For a lesson in the power of artists to shake despots, consider the Iranian poet Simin Behbahani. The Islamic Republic four years ago imposed a travel ban on her in retaliation for poems she'd written denouncing Tehran's crackdown on the 2009 Green uprising.
She was 82 and nearly blind, yet she was barred from boarding a France-bound plane and interrogated through the night in March 2010. Behbahani died Tuesday from respiratory illness.
Behbahani's poems are routinely memorized and quoted in Iran. "In more than a thousand years of Iranian literature, it is unprecedented for a woman to have reached this level of national recognition during her lifetime," notes her English translator, Farzaneh Milani, in an essay on Behbahani's work. She was popularly dubbed the "Lioness of Iran."
Born in 1927 in Tehran, at the dawn of the Pahlavi dynasty, she published her first poem at age 14. Persian poetry was at the time undergoing a revolution of sorts, and Behbahani eventually came to lead its vanguard, alongside the likes of Nima Yooshij, Sohrab Sepehri and Forough Farrokhzad.
In their work, idyllic wineries and star-crossed lovers were replaced by serious social and psychological themes and portraits of everyday life. [...]
Behbahani's most-beloved ghazal, widely anthologized in the West, was published soon after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
"My Country, I Will Build You Again" expressed the fragile optimism of a nation still convinced that it had just staged a democratic revolt—not one to usher in a new Islamist dark age. Its opening couplet:
My country, I will build you again,
If need be, with bricks made from my life.
A tip of the hat then to Simin Behbahani, another "Unacknowledged Legislator."
Read the whole fine article by Ahmari "in" the Wall Street Journal HERE.