Rest in peace, gallant sister

Haleh Sahabi: Our Antigone in Tehran


Rest in peace, gallant sister
by Hamid Dabashi

Haleh Sahabi, 54, was a distinguished Quranic hermeneutician, a religious comparatist, a women's rights scholar, and a committed activist to the cause of her people's civil liberties. Haleh Sahabi was sentenced to a two-year prison term after she had joined a rally in front of the Iranian parliament in the aftermath of the contested presidential election of 2009.

While serving her term in jail, Haleh Sahabi was informed of her father's impending death. He was the prominent Iranian dissident Ezzatollah Sahabi (1930-2011), a revered democracy activist, known and admired for his mild manner, open-minded generosity of spirit, a liberal demeanor, and a commitment to non-violent activism on a religious-nationalist platform for over half a century.

Haleh Sahabi was briefly allowed out of prison to be present for the final days of her father's life. Ezzatollah died, at the age of 81 on May 31, 2011. Millions of Iranians in and out of their homeland were saddened by his death, deeply grateful for his moderate and caring positions, even those who did not agree with him.

His funeral began on the following day, June 1, under tight security control, and - according to a number of reliable eyewitness accounts- including those of Ahmad Montazeri, the son of the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, and Ahmad Sadr Haj Seyyed Javadi, an aging opposition politician - a band of organised plainclothes security forces began to disrupt the funeral, ridiculing and humiliating the attendants, and moved to snatch the body of the deceased from those who were carrying it for a proper burial.

Haleh Sahabi, leading the funeral, tried to prevent the disruption, while holding on to a picture of her father. The picture was violently taken away from her by a security agent and she was hit on her side. She fell to the ground in the scuffle and soon after died of a cardiac arrest.

The International campaign for Human Rights in Iran holds the plainclothes security forces responsible for Haleh Sahabi's death, and has called for an official investigation. "The shameful actions of government thugs in this incident reveal a deep contempt for traditions that belong to all Iranians, and they have resulted in a tragedy," said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesperson for the campaign. Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Peace laureate, has declared Haleh Sahabi's death,"intentional murder".

In Sophocles' Antigone (circa 442BC), we learn of two brothers who died fighting each other opposing sides of Thebes' civil war. The new king, Creon, decrees that one of the two brothers, Eteocles, will be honoured, while the other, Polyneices, will suffer the public shame of not being given a proper burial.

Antigone, one of the two sisters of the dead brothers defies the royal decree and decides to give her damned brother Polyneices a dignified burial. She considers it her duty, even at the cost of defying the law of the land.

Over the centuries, Antigone's courageous and principled stance, made against the royal decree, has been the source of the most cherished reflections in the entire tradition of Greek inspired humanities. For more than 2500 years, Sophocles' tragedy has been the source and inspiration of the most enduring and insightful reflections on the nature of citizenship, political dissent, civil disobedience, moral obligation to one's family, duty to one's God, and the rule of law. So much so that is it impossible to imagine the Greek foundation of any claim to humanity and civilisation without Antigone and other tragedies of Sophocles.

We - Arabs, Iranians, Afghans, Africans, Asians, etc - are in an inaugural moment of our renewed claims to our history, humanity and dignity.

Today in the streets of Tehran, Kabul, Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Tunis, Tripoli, Sanaa, Manama, and scores of other major and minor cities from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, our people are busy writing the allegorical parables of our future claims on who and how and what we are. Our people are writing new legends, crafting new metaphors, coining neologism for our emerging poetries.

Modern day heroes

Remember today the names of Hamza al-Khateeb, the 13-year-old Syrian boy who was brutally tortured and mutilated by Bashar Assad's agents in Syria; or Mohammed Bouazizi, the young peddler who set himself on fire out of economic desperation in Ben Ali's Tunisia; and Neda Agha Soltan, the young Iranian pro-democracy protester who was cold-bloodedly murdered by the security agents of Ayatollah Khamenei. They join the names of Abeer Qassim Hamza al Janabi, the 14-year-old Iraqi girl gang-raped and murdered by US troops and Muhammad al-Durra, the 12-year-old Palestinian boy murdered by Israeli sharpshooters as the iconic parables of a dramatic unfolding of a renewed accord of a people with their destiny.

They are the dramatis personae of the living legends that our posterity will read in their history books, literary genres, moving poetries. The brutish regimes that rule over our lands will in one way or another come to an end and will leave behind nothing for their leaders than ignominy and infamy.

In Antigone, we are faced with the law of the land contravening the rule of traditions. But here and now, facing a vicious and wicked regime that is over-anxious about its own lack of legitimacy, Haleh Sahabi wrote in her living memory a different drama.

The Islamic Republic is so terrified of any public gathering, especially over dead bodies of its dissidents, precisely because this is the manner in which it took over from the previous regime and that it abused to outmanoeuvre its ideological rivals in order to stay in power.

The Islamic Republic is a republic of death and dying, a republic of fear of the living and thriving. Haleh Sahabi did not break any law to honour her father's right to a dignified burial. She exposed the banality of the evil that rules over some seventy-odd million human beings, a banality that has not even the decency of allowing a dignified burial of an 81-year-old father, without causing the death of her mourning daughter too.

Ezzatollah Sahabi lived a long and fulfilling life. Haleh Sahabi was cut down halfway through her dignified extension of her father's causes into unchartered territories. Antigone defied a human law to observe a divine mandate, a moral commandment. Haleh Sahabi defied the ghoulish last shrieks of a dying theocracy to lay the foundation of a new ennobling legend for her people: The legend of Haleh Sahabi - the daughter who did not allow the body of her noble father stolen by ignoble fiends.

How many brute and cruel tyrants have come and gone? But we only remember the glorious, the defiant, the courageous Antigone.

The Ben Alis, the Mubaraks, the Gaddafis, and the Khameneis of our history too in one way or another will eventually become a boring footnote in some future history book - the titles, themes, and empowering dramas of which will blossom around the names of Antigone and Haleh Sahabi.

Tonight Haleh Sahabi, a daughter who came out of prison to bury her father and honour his passing to eternity, sleeps prematurely but peacefully in the vicinity of that father.

Among her other courageous endeavours, Haleh Sahabi was a member of the "Mothers of Peace", a group mostly consisting of mothers whose children had perished at the hands of thugs employed by the garrison state to preserve it a little longer, each woman committed to reduce the intensity of violence in their homeland.

Somewhere between defiant daughters and mothers of peace, the future of Haleh Sahabi's homeland is in very caring and capable hands - the hands of the living and the life-givers. Like Antigone, Haleh Sahabi is now the budding seed of an ennobling tragedy that will sustain her people's renewed struggle to demand and exact their inalienable rights to freedom and liberty, for the dignity of daughters and sons being allowed to bury their fathers and mothers in peace.

Rest in peace, gallant sister, our own mighty Antigone: Haleh Khanom Sahabi.

First published in

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. He is the author, most recently, of Iran, the Green Movement, and the US: The Fox and the Paradox (Zed, 2010).


Soosan Khanoom

Houston, we have a problem

by Soosan Khanoom on

It has come to my attention that many people on IC  have no idea how to carry out effective debate. Yes, arguing is an art form. Yes, there is a right and a wrong way to do it. If you’re wondering why I’m writing this, it’s because a) I have nothing better to do with my life, b) I don't want MG leave, and c) because I hate stupid arguments.

While this post won’t change anything, it’d be nice if I could get at least one person to acknowledge these things!

So anyway, let’s see :

*Even if you are completely set in your views, you have to at least think about the other side. Don’t start blindly ranting!

*For the love of all things beautiful, do not go off on tangents. Maybe you think you’re showing off the breadth of your knowledge, but here’s the reality: you look like you can’t carry a topic. Moreover, you look like you’re failing miserably at defending your position and are trying to rely on red herrings to throw off your opponent. Just…don’t do it.

*Just know that it’s okay to concede to some contentions. Concession, if artfully done, isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign you have understood your opponent. It also comes in handy for subsequently minimizing the opposing argument. 

*Think about what you’re going to say. If you don’t know about a topic…don’t argue about it .... 

*And finally since MG has noticed it and he is damn right ... please read the entire thing before you make any statement.

I, however, suggest that if you do not like the author just do not read his writings at all....PERIOD ... That way you won't end up making such a fool of yourselves....



Mash Ghasem

Its more along the lines of: appalling, disgusting and revolting

by Mash Ghasem on

to see people with pseudo names and pseudo avatars -(evreyone in IC and more than a few around it, know who I am, name, where I live, what I do)- so easily act as judge, jury and the executioner, not only wanting to put the father on trial, but dismiss the entire  life and worth of the daughter as a mere IR supporter of 'reformer,' some of you  people make me sick.

And all of this in response to a most informed text that could be written on this unspeakable tragedy. I bet half of the commentators in here didn't read the entire text, or if they did, they didn't understand at least more than a  handful of ideas and terminology used there. Some of you are simply incredibly ignorant, arrogant  and forever (it seems) stuck in that "situation."

On  a personal note,  feeling  so immensly  insulted by the  disrespectul attacks in here on the writer and Sahabis, father and daugther (RIP), this will be my last comment on this site for the indefinite future. It's been real.



by ComraidsConcubine on



It is fascinating

by incognito on

It is fascinating to see how the murder of a grieving daughter is usurped by cyber-activists to settle old accounts. From the Cyrus’s pallbearer to the born-again democrats fighting over the deceased’s political booties. Fascinating, indeed!

Keep fighting, Gentlemen. Keep fighting. This circus will remain open until your last breath.


I rest my case about

by Mammad on

you SamSam and your xenophobic, borderline, if not outright, racist views. I am sorry, but these are the most polite words I could find. What can one says about anyone who attacks "Sheikh" Hafez.



mr dabashi, your nost completely honest (even with yourself)

by Hormazd on

  over the past years, you have been wearing a palestine scarf even when iranians said "na ghaze na lobnan faghat janam base iran" and appeared as a reformist. your writing has been anti-colonialism where everything has been connected to the "evil" west. now you are realizing what many of us has always known, that Islamic Republic can not be reformed. why did an academic like you realize this so late? You are not honestly pro human rights but the outdated anti western ideology come first. dabashi the world has changed now your stuck in the 70s.

Maryam Hojjat

I agree with SamSamIIII, salmon Parsi & Khers

by Maryam Hojjat on

Mr. Dabashi is an Arabophile  who claims he is IRANIAN is a pro IRI and I am very shameful of Such an Iranians also Sadri's brother.

I realize that Haleh sahabi & his father  became green as oppsitions.  I also noticed that the IRR/IRI flags on their dead bodies did not have that Islamic lego on the white part of flags.

 Mr. Dabashi's picture in this blog shows the Islamic lego.

AM I wrong?  Is not a way Dabashi still showing his support for this barbaric$ anti- Iranian regime.

salman farsi


by salman farsi on


I understand this Mammad is a professor of chemical engineering in some American university. My friend who knew him well said that this is not the first time that he comes up with such baseless figures or exaggerated claims. In a recent rountable on VOA in which he had attended he had to be corrected by the other side for claiming that some of Iran's refineries were initiated and constructed under the IRI!! On another occasion he was given some grilling by Hasan Daei for using a similar loose language and claims.

This type of nonsense may be acceptable from popagandists of the anti- Islamic republic or some leftists who were dumped by the mullahs after the revolution but when an engineering man comes up with such a balseless and uncoroborated claim that 95% of the population were behind the revolution we should seriously feel sorry for the state of our universities. Thankfully the industry is immune from such careless cowboys. As the saying goes, "those who can't do it, teach it! "

The same exaggerating cowboy professor is using the same style of language when it comes to defend Sahabis' (father and son) involvement in the most critical period at the inception of the Velayte Faqih dictatorship. Just look at the number  of positions that Ezzatollah Sahabi had held during that critical period.

 And professor Mammad calls this: "an almost immediate break with Khomeini." !!!

Sorry old boy but almost immediate break means in matters of days or week and not years! And I am talking about the most shining examples of such disassociation with the tyranny as in Ayatollahs (brothers) Haeri-Yazdi who were Khomeini's ham-hojreh and classmates. They told him to stop his senseless killings and confiscation of people and their properties and when he didn't they pulled out of his circle of associates within a few days not years later as Sahabi did. They were too grand for Khomeini to touch them. Ayatollah Mahdi Haeri-Yazdi (aka Professor Haeri)  spent the rest of his life in academic teaching and research aboard (Oxford and Harvard) and out of the mess of patnership with the anti-Islamic regime of Khomeini.

So you have to be ultra careful with your margin of error Professor Mammad next time you want to use engineering estimates of  what percentage were behind the revolution and how immediately one cut ties with the Islamic regime. 

In defence of Samsam,

Not that he needs one, but everyone knows of my stance and Samasam's on Islam, Arabs, etc. and yet I agree with him that it was this very unprincipled "so what" attitude that brought Iran to where it is now and there are still cowboys like Mammad whocarelessly (and shamelessly) brag about it.

As I said it on a different blog, the death of Haleh Sahabi was one more tragic incident among countless many but as for her father, he had to stand trial for intimately cooperating with the evil doers of the anti-Islamic republic in their inceptive period. Angel of death had other plans for him.

And lastly, use of Laati language as Mammad accuses Samsam of is the essential Iranian characteristic (if you had done some research in the meaning of laat). So Samam, from this ommatie: well done pal.

 For an Islamic democracy


This article made a small point while missing the larger one.

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on

The larger point is one each person will have to figure out on their own.  It is one that Nietzche knew of, but made his readers work very hard to discover.

It is a point about our persian traditions, about zoroasters philosophy and of Iranian civilization.  It is the point that unites us all against domination and seeks to restore dominion to the world dialogue.  It is one that the late Shah lived his life restoring for the world.  


جناب دباشی - برادر عربِ [ایرانی‌ نمای] گرامی‌


آقا جان شما چرا خودت رو قاطی‌ مسائل ایران میکنی‌؟  شما که چندین و چند سال است که چفیهِ فلسطین عزیز به دور گردنت است.  هزار و یک کتاب و فیلم و سخنرانی‌ هم درباره آن مردم عزیز، یعنی‌ فلسطین گرامی‌ نوشته و درست کرده و داده‌ای.  حالا چون یعنی‌ [شوربختانه] در ایران متولد شدی فکر میکنی‌ که مجبور هستی‌ که نخود اون آش هم بشوی؟  برو برادر جان.  خودت رو خسته نکن.  حالا چفیه ات رو هم سبز کردی، قربون دستت.  دیگر به خودت زحمت نده.  برو عربده بکش برای فلسطینِ عزیزت.  امیدوارم که یک روز هم پیروز شوی و کشور عزیزت فلسطین آزاد بشه و این یهودها هم به دریا ریخته شوند.  به خدا ما هم آن روز رو جشن میگیریم.  چون میدونیم به بعد از اون روز دیگر لازم نیست که قیافه زشت شما و امثال شما رو ببینیم.    


I like this blog and the comments here.

by Roozbeh_Gilani on

I enjoyed reading mammad's comments as much as sam sam's.

A very important point the blogger is making is the fact that Haleh was a good muslim and a solid supporter of the Islamist Revolution. I have no doubt she voted for "islamic Republic" and "velayate Faghih". Then, at some point, she turned against the regime and was murdered by it. This means that any claims of popular support for the Islamist regime are absolutely false. This tells me the vast majority of Iranians, that'd include devout muslims are solidly against the regime. That'd tell me an opposition movement led and organised correctly would overthrow this fascist regime much easier and quicker than most of us imagine.   

"Personal business must yield to collective interest."


Mr Mammad, your "So what ?" is exactly my point !

by SamSamIIII on


Your "so what" is exactly the shameless, unaccountable menatality that has screwed Iran for 1400 yrs. "So what" that the raping bedoines are our leadesr? ,so what if we cooperate with khaliffe to kill Babak,  so what if we have to speak & write Arabo Farsi to pleae the invaders? So what if the shaikhak poets do maddahi poetry for the Arab & Mongo? , so what if we kiss the foreign Sultan's arss for a buck, so what if we change our whole way of life to survive as beggers?, so what if our daughters are graded as 4th class citizens with less rights than a foreign jehadists, so what if we pimp our way for Russians & British & americans & shaikhs to earn a living?. You got my point?, your "so what" nomadic jahan vatani remedy has got us where we are today;, a non-accountable ommat of "so whats"  whose ethics & principles are as shifty as her leaders and pending change daily.

& now you know why majority Iranians feel so much at ease & comfort with shaikh Hafiz & not so with Ferdowsi. the former reminds em of "so what" that its okay to be passive and conform to tyrrany and the latter does not.


Dear AI; This was not about the late Mrs Sahabi but to point out the hypocracy of the likes of haji Dabashi. We are all at faults. Heck I could be the next conscript for omaru republic if the price is right ;). Its all about our ommatie "so what" mentality. Cheers pal!!!

Path of Kiaan Resurrection of True Iran Hoisting Drafshe Kaviaan // //


So what?

by Mammad on

So what that Haleh Sahabi did what SamSam says she did - if she did? At that time, 95 percent of the nation was behind the revolution.

But, she, her father and grandfather had the courage and honesty to almost immediately break with Ayatollah Khomeini, when they realized that the system that his supporters were putting in place was not what they thought it would be. They joined the opposition less than a year after the revolution and, ever since, were harassed, jailed, tortured, and eventually killed.

Aside from SamSam himself, no one is presumably pure, unless they carry the mythical "derafsh-e Kaviani" that, in his view, is the signature of "pure" Persians. Aside from the xenophobic aspect of such a thinking, I would say: sir, people make mistakes. The good ones learn from them, admit them, and move on. Demanding purity in hindsight, which is beautiful and 100 percent correct all the time, does not get anyone anywhere. In addition, we are all here in the comfort of our homes, issuing secular "fatwas" about others, but they are there, grappling with whatever that is thrown at them on a daily basis.

Finally, SamSam always uses a "laati" language to describe his thinking. I have no problem with it. But, just wondering: is that another part of being "ultra-pure Persian" that he thinks he is? 


salman farsi

Your new ears have sharpened hirre :)

by salman farsi on


Allow me to answer you in your own words:

"It's life Jim but not as we know it"

 For an Islamic democracy


It is so very true

by aynak on

Mr.Dabashi weaves the plight of the people of our region, be it Afghani, Irani, Iraqi, Syrian, Egyption ... into a a rug, which has the common concerns of us all wowen for Justice, Freedom, Accountability of government as its design.

How true, that the struggle of an Afghani women to get her basic right, is no different than an Iranian student asking for accountability of government and thy Syrian, who is fed up with Assad Monarchy, and Yes the palestianian, who is the most obvious example of hypocricy amidst self proclaimed lone democrtic state in the region.

Indeed there is a huge awakening in the region.   Giants can sleep, but will not sleep forever.   This is part of the sine wave of human civilization, what goes up must come down and vice versa.

That's why the Babylonian, Egyption, Iranian will have to now wake up and revive their civilizations, but only better.  It is a matter of time, but the writing is on the wall.


May we all have good dreams.


Couldn't stop noticing...

by hirre on

"For an Islamic democracy"...

What does an islamic democracy look like? Do you mean a normal democracy with islam as state religion? Otherwise, don't we already have it in Iran?

salman farsi

A totally misplaced comparsion. Why not an Islamic one?

by salman farsi on


The trouble with our western-influenced so called intellectuals like Dabashi who come from a dominantly leftist background (recently mixed with some pseudo-Islamic tendencies, thanks to Ahmad and Mahmoud Sadri's company) is that they try to present a very Iranian and in this case a Shiite tragic development through a  foreign and westernized channel, in this case Greek mythology. This is a clear example of how alienated these pseudo-intellectuals are and after over three decades of socio-religious upheavals in Iran, they still seek their answers and their heros in foreign cultures and countries. 

Poor Haleh would be agonizing in her grave  if she found that she is being compared to a daughter  born out of an incestuous relationship between her father and her grandmonther !  Worse than that Antigone to whom Haleh is resembled comitted suicide when captured by the despotic ruler who had killed her brother. Not much glory in taking one's own life either!

But had our nouveau liberal pseudo-intellectual, Professor Dabashi, studied the very religion to which Haleh had a life long allegiance and indeed its Shiite history, he would have found the personality with whom Haleh would have been proud to be compared.

Fatemeh-Ma'ssumeh (pbuh), whose burial place is the shrine of Qom near Teheran, was the young sister of Imam Reza (pbuph) the eigth saint of the Shiite sect who is buried in the holy shrine of Mashad. At the age of eighteen when Hazart Ma'ssumeh, was traveling through Iran to meet up with her holy brother who was by then in Khorasan (Mashad) was attacked (in the town od Saveh), all the men in her caravan killed herself  poisoned by a group of sword wielding thugs who were the agents of  the Abbasid Khalif, Ma'moon. They were afraid that by joining her brother Imam Reza, Hazrat Ma'ssoumeh who was an educated, intelligent and vocal in her opposition to the Abbasids (very much like Haleh in relation ot the IRI) could result in a formidable force for good. Hazrat Ma'ssumeh was taken to Qom and in just over two weeks died from the effects of poisoning. She was by all accounts a model for Haleh to resembled to.

One last misplaced parallel between Antigone and Haleh as suggested by Dabashi is in Haleh's membership of the "mothers of Peace". Among its meanings, Antigone means: opposed to motherhood!! 

On Hazarat M'assumeh:


 For an Islamic democracy


Hajj Dabashi

by All-Iranians on

You wrote , "We - Arabs, Iranians, Afghans, Africans, Asians, etc - are in an inaugural moment...". Wrong. Never put down or place "Arabs" before "Iranians" or even "Afhgans" who liverd on the Iranian Plateau, a land of historic civilization. Hajj Dabashi: It seems that you got to read the history once more!

PS: Dear SamSamIIII

Thanks for your info on what late Haleh was doing while she was in Paris in 1979. However, she should be forgiven since she became against VF possiby in 1982. Here are something more on Akhonds, Mullahs, and the ommaties that you are talking about: //


خدا بيامرزش ولی حاج دباش بت ساز تو يکی برو تو صف




ميگن پشت سره رفتگان نبايد زر زد . روانش شاد و يادش گرامی ولی اين بانو هاله سحابی همونی بود که 4 ماه در نوفل لوشاتو به عشق امامش قابلمه ميشست, پاسخ تلفنها رو ميداد ,ويرايش بولتن ميکرد و کارهايه دفتری امام امتيون رو انجام ميداد . کار به جايی رسيد که ديگه رييس دفتر امام خمينی حاج صانعی زنگ زد به سحابی که بياد و دست نوه اش رو بگيره بره که کاسه داغتر از اش شده و همراهان امام  شاکي.   کنون هم اين بانوی حديث پژوه و ارام و بردبار بدست سربازان گمنام همون امام کره ماهي خودشون از پای درامد که خدا بيامرزش.  اگه بنا بر اينه که عشق اماميون, حاج دباش و سيد ميرحسين و سيد خاتمي و دار و دسته عمرو امتي ميدل ايستی و جهان وطنيش واسه ايران دمکراسی بيارن که ای ميخوام صد ساله سياه نيارن.  شانس اوردی اين جهانشاه رفيقته و گرنه بيشتر  تيليت بودي...

راستی اين هوا هم يه تُن يه تُن "ما ملت ايران ""ما ما ما ما امت ايران" نکن... مگه تو چند نفری و چند تا دباش تو اينه ميبيني.



Path of Kiaan Resurrection of True Iran Hoisting Drafshe Kaviaan // //



by Mehrban on

Using a Greek myth.  Is this the dawn of the new era of reconciliation.  

Have we finally come to that humble point of accepting ways of citizenship from a Western model.