PART VI: I am the one, ask the Hidden Imam

I stepped into the censor’s office. After several requests he had finally granted an appointment.

A polite man with the typical short beard. He shook hands with me and introduced himself: a philosopher. He explained that he didn’t like his job as a ‘scrutinizer’ because sometimes people confused ‘scrutiny’ with ‘censorship’. As ‘scrutinizers’ were not welcome in society, he preferred people not to know his name. He promised he would help us but that I had made a mess by speaking to the German journalist so openly. Although what I had said was correct. Hopefully, under the new government, everything would be resolved. Would I be ready to help them with the international media, now that I had managed to build up an international profile?

Of course not. I explained that I preferred not to get involved in any governmental matters. I wanted simply to remain an independent publisher and publish the books I wanted to.

Oh yes, he was impressed with how rapidly our publishing venture had grown over the past few years. Had we had any financial support from foreign countries?

No, for the thousandth time, we hadn’t. We had made all the money ourselves. They could check our records if they so wanted.

No, no. He trusted me. Unfortunately we were in the spotlight and he couldn’t approve most of our books; for example, The Zahir.

‘What’s wrong with The Zahir? It’s a simple work of fiction. No sex scenes, no politics, no moral corruption.’

‘Well, there is a Kazakh in the book who criticizes the Soviets for testing so many nuclear bombs in Kazakhstan that the ecosystem was ruined forever and agriculture was destroyed.’

‘So what? What does that have to do with us?’

‘Well, the author is trying to prove that nuclear activities are bad. And you know, we are going to develop our nuclear technology . . . of course, for peaceful purposes only.’

‘If it’s for peaceful purposes, why are we angry with the book’s critique of nuclear testing?’

‘There is but a fine line between these technologies. We don’t want our public to turn against our nuclear program. And this book on Buddhism. Buddhism is a pagan religion. We don’t recognize it in the Islamic Republic. So why should we publish books on it?’

‘We are not promoting Buddhism,’ I said. ‘But the fact that we don’t recognize it as a religion doesn’t mean that Buddhism doesn’t exist. There are millions of Buddhists in the world and this book is trying to give a cultural background on it.’

‘Yes, but there are hundreds of other books that could be published before we needed to have any information on Buddhism or other pagan traditions. For example, this book on Manichaeism. Why do we need that?’

‘This book is an academic title in our religion and mythology list. The author is a prominent Iranian professor and he leads a course in Beheshti University on Manichaeism. This is his textbook.’

‘Oh, so that explains it. Do you think that this course is really necessary, when we can teach courses on Islam?’

‘It’s not up to me to say. You had better talk to the Minister of Higher Education.’

‘I’m going to let you publish Gunter Grass, though. Of course, you have to censor the part where he talks about the Shah.’

‘I’m sorry but I cannot censor a book by a Nobel laureate.’

‘Then you will let us know when you can, and we will re-issue the permission. And, please be careful with what you say from now on.’