Essay Marina Nemat .pdf
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In January 1982, when I was sixteen years old, I was arrested in Tehran, Iran. My
crime was having been a student activist and a vocal critic of the newly formed
Islamic Republic. After my arrest, I was interrogated and tortured. My interrogators,
grown men, tied me, a 48-‐kilogram girl, to a bare wooden bed and lashed the soles
of my feet with a length of industrial cable, about an inch tick and made of heavy
rubber. With every strike of the lash, it felt like my nervous system would explode. I
began to count the strikes, but I soon forgot how to count. Being a Catholic, I began
to say the Hail Mary, but I could not string the words together. I drowned in pain. I
was given a death sentence, which was later reduced to life in prison. One of my
interrogators forced me to become his wife under the threat that if I didn’t, my
family would be harmed. I spent 2 years, 2 months, and 12 days in Evin prison and
was released after my “husband” was assassinated by a rival fraction of the
government. When I went home, I just wanted to put the past behind me and be
About 15 months after my release, I married my boyfriend, who was the organist at
my church, and we had a son. We escaped Iran in 1990, shortly after the Iranian
regime finally gave me a passport. Through Spain and Hungary, we made it to
Canada in 1991. I wrote the memoir of my incarceration, Prisoner of Tehran, and it
was first published in 2007, became an international bestseller, and has been
translated into 25 languages. Canada took in my family and me when we had
nowhere to go. Canadians were good to us, making us feel welcome and safe. I loved
Iran, and I would never have left it if my life had not been in danger. It’s not easy
leaving one’s home, knowing that returning might be impossible.
Today, for the first time since WWII, the number of refugees worldwide has
exceeded 50 million. Most of these refugees have lost everything, including their
homes and loved ones. Many have escaped terrible atrocities and need compassion
and help. Of course, we can turn our backs on them, we who have safe homes and
more than enough food to eat. We can choose to ignore the plight of other human
beings, justifying it by dividing the world into “us” and “them”, pretending that
because “they” are from a different place and have a different skin colour or religion,
they are not like us. But the truth is that in a world that is drowning in war, violence,
and cruelty, if we add to the cruelty, if we do not show empathy and lend a helping
hand, in the long run, we would be condemning ourselves to living in a cruel world.
Hatred brings hatred. Violence breeds violence. Bloodshed leads to bloodshed. Let’s
learn from the past, and be better people. Goodness and generosity bring about
good things. We have enough to share. When I came to Canada, I had nothing. Now,
as an author, teacher, and speaker, I contribute to the country that was good to me,
and I make it proud. Let’s give this opportunity to all those who have nowhere to go.
I encourage the good, generous people of Canada, Germany, and the rest of the
world to accept refugees and welcome them. There are bad apples everywhere, but
most refugees are good, hardworking people in the search of a peaceful, safe place
to live. I have worked with refugees in Canada and have found it tremendously
rewarding. I have been disturbed to read and hear about demonstrations, protests,
and even violent attacks against refugees in Germany and other places. A society is
measured by the way it treats its most vulnerable. Let’s welcome refugees, help
them begin new lives, and reap the rewards that will bless our children and us for a
long time to come.
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