The Weight of Stones

The weight of stones lies on his head, rolling down the grassy hill, and there below, grand mothers wail the punctured orb – his eyes so bare and still…
I saw the place where I imagined they killed him – one shot through the back of the head, blood and brains splattered across the tiled mediocrity of a dirty latrine.  The television retrospective spared nothing: the bodies fallen obscenely in the trough where streams of urine spilled during half time in the sport stadium.  I don’t know if Sadegh was one of those corpses, but I remember the newsbrief which broadcast his disgrace and execution on the orders of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
When I first saw Sadegh Ghotzbadeh in 1970 he seemed like a person out of place at our small Roman Catholic university.  His beefy face and perennial five o’clock shadow seemed incongruous among the young baby boomers whose greatest problems were fractured love affairs and final exams.  An atmosphere of secrets clung to him like an air of one who had seen and experienced things that were beyond the ken of a skinny nineteen year old with long hair and bell-bottom jeans
I was in student politics in those days and after a protest against nuclear testing a friend casually commented on a snippet of conversation he’d had with Sadegh.  He’d said that we didn’t know what real protest was.  In Iran, students gave their lives in their fight against the Shah.  But mention of the Ayatollah never emerged from his lips in those days.  Sadegh had him carefully concealed in the breast pocket of his knitted and well-worn sport jacket.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyway; we were oblivious to the identity of this prelate in exile and to the power he would soon wield in the world. 
An acquaintance said there was a rumour Sadegh was in hiding from the Shah’s secret police, but I cast this suspicion aside as I did the story that our English professor was a CIA operative.  In the late sixties and early seventies rumours like these were as ubiquitous as the marijuana joints that conjured them. 
In those days we were the most well fed, well educated and most self-centred generation on the planet.  Caught up in the swirling efflorescence of change, fed on the copious harvest of our parents’ hard work, beneficiaries of the might of our powerful southern neighbour, we played at changing the world.  But Sadegh, for better or worse, had literally given his life to a cause which was greater than he, and to a leader whom he believed would unfold it.  He rolled this remorseless fanatic up a giant hill, which, as soon as it reached the top, would roll down over him.
He had initiated a reading room in the Student Union Building that he filled with student newspapers from throughout North America.  And on one occasion, as I leafed through the broadsheets Sadegh walked into the room.  He nodded and his look seemed to say that he was pleased I was there.  I nodded back but felt uneasy.  He exuded a sense of power that seemed harsh and bitter like the kind one cultivates in battle against a despotic foe. 
The last time I saw him was in my senior year.  The campus was assembled in the main auditorium for an award ceremony in which he was given the honour of student of the year.  His face was a sunburst of joy, and gripping the pillars of the large golden trophy, he held it up as if in victory.  This new person who emerged in a flare of jubilation surprised me.  I wonder now what that trophy had meant to him and why he gripped it so tightly.  Was this event a window to his soul?  Was he as power hungry as a later journalist would claim?
Years later on television news I watched as the Ayatollah expelled the Shah.  The camera panned a figure in the new revolutionary government, and I was stunned – it was Sadegh, now Foreign Minister of Iran.  Finally, the brooding, restrained, lethal sense of power that had exuded from him became clear.  Here was a man who warned a superpower that if operations similar to the attempted rescue of the hostages were mounted, he would order the Iranian oil fields to be set ablaze.  Throughout his stay on our little campus he had been a close aide of Khomeini and had been plotting the overthrow of a national government.  He must have been amused by our romantic idealism and adolescent rebellion – a wolf amongst lap dogs.
He was at the pinnacle of power – a prince of the revolution.  But this trophy was not enough for Sadegh.  It seems he wanted more.  When his diplomatic approach to resolve the hostage crisis ended in a deadlock, he resigned from his ministry and plotted the overthrow of the Ayatollah.  In April 1982 he was exposed and arrested along with a group of army officers and clerics.  Although he confirmed the existence of a plot, he denied the accusations against him.  It is said that his long time mentor and patron wanted to spare him but was convinced of his guilt when an audiotape revealed his attempt, in prison, to buy freedom with money and the disclosure of his allies in France.  On September 15, 1980 Sadegh was executed.
…and down it rolls to sandaled feet, where black-robed mothers cry and carry Sadegh’s lonesome head,  to rest in Persian skies.


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