June 2013

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Captive in Illiteracy

A review of Captive in Iran by Maryam Rostampour & Marziyeh Amirizadeh

by Devon Hickle

It could be a monument to the sincerity of the work, perhaps if one were inclined to share the beliefs of the authors and not care for literacy, or a tick off the writing and story-telling to the more literate, to know that within the first fifty pages of the book I had at least every other page dog-eared for notes for this review. More than I can say for most other books I choose to write about. This book was given to me by an acquaintance after a debate I was invited to participate in. In my town, where I can make at least a small claim of recognition, my contempt for the religious is well known, partly from published letters and partly from public rhetoric. An audience member from the debate, a week afterwards, had mailed this book, Captive in Iran, to a friend we shared in common and inscribed a letter to myself as well as a note in the book addressing the book to myself from him, and writing under that, “on the opposite way of thinking.” Perhaps he had preferred to think that as an atheist I would have no interest in the affairs of a system I thought so lowly of. I should however thank him (he will continue to be unnamed), as I would admittedly have not stumbled upon this book, or if I had, would not be terribly inclined to read it. I do not mean to say this is in any way a good book, it is, as Gore Vidal had written about a certain Indian Spiritualist novelist, a book that is much harder to read than it must have been to write. Take for instance this paragraph written by Marziyeh Amirizadeh, the eldest of the two authors,

What a day! On the surface, our situation was a complete disaster; but in another way, it was an incredible blessing. In a sense, we had been preparing for this day for a long time. First separately, and then together, we had spent years working to share the truth about Jesus in country where evangelizing Muslims was punishable by death.

If one can ignore the campiness of that first exclamation, one must then move on to read a claim that is markedly subjective and ignorant of fairly recent history. Perhaps the authors are against any school indoctrination, though one would be hard-pressed to find that opinion in the works. The younger of the two, Maryam Rostampour continues in the next paragraph to say, “We grew up in a country that indoctrinates children in the state religion from the youngest ages, when they are most impressionable.” At their age, if they had grown up in England, they likely would have had the same experience only from a different state religion, the Anglican Church. One must wonder whether their objections would be the same. Or, in the same circumstance, perhaps if they had seen the light of Allah while being taught in a state-sponsored Christian school, the book would very well have been written for Muslims at the expense of Christians.

To the more biblically literate, (which I am inclined to believe this book is not catered towards, it can be accepted this book is for the lay-reader, but that makes little excuse for the poor story-telling) a few suspicions should arise when reading Amirizadeh’s references to dreams that led to her “conversion” (neither of the authors make any claim to having been converted, they somehow knew before they knew that they were Christians.) A portion worth quoting in length, Amirizadeh on her dream,

Even before I found Christ, I was certain that God spoke to me in dreams. In one dream, I was praying toward the sky when it opened up and a white horse came down and spoke to me: “Sit on my back,” it said. When I obeyed, the horse took me to a city where worshipers coming out of a mosque were performing the Islamic Ashura and Tasua ceremonies, mournful chanting and self-beating. At first, they couldn’t see me or the horse. But suddenly they appeared to change into wild animals with savage features…. As soon as I saw them, they could also see me and tried to kill me. The horse ran like the wind to save me. As I held fast to its neck, I felt its love pouring into me with a power and purity I had never known.

This Revelations-esque dream should arise some suspicion, if not sceptisism, certainly to those who held and disseminated New Testaments like illegal paraphernalia. The White Horse, in the book of Revelations (which came to the author-not John-in a dream) represents conquering. It is the first of four horsemen of the apocalypse, followed by false peace, famine, and then death. Why should the horse be running away? Why not, in her dream, go forth and conquer as the horse is prophesized to do? God does work in mysterious ways, but so do dreams.

Ms. Rostampour, writing of a trip back to Tehran with three-thousand accurate and modern New Testaments (emphasis my own for the sake of irony), faced ahead of them a bridge where police were stopping to search cars for a reason that is not given. They prayed for some intervention, and “at that moment, a fight broke out between the police and a driver one or two cars ahead of us,” which evidently was enough to occupy the entirety of the police population there allowing the cars to pass undisturbed. When a single party claims that intervention was made in their favour, it tends to ignore those whom that intervention was likely very bad for, or what factors may have led up to the events for other parties. It is unlikely that the man in the car found any solace in that God had to intervene, at the sacrifice of a certainly unwilling participant, for the sake proselytizing.

I have little doubt of the sincerity of the authors; however this book holds little, if any, information worth storing in one’s hippocampus. The authors tend to ignore, for the sake emphasizing the opposite, that Christians were not the only ones being prosecuted for their faith. The Kurdish and Jews shared the same prosecution, and probably had it worse than many Christians in Iran, certainly under Hussein’s regime. One may also have the sneaking suspicion while reading the book that it ignored, or simply had no knowledge of Christian theocracies that would do, have done, and do impose the same laws the Muslim theocracies, and the authors certainly give no reason to suspect they would be against those who promulgate the Christian nation.