Henderson author recalls surviving arrest, persecution during Iranian revolution

As the polls in Iran’s recent election opened, Moniru Ravanipur watched from her computer at her Henderson home recalling life as a writer in that country.

She survived life-threatening events, endured persecution from her writings and suffered heartache as friends and family were executed, all of which led her to believe she was destined not just to be alive but to be an author writing about her experiences.

“When I was arrested, I had a paper with the (phone) number of a political activist in my notebook,” she said. “They didn’t find it. It’s fate that I survived. It’s my destiny that I am here.”

Decades after the Iranian revolution, Ravanipur has become an internationally known writer who talks about societal issues in her home country.

She is scheduled to share her story at the Henderson Libraries local author series at 2:30 p.m. June 26 at the Paseo Verde Library, 280 S. Green Valley Parkway.

Ravanipur’s story begins in a different time in Iran.

“I lived through two regimes, two governments,” she said.

The first government she described was ruled by a king. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the leader, was rooted in religious tradition yet was more interested in Western customs, which filtered down into society.

Girls weren’t required to cover themselves with a hijab, a headscarf worn by women. Getting an education wasn’t an issue. Schools, or many other facilities, weren’t separated by gender.

But people began questioning the motivations of their leader.

Stirring among the population was a hope for justice and a question of why everyone couldn’t have the same political freedoms. Little did Ravanipur know, but a different question was stirring among a minority group within the country that longed for the traditions of religion.

Demonstrations shook the country in the late 1970s as an Iranian revolution began to emerge.

“By the third day, I knew something was wrong,” she said.

After Pahlavi was exiled in 1979, a new constitution was born, rooted in theocracy.

Ravanipur said religious extremists were now in charge and society began to change.

“Change was gradual,” she said. “They would find ways to separate you from the group and execute you.”

The moment that hit her that this was a new Iran was when a classmate, a girl who usually went out dancing and wore miniskirts, was in a chador, a garment that covers women head to toe.

As people changed, her family stood firm in its beliefs, which resulted in family members being arrested, forced to escape the country and even executed, which was the case with her 19-year-old brother.

Ravanipur no longer could stay in her home.

“It’s so frustrating to have a home of your own but not be able to live in it because you would be afraid of being found,” she said.

Now homeless, she moved from city to city, hoping to stay out of the sights of the government.

“All the intellectuals of society were homeless,” she said.

She worked at factories and hospitals offering help and earning money any way she could.

Ravanipur was caught once and sent to prison.

“It was only for a month, which was nothing compared to my family,” she said.

It was comparable to Nazi Germany, she said.

Some days people were rounded up because they were wearing glasses, while other days it was for the color of their shirt.

Held for months at a time, people were interrogated for whatever information authorities could find out about the remaining political dissidents. Then they were let go.

“But not everyone was let go,” she said. “They would keep a few to execute.”

She continued to connect with people learning more about the nature of what was happening in Iran

“I learned that this was not about religion,” she said. “It was about power.”

She began to ponder how the government sought to use religious rule to defy love.

“What God would be against love?” she asked.

In the middle of her darkness, Ravanipur began to write.

She never knew when, or even if, she would get published.

“Every moment is a struggle in Iran,” she said. “That was true for writers, too. But Iranians are patient.”

Her collection of books she had written grew until one day the door of opportunity to publish opened a crack.

“The door would open every so often but not all the way,” she said. “When you see the light from that door open, you jump.”

She rushed to get a few of her works published before the door slammed in her face.

Her material, which raised questions about society and women’s issues, was deemed improper and banned.

She has written 13 books based in Iran, all of which are banned. At one point, Ravanipur faced trial after being accused of taking part in anti-Iran propaganda.

To her surprise, these stories began to gain attention internationally, also leading to opportunities for her to travel and speak about her work.

While in Germany in 2006, Ravanipur was offered a fellowship at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

It was an honor for her as a writer but a slap in the face to her country, she said.

Government officials viewed her as a traitor, closing the door for Ravanipur, her husband and son from returning.

Dr. Carol Harter, executive director of the Black Mountain Institute, said the University of Nevada, Las Vegas has a program called City of Asylum that helps international writers who face censorship in their home countries.

“We try to help people who are in jeopardy of losing their lives because of what they write,” Harter said. “They oftentimes have to leave their country even if they discontinue their writing.”

Ravanipur was accepted into the program.

“Everything about her story is compelling,” Harter said.

The fellowship at Brown University ended in July 2007, and Ravanipur and her family moved to Henderson the same month.

Harter said the main challenge was that all Ravanipur’s works were in Farsi.

“Translating those works proved to be difficult,” she said.

People had a tendency to translate and strip the words of any literary value.

“We needed a translator who was sensitive to the arts,” she said.

The Black Mountain Institute opened its arms to Ravanipur.

“She became a part of our family,” Harter added. “She has a wonderful personality. She really enjoyed the classes and events we had.”

She continues to tell her story about life in Iran and what it means to be a writer.

Some of her books have since been translated into English and other languages.

Even though her works are banned in Iran, she has posted many of her works online for people in her country to read.

As thankful as she is to be in the United States, it is still hard for her knowing her situation in Iran. But she continues to try to stay engaged with whatever is happening in her native country.

“The Internet is a magical tool,” she said. “You can’t stop the flow of information. In the end, I use social media as a road to connect me to my country.”

Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at mlyle@viewnews.com or 702-387-5201.

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