Of Sanctions and Tolstoy | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

23 May, Thursday

Of Sanctions and Tolstoy

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“If they tear up the JCPOA,  we will burn it.”  So said Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

He was responding to Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign promise to pull out of the nuclear deal, which he called “horrible,” “laughable” and the “worst deal ever.”

The Iranian leadership calls the current US sanctions and hostility an “economic and cultural war.”

The White House has described them as “smart economic pressures that aim to change the behavior of the Iranian theocracy.”


Crucially, neither side is talking about regime change – or a rational, negotiated end to the standoff.

So we, the poor Iranian people, face an unpredictable future with nothing to give us hope – no organized civil society, no independent opposition, no vision, and no competent leadership.

To escape from the painful present, as I often do, I turned to literature and re-read Leo Tolstoy’s short novel Hadji Murat.  

Appropriately, my compatriot Azar Nafisi, the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, wrote the preface to my edition.

It did not take long for me to identify with the doomed hero of the story, Hadji Murat.

Murat was a great Avar chieftain engaged in fighting the Russians in Chechnya in the 1850s. However, when a rival Chechen warrior, Shamil, kidnaps his mother, wives and son, Murat realizes he will need Russian backing to defeat Shamil. Accordingly he switches sides and offers his support to the Russians.

But the tactic backfires and, without a true ally anywhere, Murat ends up dead and beheaded.

Before Murat dies, though, Tolstoy’s prose explores the malaise of a man who, having shifted his allegiance to a foreign power, recognizes a profound connection to his own culture and people.

Hadji Murat “thinks of childhood, of his old and fragile grandfather hammering silver with his sinewy hands, and the fountain at the foot of the hill. The lean dog that used to lick his face.”

“He thinks of his handsome and brave grandmother, who wrote a song for him after he was born, and he remembers his own son Yusuf, whose head he had shaved.”

I feel like the Iranian Hadji Murat, heartsick and discouraged — stuck between two intransigent foes.

In fact, all of us long-suffering Iranians are trapped between the rock of Donald Trump’s sanctions, and the hard place of Ali Khameinei’s tired revolutionary intransigence. 


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