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Liberty against all odds
Requiem for Laleh and Ladan

July 11, 2003
The Iranian

A few years back we saw Laleh and Ladan step off a taxi cab and unto the crowded sidewalks of Amirabad, our old neighborhood in Tehran. They seemed in charge of their severe predicament: a steely and defiant smile to meet the unbelieving stares of the brazen onlookers and a steady gait to keep their conjoined heads evenly move forward. They were a walking paragon of grace, courage, and good humor.

Georges Couvier, the 19th century French naturalist believed that a fetus reenacts the entire natural history of evolution from fish to human, in its nine months of gestation. A scientifically suspect notion, Couvier's theory nevertheless makes for an elegant image trapping as it does, the boundless process of evolution in a tiny loop.

The tragedy of Laleh and Ladan Bijani, the 29 year old conjoined Iranian twins who died on July 8 as a result of a surgery they bravely underwent in Singapore, contains a metaphor of comparable elegance.

The macrocosm of Iran's post-revolutionary struggle for liberty is embodied in the microcosm of the twins' sad saga. The spirit that animated Laleh and Ladan is the same that beats in the hearts of their fellow students who bear the brunt of Iran's ineluctable movement toward democracy.

Laleh and Ladan died one day before the fourth anniversary of the student uprising of 1999. It was the brutal suppression of this movement that inaugurated the violent phase of the right wing backlash that has brought Iran's political reform to its knees. The twins gave several interviews in Singapore. Those who heard their clear, optimistic and cheerfully defiant voices on the edge of the abyss would recognize the spirit of their generation that is blazing a new trail for freedom in Iran.

Laleh and Ladan did not share the fatalism of the similarly afflicted American sisters Lori and Riba Schapel. One of them said to a radio interviewer on a Public Radio International program dedicated to the Iranian twins: “God made us this way and I wouldn't know why we would want to mess with what God made.”

Accepting the dictates of the powers that be, allegedly divine, natural, social or political, is utterly alien to the present generation of Iranian youth. The Bijani twins did not think like the Schapel twins. They risked death to change their destiny. They died rather than live without autonomy, liberty and normalcy.

Laleh and Ladan wanted to be individuals; free to make their own fate. They braved the tyranny of nature as their friends defy that the state. They craved equality as do their friends. They were tired of belonging to a different class of citizens as are those Iranians whose life style is declared illegal. They hungered to lead a normal life as do an entire nation reduced to pariah status.

Laleh and Ladan did not want to be spectacularly different. They thirsted for the neglected virtue of being unremarkable, for the luxury of anonymity. They wanted to come and go without being noticed, singled out, interrogated. And, they wished for a modicum of privacy, even from each other.

They wanted to be left alone as do the seventy percent of the Iranian population that is under twenty five. These are conditions that healthy organic bodies and healthy political bodies take for granted. Only the afflicted, having fully recognized the worth of these common place blessings feverishly seek them.

Like the Bijani twins, Iran's generation X is relentless, desperate and determined. Like them, the Iranian students are unsentimental, tough, life-affirming and hopeful against all odds. Like the fearless Laleh and Ladan the Iranian students in their slow spontaneous combustion in the streets of Tehran are not afraid to risk injury or even death to realize their aspirations.

At the end, the Bijani twins hazarded all rather than settling for a life of dependency. What human person or society is entitled to less? Let us hope the nation does not have to bleed to death in the process of attaining its fundamental human rights as outlined in the brave and eloquent July 7th letter of Students for Fostering Unity to the UN Secretary General. Let us pray for more heroes, not martyrs, in this struggle.


Mahmoud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri are twins. Mahmoud is Associate Professor of Sociology at Texas Women's University. He has a doctorate in sociology from New York's New School for Social Research (See Features . See Homepage). Ahmad is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Lake Forest College, IL, USA. See Features . See Homepage

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By Ahmad Sadri


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