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World Book Day and Islamic Republic Censorship

In one of their first acts, the revolutionaries closed the universities and organized a large-scale cleansing called the "Cultural Revolution."

Today, April 23, coincides with the day named by UNESCO as “World Book and Copyright Day”. On this day, we can write about the reasons for this naming, from Cervantes and Shakespeare, from the contradictory Islamic Republic officials’ statistics for the per capita reading in Iran, from the number of books or titles published and the sad situation of the publishing field, and from the severe censorship and suffocation in a society ruled by an Islamic totalitarian system. We can recall the shameful number of circulation – 200 to 500 – in Iran, we can shake our heads and bemoan in a mass shame. All of these are possible.

Seyyed Abbas Salehi, a student of Alam al-Huda, in 2014, when he was not yet the Minister of Guidance, claims that in 1978 (before revolution), 254 books were published. A few years later, Mohammad Hossein Saffar Harandi, former Minister of Guidance, whose most important task is to monitor censorship, audit, distortion, falsification and prohibition of freedom of expression at all levels and cultural fields in the Islamic Republic, at the 40th anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution on the subject of “books”, in the Tehran prayer hall, said, “about 1,000 books were published annually during Pahlavi years.”

The “explosion of light”, as they dubbed the rebellion of 1979, came from a generation that, in such a cultural environment with liberal ideals and human dignity, sought to bring “humanity status” to Iranians. A generation whose teachers were rotten-minded hardliners like Motahari and Shariati. A society made of 37 million people, with about 1,000 books published annually, suddenly rose above, chanted slogans, destroyed and executed, and won. Now, from among those who did not read a book, a stratum won the bloody battles of power in those years – the mullahs – who, out of those 1,000 titles, had for hundreds of years read nothing but “Mafatih” and published works on “the etiquette of going to the toilet” in clergy schools . Thus, in one of their first acts, the revolutionaries closed the universities and organized a large-scale cleansing called the “Cultural Revolution.”

Later, many of those who experienced those days explained that per capita reading had grown exponentially in 1978-79. Everywhere was full of books, and in every corner of the street you could see people discussing, various party publications were available everywhere… Everything ended with the Cultural Revolution. The not book-reading class was in power and reading books and owning books became a crime. From that day until now, every year, the per capita reading in Iran has been declining and is worsening every year.

That’s why, today on World Book Day, I decided to read a story from a writer whose name is intertwined with “freedom of thought.” An author whom Nietzsche described as “one of the greatest liberators of thought”: Voltaire!

We read one his stories that gives a stunning clear picture of the 1979 revolutionaries and the promises of their leaders:


When the hospital of the Quinze Vingt was first founded, the pensioners were all equal, and their little affairs were concluded upon by a majority of votes. They distinguished perfectly by the touch between copper and silver coin; they never mistook the wine of Brie for that of Burgundy. Their sense of smelling was finer than that of their neighbors who had the use of two eyes. They reasoned very well on the four senses; that is, they knew everything they were permitted to know, and they lived as peaceably and as happily as blind people could be supposed to do.

But unfortunately one of their professors pretended to have clear ideas in respect to the sense of seeing, he drew attention; he intrigued; he formed enthusiasts; and at last he was acknowledged chief of the community. He pretended to be a judge of colors, and everything was lost.

This dictator of the Quinze Vingt chose at first a little council, by the assistance of which he got possession of all the alms. On this account, no person had the resolution to oppose him. He decreed, that all the inhabitants of the Quinze Vingt were clothed in white. The blind pensioners believed him; and nothing was to be heard but their talk of white garments, though, in fact, they possessed not one of that color. All their acquaintance laughed at them. They made their complaints to the dictator, who received them very ill; he rebuked them as innovators, freethinkers, rebels, who had suffered themselves to be seduced by the errors of those who had eyes, and who presumed to doubt that their chief was infallible. This contention gave rise to two parties.

To appease the tumult, the dictator issued a decree, importing that all their vestments were red. There was not one vestment of that color in the Quinze Vingt. The poor men were laughed at more than ever. Complaints were again made by the community. The dictator rushed furiously in; and the other blind men were as much enraged. They fought a long time; and peace was not restored until the members of the Quinze Vingt were permitted to suspend their judgments in regard to the color of their dress.

A deaf man, reading this little history, allowed that these people, being blind, were to blame in pretending to judge of colors; but he remained steady to his own opinion, that those persons who were deaf were the only proper judges of music.

Translation of this article by Sahar.

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