03 July 2004

Naipaul on Punishing the Bourgeoisie

Ali was arrested by the revolutionary court in Kerman. A number of charges were made against him: strengthening the royal régime, grabbing millions of square meters of people's land, exporting billions of U.S. dollars, directing a failed coup d'état against the government, directing an antirevolutionary organization. The accusations were not specific; they were formal, standard accusations, and they were made against many people.

Ali said, "In the Kerman area, if you are a little active everybody knows you. I was very active before the revolution. I was known. I was a little Shah, the symbol of power there. When they set up a branch of the revolutionary court in that city they came after people like me. The Guards were all from rural backgrounds. They have their own special accent. They were very young, and happy with their trigger. Many of them later died in the war. I would say that there was a mixture of forty percent mujahidin, and sixty percent Muslim groups. The mujahidin, Marxists, had infiltrated the revolutionary courts from the very beginning. They didn't identify themselves; they pretended to be Muslim."

Ali could identify the mujahidin and the Muslims, because he, too, was pretending: he was pretending to be a Muslim revolutionary. "My life was in danger, and I had to make friendship with them regardless." Very soon Ali discovered a third group who had infiltrated both the mujahidin and the Muslims. "They were people who simply wanted to grab some money for themselves. But they acted Islamic." And they in their turn soon understood that Ali was also acting, and he was not a Muslim revolutionary. "These people became friends of mine because they knew I had money, and they told me gradually what is going on in the court, and who is who."

Ali was arrested many times and held for four or five days. Once he was held for six months. The revolutionary prison was an old factory shed that had been divided up. There were a few cells for people being kept in solitary confinement; two big compounds for social prisoners, people like opium smugglers and thieves; and a big cell for political prisoners. Ali was put at first in a solitary cell, one yard wide by two and a half yards long, with only half an hour a day outside to go to the toilet and wash. The first day he read a sentence on the wall written by somebody before him: The prisoner will eventually be released, but the prison-keeper will be forever in the prison.

"And that was an encouraging sentence because it told me that the man before me had been released. Even now, after fifteen years, though I have been released for so many years, and have been so free to go on so many journeys anywhere in the world, and I have gone and enjoyed myself, even now, when I have certain things to do, and I go to the prison in that area, although the place has changed, and the prison is not the factory shed, I still see some of the prison-keepers there. So they are the prisoners. Not us. They were the prisoners."

Some of the Revolutionary Guards in the factory-shed prison introduced themselves to Ali. He found out that they were the sons of laborers who had worked for him in his building projects.

They said to him, "In the past you wouldn't look at us. You were so proud. Now you are behind bars here and we have to feed you. Allah ho akbar! God is so great!"

They went and told their fathers about Ali, and to their surprise their fathers said that they should do everything in their power to help Ali, because in the past Ali had helped them by giving them jobs.

"And those boys helped me a lot. They didn't have a lot of power, but they could tell me things. They could post letters and bring letters from my wife. They would give me the best quarters in the prison and give me the best food."
SOURCE: Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples (Vintage, 1998), pp. 175-176

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