“She finally decided to protest the oppression of women by setting
herself on fire in a crowded square in northern Tehran on February 21, 1994. Her last cries were: ‘Death to tyranny! Long live liberty! Long live Iran!’”
ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, the world saw the seventh century mentality of fundamentalist Islam gain possession of twenty-first century technology. The results were catastrophic. The violent nature of Islam arrived on American soil—unforgettably and irrevocably. Many Americans, along with other Westerners, hadn’t thought much about Islam before then. September 11 changed all that, bringing Islam home to the twenty-first century Western world. Suddenly, Iran and Iraq didn’t seem so far away after all, and Westerners, especially we Americans, wanted to learn more about this faceless enemy who’d declared war on us in the most barbaric way imaginable. We found ourselves confronted with a deadly force that we’d thought lay half a world away and fourteen centuries in the past. Those terrorist bombings we’d heard of only on television had moved from a faraway Middle East to our own backyard. On September 11, what Islam represents became one of the most important questions facing the Western world, and our first experience with it left a bitter taste in many American mouths.
Parvin Darabi doesn’t just talk about the barbarity of radical Islam that Americans experienced that day—she’d lived it long before the Twin Towers fell. In this poignant and painful letter, she writes of her sister, Homa, who struggled mightily against the heavy hand of the Islamic government in Iran. Living as a woman carries a heavy price in Iran. Homa was willing to pay it. Now Parvin carries on, and she urges us all to ignore the peaceful rhetoric of Islam and focus instead on the violent reality of Islamic rule. What Homa Darabi experienced in Iran could one day come to the West if Islamofascist terrorism is not defeated. Homa’s story is a specific example of how an Islamic government works—and why it would never work in the West.
My sister, Dr. Homa Darabi, was born in Tehran, Iran, in January 1940, two months premature, to Eshrat Dastyar, a child bride who at age thirteen had married Esmaeil Darabi. Homa was my older sister, my protector, and my role model. Homa had a life full of hope and promise that a tyrannical and fundamentalist Islamic system destroyed.
Indeed, my sister could never have imagined what lay ahead for her as she completed her elementary and high school education in Tehran. She then immediately entered the University of Tehran’s School of Medicine after passing the university’s entrance exam in 1959. It was a marvelous accomplishment and one that made our family proud. Homa was in the first 150 out of thousands of students who took the examination and became one of the three hundred who were accepted (the medical school’s capacity).
A feisty and spirited young woman, my sister became quite active in politics and hoped to bring human rights and equal status for women in Iran. Her dream was most evident during her days in high school and in her freshman year at the university. Yet her quest would not be easy. In 1960, as a result of her efforts, she was arrested and imprisoned for a while, during the students’ protests against the oppressive regime of the Shah. The regime was especially hostile towards students and youth who were beginning to demand more freedom of expression, assembly, and speech.
In 1963, my sister married her classmate, Manoochehr Keyhani, presently a prominent hematologist. Together they brought into this world two intelligent daughters.
Following the completion of her studies at the University of Tehran, Dr. Darabi practiced for two years in Bahmanier, a village in northern Iran, while her husband completed his military obligation as a physician in the Iranian health corps. In 1968, she and her husband passed the Education Council Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) examination and came to the United States to further their education. She took her residency in pediatrics and later specialized in psychiatry and then in child psychiatry and was licensed to practice medicine in the states of New Jersey, New York, and California. She became a naturalized citizen of the United States in the mid-1970s.
Due to pressures from her husband and family and her desire to give back to her native country, she returned to Iran in 1976 and was immediately accepted as a professor at the University of Tehran School of Medicine.
She was the first Iranian ever to pass the board in child psychiatry in the U.S. and was the driving force behind the establishment of the Psychiatric Clinic of Shahid Sahami in Tehran.
Although she was a strong supporter of the revolution, my sister opposed the establishment of an Islamic republic. Furthermore, when her party leader took advantage of the new Islamic guidelines and took a second wife, Homa was devastated and totally broke away from all politics. My sister then devoted her time to her profession as a medical doctor.
In 1990, due to her non-compliance with wearing the hijab (covering up of women), she was fired from her position as a professor at the School of Medicine.
Later, my sister was harassed in her practice for the same reason until finally, when life was made too difficult for her, she closed down her practice and became a full-time housewife for the first time in her life.
During her professional life my sister was under pressure from some parents of her younger patients to give the label of “mentally incapacitated” to many perfectly intelligent young girls so that they could be saved from the tortures of the zealots (150 strokes of a whip for things such as wearing makeup or lipstick). Having to label these young women truly broke my sister’s heart.
When a sixteen-year-old girl was shot to death in northern Tehran for wearing lipstick, my sister could no longer handle the guilt she felt about her former involvement in the Iranian Revolution. My sister felt Iran had been hijacked by the religious factions, and the way women were treated in Iran was unforgivable.… She wanted the world to know what was happening. She finally decided to protest the oppression of women by setting herself on fire in a crowded square in northern Tehran on February 21, 1994. Her last cries were:
Death to tyranny!
Long live liberty!
Long live Iran!