In July 1979, six months into the Iranian Revolution that brought Islamists into power, Ahmad Shamloo wrote a poem, ‘In This Dead-End’, that proved to be prophetic and captured what was to come.

They smell your breath.
You better not have said, ‘I love you.’
They smell your heart.
These are strange times, darling…
And they flog
at the roadblock.
We had better hide love in the closet…
In this crooked dead end and twisting chill,
they feed the fire
with the kindling of song and poetry.
Do not risk a thought.
These are strange times, darling…
He who knocks on the door at midnight
has come to kill the light.
We had better hide light in the closet…
Those there are butchers
stationed at the crossroads
with bloody clubs and cleavers.
These are strange times, darling…
And they excise smiles from lips
and songs from mouths.
We had better hide joy in the closet…
Canaries barbecued
on a fire of lilies and jasmine,
these are strange times, darling…

Satan drunk with victory
sits at our funeral feast.
We had better hide God in the closet.

Shamloo’s poem spoke to me, as it did to many Iranians of my background and generation. With the merger of religion and politics in the aftermath of the revolution, love, beauty, joy and pleasure were all banished from the public space, and anyone expressing them risked punishment. The new authorities justified this policy in the name of Islam: it was God’s law, the Shari’a. This was my first encounter with Shari’a, the core of the faith into which I was born, but a vision of it that I had not experienced before and now found unjust and frightening.

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