Maziar Bahari on the Clueless 'Mr. Rosewater'
The image above might or might not be from Evin Prison, for it isn't explicitly identified, nor is the photographer named, but it accompanies a report titled "Inside Evin Prison" on a certain man (called "Reza") who was arrested in Iran during the protests earlier this year, and its stark perspective appealed to me, for the isolation imposed on the prisoner depicted from above mirrors the intellectual isolation of his captors, as we learn from a different report, this one from Newsweek and written by that magazine's reporter Maziar Bahari, who was arrested and interrogated in Evin Prison for "118 Days, 12 Hours, 54 Minutes" (November 30, 2009).
The following exchange between Mr. Bahari and his interrogator -- whom he had mentally designated as "Mr Rosewater" because he smelled of the "rosewater perfume used by men who piously do their ablutions several times a day before prayers, but rarely shower" -- took place on June 22, 2009 at around 4 a.m., during which Mr. Rosewater wanted to be told about a dinner that Mr. Bahari had attended with eight other journalists and photographers the month before in Tehran, a meeting that Mr. Rosewater apparently believed had planned the recent mass protests in Iran:
"You are part of a very American network, Mr. Bahari," he said, as if summing up his case in a courtroom. "Let me correct myself: you are in charge of a secret American network, a group that includes those who came to that dinner party."Mr. Rosewater's obsession with "New Jersey," as if it were the intellectual center of some sort of impure 'American' Islam, betrays the smallminded isolation of the Iranian regime. An important interrogator like Mr. Rosewater querying an important prisoner like Mr. Bahari over . . . "New Jersey," and pausing, as if he knew some dark secret about the place. He's sure that something is going on in New Jersey because the women go unveiled there . . . in New Jersey.
"It was just a dinner," I murmured.
"Yes. A very American dinner. It could have happened in . . . New Jersey, or someplace like that." He paused. "Your own New Jersey in Tehran."
The strangeness of the accusation was unsettling. New Jersey?
"You've been to New Jersey, haven't you, Mr. Bahari?" The thought seemed to infuriate him, and I was struck by the feeling that for some reason he might have wanted, secretly, to go to New Jersey himself. The worst thing that can happen in any encounter with Islamic Republic officials is for them to think that you're looking down on them.
"It's not a particularly nice place," I said, trying to sound conversational.
"I don't care. But it is as godless as what you wanted to create in this country."
"I'm sorry. I don't understand."
"You were planning to eradicate the pure religion of Muhammad in this country and replace it with 'American' Islam. A New Jersey Islam." He was building his case, and my responses were irrelevant. "Tell me," he said, "did any of the women at the dinner party have their veils on?"
"Then don't tell me that you didn't have a secret American network. A New Jersey network."
I'm somehow reminded of the childhood ditty that goes on about a "place in France where the women wear no pants" -- and we children probably knew as much about the real France as Mr. Rosewater knows about the real New Jersey.
We were clueless, but we were just children. Mr. Rosewater and his ilk are clueless men with power . . .