the Imam, vilayat-i faqih, faqih, faqih.”
وصیتنامۀ کامل شهدا / واحد انتشارات آثار و اسناد شهدا و ایثارگران ؛ تنظیم و تصحیح دکتر منوچهر اکبری
تهران : نشر شاهد, 1390
*The Prophet Muhammad’s eldest daughter
The photo is by Kaveh Golestan: