Marina Nemat says there is a cycle of violence going on in many places in the world.
“There is a cycle that turns victims into torturers and torturers into victims,” she said after speaking to a group of grade 11 English students at William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute on Dec. 1. “My message is: try to break the chain. If the person who is tortured today decides to take revenge tomorrow and calls it justice and goes and tortures the people who tortured him or her, then she becomes a torturer too and she’s no better than the people who tortured her.”
She’s speaking from experience.
Nemat, who is originally from Iran, says she began speaking against the government there after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. By 1982 she was imprisoned for it, and only after being forced to marry one of the prison guards in order to save her own family from harm, was she released in 1984. She left Iran in 1991 by bribing a government official, something she jokes, “you can only do once”.
Author of two books on her experiences, Prisoner of Tehran and After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed, Nemat says that students are the perfect group to speak to.
“I was 16 when I started doing what I do, basically I started my career as a troublemaker when I was 16 years old,” Nemat said after the talk. “When I’m in a high school, I’m back in a part of my life that I never got the chance to live.”
Seeing herself in students and their potential is somewhat of an understatement.
“When I look at them, I see what could have been,” she says. “They are the hope for the future. They can make the world a better place and I can give my experience to them without them actually having to go through the whole thing.”
A popular topic among the students at William Lyon Mackenzie was Nemat’s take on the Arab Spring, and for all those countries, she has a warning.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” she said. “But coming from educated, first-hand, ground zero experience, there’s a big possibility that many of these movements are going to go in the wrong direction the same way the Iranian revolution did.
“All I’m doing is issuing a warning: pay attention to the laws that are being passed.”
Nemat says it was the ignorance toward the new laws established in Iran that led to much of the opposition seen there now. One example she gave was the topic of divorce, where it’s not easy for a woman to leave her husband — even if he is abusive.
“The judge says … ‘Your husband has every right to beat you, because you’re not a good wife. Go be a good wife and your husband won’t have to beat you,’ ” Nemat says, again reiterating her warning. “Be careful, look at what these people are passing (as laws) in your newly elected parliament.”
Though she can’t return to Iran because she would be arrested upon entering the country, Nemat says she’d go back if she could, though she likely wouldn’t stay.
“You know what?” she said as a smile crept across her face. “I’d spend my winters in Iran.”
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