On 22 August I was invited to the Edinburgh Book Festival for a reading of my writing at Amnesty’s annual ‘Imprisoned Writers’ events. Clare Short was among the readers. I felt uneasy at the thought of Clare Short reading my work, because when she went to Iran she wore a headscarf at a time when women there were being harassed, imprisoned and tortured for not observing hejab properly. I felt she could not possibly represent me and my point of view. She is too conservative and my piece is part of a story about the confrontation of an ex-prisoner with his torturer. How could she understand such a piece while she is in power, power that justifies prison and torture, if not at home, then in Iraq, Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay?
Readers at the first session were writers, journalists, political protesters and Clare Short as a politician. Before she started to read she spoke against the war in order to highlight her act of resigning over it. Yes, I thought, you resigned, but not until it was too late, and British troops were already destroying all the ministries except oil and information.
What Ms Short chose to read at the Amnesty event was a very emotional piece by a friend of mine, and she read it very effectively. But the piece had already been read last year – and the writer wasn’t among us. I was surprised, having been told that all the pieces would be new. My piece was read by a journalist after reading a story from antoher writer. It surprised too, as I was told each readers would read one story only. As the reading was over I had decided to ask Clare Short this: If she went to Iran again, would she wear a headscarf? I know she would say, Yes, to respect the culture. I would like to have asked: Whose culture, the mullahs’ culture, or the people’s culture? Because women are fighting against this cage around their head, they have even been shot dead because of disobeying the law that says they must wear it properly. Isn’t it better to respect people’s rights rather than those of an unjust government? People want freedom, and to choose one’s own mode of dress is one step to freedom. After all, under Iran’s current government, any woman who does not comply with the law of wearing the headscarf can suffer 74 lashes of the whip – and Clare Short didn’t want to bear such torture, did she?
Anyway, after the reading, Clare Short didn’t stay even to say hello to us. We weren’t politicians, we had no power that could further her own career. We were fighters who had survived torture, prison and the execution of friends and family. One cannot be on both sides of that dividing line!
A week later I heard that originally Clare Short had been given my piece to read. Then, just one hour before the program started, she told the organisers that she refused to read it, they must replace it with another piece! Bravo, she knows herself well! She could neither put herself in the same place as a prisoner, and read my piece from his point of view, nor from the torturer’s.