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Have the Worms in the Cesspit Started to Eat Each Other?

January 16, 2021
Firouz Farzani
3 min read
Ayatollah Mahmoud Amjad criticized Iran’s Supreme Leader and called for the overhaul of the Islamic system
Ayatollah Mahmoud Amjad criticized Iran’s Supreme Leader and called for the overhaul of the Islamic system

Over the past four decades in Iran, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, there have been periodic waves of hope that the regime was capable of reform.

In the early 1980s, I met many older people whose lives had been turned upside down by the Revolution.  But they insisted that the fledging theocracy could not last. And they would point to certain figures within the new power structure whom, they were sure, would lead Iran back to stability and sanity.

Young people at the time, fired up by overheated revolutionary rhetoric, allied themselves with one faction or another. They believed that reform was just a question of supporting the right group taking power for a better – fairer, smarter, kinder, socialist; insert whatever adjective you like – government to emerge.

As we now know, tens of thousands of Iranians, young and old, have paid the price for backing the wrong faction. They were tortured, jailed, executed, hanged or forced to recant their political beliefs. And those who survived have had to live with humiliation and pain for the rest of their lives.

We saw another wave of hope, then mass disillusionment and punishment after the 2009 presidential election.

Many Iranians – including old revolutionaries who had fallen out of favor with the regime, religious leaders and dissidents – have left the country to save their own skins.

And still the regime lives on. Under pressure, certainly; forced into spasms of repression when discontent gets out of hand; but still very much in control.

Back in the 1980s, as the war between Iran and Iraq was taking its devastating toll, I argued with people who believed that the “mullocracy” – the rule of the mullahs – would soon fall.

At the time, a certain balding, middle-aged man was in charge of producing farces and fables for the state television broadcaster. I do not remember his name, which is perhaps fortunate because what I am about to tell you could be costly for him, if he is still kicking around.

I had been drawn to his televied re-telling of old Persian fables. They were slyly political and I enjoyed reading between the lines.

One day, near the end of the Iran-Iraq war,  I read that he had been sent to hospital with cardiovascular problems. I decided to visit.

When I found him in a room on the cardiology ward, he greeted me warmly and was soon cracking jokes about the current crop of politicians.

“So,” I asked him, “How can we topple this regime? Especially young people like me. What can we do to get rid of them?”

I blushed as he looked at me long and hard. Then he told me a story.

Once upon time, in towns across Iran, even in Tehran, he said, there was no centralized sewage system. Most houses had their own cesspits. When a pit filled up, the householder simply hired a well-digger to dig a new cesspit on a different part of the property.

As soon as the new pit was ready, the family would slaughter a sheep or a goat and arrange a lavish meal to celebrate. The offal from the animal, including worms living in its gut, would be thrown into the old cesspit with the skin laid on top. Finally the old pit was sealed up with a layer of bricks and mortar .

Inside, in the muck, the worms gorged themselves and multiplied. But eventually the worms ate all the waste. To survive, they turned to eating each other. And in the end, all of them died.

This was the way people would turn filth into clean soil and uncontaminated ground, ready for fresh use.

The man took a breath and asked me: “Do you get my point?”

“You mean,” I said, “we must not take sides with any faction of the ruling establishment. Instead we just have to wait until they destroy each other?”

Smiling, he nodded. “Yes.”

It’s now 2021. We are still waiting.

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