A veteran correspondent presents a ground-level history of Iran since 1979, showing how the country's enduring reform movement will reshape the country—if the West gives it the chance.
In the summer of 2009, as she was covering the popular uprisings in Tehran for the New York Times, Iranian journalist Nazila Fathi received a phone call. "They have given your photo to snipers," a government source warned her. Soon after, with undercover agents closing in, Fathi fled the country with her husband and two children, beginning a life of exile.
In The Lonely War, Fathi interweaves her story with that of the country she left behind, showing how Iran is locked in a battle between hardliners and reformers that dates back to the country's 1979 revolution. Fathi was nine years old when that uprising replaced the Iranian shah with a radical Islamic regime. Her father, an official at a government ministry, was fired for wearing a necktie and knowing English; to support his family he was forced to labor in an orchard hundreds of miles from Tehran. At the same time, the family's destitute, uneducated housekeeper was able to retire and purchase a modern apartment—all because her family supported the new regime.
As Fathi shows, changes like these caused decades of inequality—especially for the poor and for women—to vanish overnight. Yet a new breed of tyranny took its place, as she discovered when she began her journalistic career. Fathi quickly confronted the upper limits of opportunity for women in the new Iran and earned the enmity of the country's ruthless intelligence service. But while she and many other Iranians have fled for the safety of the West, millions of their middle class countrymen—many of them the same people whom the regime once lifted out of poverty—continue pushing for more personal freedoms and a renewed relationship with the outside world.
Drawing on over two decades of reporting and extensive interviews with both ordinary Iranians and high-level officials before and since her departure, Fathi describes Iran's awakening alongside her own, revealing how moderates are steadily retaking the country.
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At 5 o’clock every Monday afternoon when I was in my early teens, Masoud rang our doorbell. He would flash a toothy smile when I opened the door. Tall and bony, in his early 30s, he’d walk with long strides into the hallway and then our living room, his black boxy briefcase in his hand. To avoid drawing attention to himself, he always wore a pair of faded jeans and a polo shirt, like most other young Iranian men in the late 1980s. In winter, when temperatures in Tehran dipped below freezing, he would arrive bundled in a navy blue overcoat.
“Masoud” was a nom de guerre. We had no contact information for him; our rendezvous took place at the same time every week. If we weren’t home, he’d circle back the following Monday. But for years, my sister, Goli, and I made sure one of us was there to greet him. Once in the living room, Masoud would place his briefcase on the coffee table, lift its top with care, and then turn it around so Goli and I could peer inside at his precious cargo: rows of neatly arranged Betamax and, later, VHS tapes, labels facing up for easy reading. Continue Reading