PART VI: I am the one, ask the Hidden Imam
That was it. I decided to hold back no longer. We didn’t have anything to lose, anyway.
Over the next four years, the economy of Iran was ruined. The publishing industry was almost destroyed as thousands of books were banned or cut to shreds. The libraries began ‘purging’ ‘poisonous’ books. The government began expanding public, state-funded publishing companies to compete with the private ones. 4WD patrols began roaming the streets again, picking on women who did not observe the hijab strictly enough. All the bridges that Khatami had built with the world were broken; sanctions were imposed on Iran; inflation paralyzed the poor who had voted for Ahmadinejad; corruption got worse; newspapers were shut down; technologies to filter Internet content were introduced to censor international news or opposition websites; and bloggers were imprisoned.
In 2006, I was invited to the Göteberg Book Fair, both as a nominee for the Freedom to Publish prize given by the International Publishers Association, and to conduct a conference, ‘Freedom to Publish in the Digital Age’. At the same time, I was appointed as managing editor of the Union of Publishers’ Publishing Industry Journal. I was determined to keep Caravan going, even though I knew the government wanted to tighten its stranglehold on us. I expanded some lists and put our fiction list on hold for a while. We decided to publish audiobooks as well, and I spent most of my time on our cultural magazine, BookFiesta or Jashn-e Ketab.
The government banned most of our titles but we sent even more for permission. For every one book that managed to receive permission, we had to send 10. I worked from morning till the middle of the night to compensate for the time and money wasted on books that would never see the light of day. We couldn’t reprint the successful books as most of their licenses had been revoked. Then the Ministry decided to relocate the Tehran Book Fair to the great mosque of Tehran and separate the Iranian publishers from the international ones. We began a campaign against this decision in the Union and asked the publishers not to attend the Fair. Hundreds of publishers followed our advice and the Ministry was finally forced to step back and keep all the publishers together. But they had their revenge by putting even more pressure on the publishers who were active in the Union.
In society, too, things were changing or, perhaps it is better to say, unchanging. Khatami’s progressive steps were systematically reversed. The police declared they would shut down shops that sold inappropriately short coats to women. Politically active students in the universities were singled out and persecuted. The government began to expand economically, and, despite all its claims that it was trying to accelerate privatization of government property, it was the Revolutionary Guard that took over the industries and began to put pressure on the competition in the private sector. Parliament began to discuss imposing capital punishment on bloggers who undermined the authority of the Islamic Republic.
Fear governed the country again. People regretted not having supported the reform movement in the last years of Khatami’s presidency.