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Hungering for Reform in Iran

In the country where just last month two young men were publicly hanged for sodomy, Ganji writes these words from prison: "My voice will not be silenced, for it is the voice of peaceful life, of tolerating the other, loving humanity, sacrificing for others, seeking truth and freedom, demanding democracy, welcoming different lifestyles, separating the private sphere and the public sphere, religion and state, promoting equality of all humans, rationality, federalism within a democratic Iran, and above all, a profound distaste for violence."

In response to a letter from his mentor Soroush, who pleaded with him to break his hunger strike, Ganji displayed his originality as a thinker. He respectfully defied the master who taught him much of what he knows. Recalling the experience of Italy under the fascists, he declared that the supreme leader is Iran's Mussolini. And as the master instructed, a tyrant should not be tolerated. "Freedom and democracy come at a price," the pupil writes in his letter, "and I am here to pay my dues." Ganji is foreshadowing his own death. If he maintains his hunger strike and dies, it will be a grave loss. But the fundamental ideas that he has put forth will be the departure point for any future democratic movement in Iran.

Twenty years ago, when I was a disillusioned teenager in Tehran, the possibility that I would someday write in defense of a former member of the Revolutionary Guards would have seemed unthinkable. The Guards had robbed the Iranian people of the egalitarian dream the revolution had once instilled, even in minorities -- even in a Jewish girl like me. But for my change of heart, I deserve no credit. It is Ganji, and others like him throughout history, whose quest for justice soothes the wounds of a dictator's assault, and leads the bitter exile to forgiveness.

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Roya Hakakian, a freelance journalist, is the author of two books of poetry in Persian and the memoir "Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran" (Crown).

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