PEN WORLD VOICES
Car Bombs on the West Side, Journalists Uptown
Times Square is Evacuated in Bomb Scare.
There it was, a headline on my computer screen and on the front page of the newspaper that sat on a table in the PEN World Voices hospitality suite at the Roger Smith Hotel at 49th and Lexington, a few blocks east of Times Square.
A sultry Spring into Summer weekend. Crowds of people wandering the streets of mid and uptown Manhattan. On Union Square at 14th Street, protesters hold signs that read, “Boycott Arizona.” Near the Hudson River, another group, “Stop Offshore Drilling.”
Later, after the Taliban claimed responsibility for the car bomb in Times Square, Executive Editor, Kim Nagy and I found ourselves in the dimly lit Florence Gould Auditorium on East 59th Street where Canadian-Iranian documentary filmmaker and journalist Maziar Bahari reunited with The Daily Show’s Jason Jones.
In June of 2009, Jones and the Daily Show crew traveled to Iran to conduct a series of satirical interviews, one of which was with Bahari. After Iran’s Presidential election sparked protest and violence followed, Jones’s interview landed Bahari in Tehran’s Evin Prison. There, Bahari was interrogated, tortured and held captive for 118 days.
PEN World Voices Festival Freedom to Write Program and the Committee to Protect Journalists had reunited Bahari and Jones to discuss Bahari’s arrest. Jones began in the manner Daily Show fans expect: deadpan, ironic, there’s a joke in this somewhere and we’re going to find it.
There were plenty of jokes in what followed. But the deeper message couldn’t have been more serious. According to Larry Seems, Director of PEN’s Freedom to Write Program, Iran remains the world’s leading jailer of journalists. There are currently 60 writers, journalists and artists behind bars, and hundreds more who have been arrested and interrogated.
“It’s great to continue a conversation that began in coffee shop in Iran,” began Jones, as if that coffee shop might be across the street from the New York theater. “Maziar is an Iranian born Canadian documentary filmmaker who works for Newsweek. Tell the audience about yourself.”
Bahari fell easily into the banter. In fact, he told his story as he if was a reporter reporting about the ordeal of a man named Maziar Bahari. “I was arrested after the disputed elections in June, imprisoned for 118 days and released because of an international campaign. And so I am now an international celebrity.”
In what would become a balancing act between serious history and theater of the absurd, Jones urged Bahari to give some context to the violence that erupted after the elections last June.
“Basically in Iran since 1905 (Persian Constitutional Revolution), a gap appeared between educated pro-Western Democracy elite and the general population who followed a more traditional way of life. But this gap was narrow and it eventually resulted in the 1979 revolution against the Shah. That was when Iranian people started to demand more rights, such as freedom of expression, of the press…But the government that came out of the revolution regarded people as part of a United Muslim Nation – not a Democracy – meaning the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah, had power over the people in the way the Pope has power over the Catholic church.
But education and exposure to outside information via the Internet began a new movement where there was no place in the culture for a dictatorship. Before last June’s election, the Ayatollah and his revolutionary guards were planning how to counter what they saw as a potential uprising. At the same time many people, in urban areas and even in smaller towns were demanding their rights. They were ashamed after four years of President Ahmadinejad – They didn’t want him denying such things as the Holocaust.”
According to Bahari, many people in Iran chose the more moderate Moussavi as their candidate. But,” he continued. “Ahmadinejad has ‘street smarts.’ Much of Iran is rural and even in a big city like Tehran, people come from the countryside and live on the outskirts of the city. They need basic services. Ahmadinejad promised and delivered water, food, electricity. The fear of losing these services influenced the vote.”
Jones brought up the point that his original interview with Bahari was intended as comedy, and that the Revolutionary Guard who arrested Bahari should have known that. “They aren’t stupid people,” he said. “We have a laugh track on our show.”
“Whenever you are isolated and you don’t know about other people and what’s going on outside of your country that makes you stupid even though you have a high IQ,” said Bahari. “Those were my interrogators. They don’t know The Daily Show, and they didn’t know who you were.”
“But they have Google,” said Jones.
“I don’t know what happened exactly,” said Bahari. “But more than my appearance on your show, they were angry about the fact that I talked about values that Iran and America had in common. My interrogator was fascinated with New Jersey.”
“The ultimate American destination,” added Jones.
“According to them, you want to create a New Jersey kind of Islam with naked women and Michael Jackson music. It was so bizarre to have this mixture of Jon Bon Jovi and Atlantic City and the CIA. I think my interrogator had a fascination with the name, New Jersey. He didn’t know a lot about the West. Worse, he had these misleading views. He was also fascinated with sex and went through all my Facebook emails. He asked me if I had sex with all of the women. Some of whom were Nobel laureates.
He was beating me and saying why don’t you just write your confession – it’s just you who are suffering – write something and confess and you will be out of here. Lot of things they tired to charge me with ignorance and malice.
I am a member of two Facebook fan pages – Pauly Shore and Anton Chekhov He asked me about Pauly Shore. Who is Pauly Shore? He is a comedian, I say, and he says, everyone you know seems to be comedian, I will investigate. And then he asked me about Anton Chekhov.
“Who’s Anton Chekhov?”
I say, a Russian playwright.
“What did he write about?”
“Existential stories taking place on dachas outside of Russia.”
“Was he a Jew?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t think so, although I may be wrong.”
“He sounds like a Zionist to me. I’m going to investigate.”
After that, they didn’t ask me about any of my friends who had the surname ov. I have a friend Shempov and they didn’t ask me about him. Checkov, Shempov, whatever.”
In answer to a question from the audience, Bahari gave a hint into how, after so much press, a regime might endure.
“I don’t think that all the Iranian people hate the regime,” he said. “This form of government still has the biggest support among the biggest groups in Iran. You have to see that it doesn’t matter if people like the regime or not. The silent majority does not want change. Usually people who have been through so much turbulence want to have peace and security. But, I think this process will come to fruition. Imagine this: In Russia Nikita Krushchev came to power in 1954 and the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. I don’t know when change will happen and the silent majority will speak, but I am hopeful that they will.”
Maziar Bahari is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. He is a reporter for Newsweek. Bahari was imprisoned by the Iranian government in June 2009 and released on bail October 20, 2009. Bahari has written for The New York Times, New Statesman and the Guardian. His films have been shown on HBO, BBC, and Channel 4, among others.
Jason Jones, a correspondent for The Daily Show, is an actor and comedian.
In 2006, Joy E. Stocke founded Wild River Review with Kimberly Nagy, an outgrowth of the literary magazine, The Bucks County Writer, of which Stocke was Editor in Chief. In 2009, as their editorial practice grew, Stocke and Nagy founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC.
With more than twenty-five years experience as a writer and journalist, Stocke works with many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
In addition, Stocke has shepherded numerous writers into print. She has interviewed Nobel Prize winners Orhan Pamuk and Muhammud Yunus, Pulitzer Prizewinner Paul Muldoon, Paul Holdengraber, host of LIVE from the NYPL; Roshi Joan Halifax, founder of Upaya Zen Center; anthropologist and expert on end of life care, Mary Catherine Bateson; Ivonne Baki, President of the Andean Parliament; and Templeton Prizewinner Freeman Dyson among others.
In 2006, along with Nagy, Stocke interviewed scientists and artists including former Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman and Dean of Faculty, David P. Dobkin for the documentary Quark Park, chronicling the creation of an award-winning park built on a vacant lot in the heart of Princeton, New Jersey; a park that united art, science and community.
She is president of the Board of Directors at the Cabo Pulmo Learning Center, Cabo Pulmo, Baja Sur, Mexico; and is a member of the Turkish Women’s International Network.
In addition, Stocke has written extensively about her travels in Greece and Turkey. Her memoir, Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses & Saints, based on more than ten years of travel through Turkey, co-written with Angie Brenner was published in March 2012. Her cookbook, Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking will be published in March, 2017 by Quarto Books under the Burgess Lea Press imprint . Stocke and Brenner are currently testing recipes for a companion book, which will feature Anatolian-inspired mezes from around the world.
Stocke’s essay “Turkish American Food” appears in the 2nd edition of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (OUP, 2013). The volume won both International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) for Beverage/Reference/Technical category, 2014; and the Gourmand Award for the Best Food Book of the Year, 2014.
She is the author of a bi-lingual book of poems, Cave of the Bear, translated into Greek by Lili Bita based on her travels in Western Crete, and is currently researching a book about the only hard-finger coral reef in Mexico on the Baja Sur Peninsula. She has been writing about environmental issues there since 2011.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism from the Agriculture Journalism School where she also received a minor of Food Science, she participated in the Lindisfarne Symposium on The Evolution of Consciousness with cultural philosopher, poet and historian, William Irwin Thompson. In 2009, she became a Lindisfarne Fellow.
Works by Joy E. Stocke in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
COLUMNS – THE MYSTIC PEN
FOOD & DRINK – ANATOLIAN KITCHEN
FREYMAN & PETERSON- Your Life is a Book: How to Craft and Publish Your Memoir
LITERATURE – BOOK REVIEWS
LITERATURE – ESSAYS
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
The Euphoria of Ignorance: Being Jewish, Becoming Jewish, The Paradox of Being Carlo Ginzburg
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
Paul Holdengraber – The Afterlife of Conversation
2013 – Three Questions: Festival Director Jakab Orsos talks about Art, Bravery, and Sonia Sotomayor
Critical Minds, Social Revolution: Egyptian Activist Nawal El Saadawi
INTERVIEW – Laszlo Jakab Orsos: Written on Water
Tonight We Rest Here: An Interview with Poet Saadi Youssef
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
On the High Line: Diamonds on the Soles of Our Shoes
Car Bombs on the West Side, Journalists Uptown
New York City – Parade of Illuminations: Behind the Scenes with Festival Director Jakab Orsos
The Pen Cabaret 2008: Bowery Ballroom — Featuring..
Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library Composing a Further Life: with Mary Catherine Bateson
WRR@LARGE: From the Editors – UP THE CREEK
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 1
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 2.5
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 3.3
Up the Creek: Number 4.4
Up the Creek: Beautiful Solutions
Up the Creek: Blind Faith, July 2009
Up the Creek: Create Dangerously
Up the Creek: What Price Choice?
Up the Creek: Before and After: September 11, 2001
Up the Creek: Candle in a Long Street
Up the Creek: Crossing Cultures: Transcending History
Up the Creek: Man in the Mirror; A Map of the World
Up the Creek: Stories and the Shape of Time
Up the Creek: The Divine Road To Istanbul
Up the Creek: What It Means to Yearn
WRR@LARGE – WILD COVERAGE
UNESCO World Heritage Site Under Threat of Mega-Devlopment Sparks International Protests
The Other Side Of Abu Ghraib — Part One: The Detainees’ Quest For Justice
The Other Side of Abu Ghraib – Part Two: The Yoga Teacher Goes to Istanbul