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Syndic Literary Journal

Syndic Special Report


“Iran Uprising October 2022”

Interview With Iranian Poet Mahmood Karimi Hakak

By Syndic Poet Bill Wolak

Iranian Poet Mahmood Karimi Hakak

Mahmood Karimi Hakak is a poet, author, and translator. In addition, he is a theater and  film artist whose creative and scholarly works are focused on peace building through the  arts. He is the founder and CEO of Café Dialogue LLC, and Founder and President of  Free Culture Invisible LLC <


BW: As an Iranian-American, how does it feel for you to watch every night the scenes that are emerging from Iran after the death of Mahsa Amimi?

MKH: Proud and frustrated! I have often said and written that if there ever is a change in my country, it will come from its youth, with women as its leaders. So, YES! I am proud because I see the Iranian youth, my children, my grandchildren, taking on the most brutal regime of our recent history, with empty hands. I am proud that this generation of thinkers, and doers, are fighting against a dictatorship that my generation, willingly or not, helped bring into power. I am also proud, as an artist and educator, to see many, and I mean many, artists, educators, athletes, and people of all walks of life are supporting this unprecedented movement of youth, who desire nothing but the basic freedom we all enjoy, or must enjoy, no matter where we live, what we believe in, or how we work, teach,or learn. And I am frustrated! Frustrated because I see that many of the people, politicians, business people, societies, governments, and such, who preach freedom and human dignity, are remaining silent instead of supporting this movement. I would, of course, like to remind the latter group that history will not forget!

BW: How is this crisis different from the Green Movement of several years ago?

MKH: In my opinion, two differences need to be highlighted: 1. Although the women’s participation was visible and essential in the Green Movement of 2009-10, they were part of the movement, whereas the women are leading this present uprising. In 2009 people were looking for their lost vote, a vote which was a part of the political system established by the regime. People were looking to reform the regime within its established structure, whereas now they are demanding nothing less than a regime change! They are frustrated and tired of the lies and deceits this ungodly regime has shoved down their throats. 2. This is a true leaderless movement.
You see, even though the Green Movement started as people, not leaders, asking “Where Is My Vote?” But soon it was highjacked by a certain group of leaders, much like the 1979 revolution which started as an anti-monarchy uprising where every group came together against the ruling of the Shah, but their struggle was highjacked by the Khomeini and the Islamists, who took advantage of the religious belief of the masses, and the religious ignorance of the elite, as well as the opportunistic characteristics of the opposition and, at times with force, at times with deceit, at times with false promises, exploited one of the most popular revolutions of the 20th century. The present movement, to its credit, has no leader, and it should not. Why? Because every individual who may qualify as the leader of this movement, already has a history and a past from which he or she cannot escape. A past that demonstrates her/ his activities and prescribed vision for the future of Iran. The youth in the streets of Iran have a clear but different idea about what they want for their future. The future leader of this movement has to come from within the movement itself. It has to be someone who has lived under this regime, someone who knows exactly what these youths are asking for, someone who is familiar with the ins and outs of their demands.
I fervently hope that this future leader will be a woman. Not only because women are the ones who started, and led this movement, or because women are the ones who have been subjugated to most drastic oppression by this regime, and not only because women have consistently fought this government every single day for the entire duration of this barbaric regime, but because women are the more compassionate sex, the more thoughtful sex, the more enduring sex, and the more persistent sex as well!

BW: As recently as 1998, you taught, directed, and produced both theater and film in Tehran. How is the generation on the streets now different from your own generation and the generation you taught in 1998?

MKH: Let me start by saying that I learned much more than I thought during the seven years I spent there from 1993-99. I was lucky to be there to witness firsthand the beginning of a change in my country’s social tradition. Let me give you an example: all throughout our literary, social, and political history, we have been taught that the elders know best, from the myth of Rostam and Sohrab, where the father overcomes the son, even by deceit, to the contemporary supremacy of white bearded con-artists like Khomeini and Khamenei, we, my generation, learned to follow the advice of the elders. When I was in Iran, I saw the beginning of a shift in this, where the youth allowed themselves to believe in themselves and to think that they may indeed know more than the aged. In other words, as I wrote in a recent article* “The most important change, in my opinion, is that the old tradition of Pedar-sālari (Patriarchy) has given way to a new1 practice of Farzand-sālāri (Pueriarchy): a social system in which children dominate, thus, during my time in Iran, I became acquainted with a generation of Iranians who prepared the groundwork for their children to rise up against such unjust government, and to lead their own way to creating a tolerant, peace-loving, and free society they so deserve. And it is their children who are on this stage today!

It is important to realize that this generation of Iranian youth are psychologically completely divorced from their government. For the most part they do not have a historical memory of the revolution of 1979, or the life before that, nor should they in my opinion. They are the children of today, and demand what every child of today must have. They are bright enough, able enough, and savvy enough to see what other youth in the rest of the world have, and they want, and deserve, to have that as well.  Imagine living in a country with such rich resources and not being able to buy bread, to bite an apple, or to ride a bicycle. These things have become luxury in my country, because the mullahs and their lackeys have stolen all they could carry (witness astronomic accounts of the children or relatives of regime’s elite in foreign banks) and have sold what they could not carry (Iranian mines, lands, treasures, and even water). Now add to this the fact that you are not even able to let your beautiful hair wave in the wind, or to hold the hand of someone you love, while you see the children of these brutes wear miniskirts, drive late model cars, and party lavishly in luxury high-rises owned by their daddies.  Now, you tell me, wouldn’t you, if you were in their shoes, be willing to die for your right to enjoy what is rightfully yours?

BW: Do you think that it makes a difference this time that this crisis is being led by brave women of every age, from every class, especially by young, fearless women?

MKH: Of course it does! As I explained before, Iranian women have always had the front and prominent role in fighting suppression imposed by the Islamic Republic, right from the very first days. Look, no one in the recent history of Iran has committed more civil disobedience than the Iranian women. For 44 years the Islamic Republic forced women to pull down their maghne` (headcover) to cover their hair. It imposed most horrific punishment on Iranian women. It cut open their lips with razorblades for wearing lipstick, it whipped them for showing even a few strands of their hair, and it arrested them for even speaking with a man who is not their husband, their son, or their brother. Yet, year after year, generation after generation these brave women disobeyed the regime’s primitive laws by pulling back their headcovers, putting make up on, and walking with men who were not their relatives. No wonder that in today’s revolt we witness men and women walking together and burning of the hijab (headcover) as the first step toward achieving their desired freedoms.



BW: What goes through your mind when you see the videos of young women throwing  their hijabs in the fire then dancing with their hair waving free like sufis whirling in the  streets?

MKH: Oh, let me tell you what happens to my eyes. They fill with tears; tears of joy,  tears of admiration, and tears of love. I weep, not because the regime’s brutal thugs beat  my sisters, but because I see my daughters and granddaughters dance with ecstasy a dance of life, a dance of nonconformity, a dance of freedom. I see my countrywomen  lead the way to a future where my countrymen will accept them as equal, as friends, as  comrades. I am proud of my sons and my grandsons, for walking side by side with their sisters, friends, and lovers.

BW: You have proposed in previous interviews that the only thing that can lead to real  change in Iran would be a leaderless revolution. Could you explain what you mean by a  leaderless revolution and how you think that it might play out on the ground.

MKH: By a leaderless revolution I mean a crusade that is not moving towards a  predetermined, preestablished and specific political direction at its inception. You see,  the history of my country is filed with revolution after revolution where one ideology  replaces the other, and soon after its success, that ideology becomes corrupt and begins to  impose its own agenda on the people (that is if it hasn’t done so from the start!) And  there we go again, century after century, people after people, revolution after revolution.  Unfortunately, the word anarchy has been misinterpreted and misused to a degree that it  has totally lost its true meaning. For me, establishment of a fixed hierarchy is doomed to  collapse to one sort of dictatorship or another. Therefore, I do not subscribe to the ruling of one single person, group, or ideology, especially in a country as resourceful as Iran  which is truly versatile in its peoples, cultures, languages, traditions, and historical   backgrounds. What I would like to see is the emergence of a group from within the  movement (women, youth) which is trusted by the people on the ground and within the
country, who are directly involved in the downfall of this regime. This group will be  representative of all peoples, cultures and traditions of Iran. And, I would think that such  a group cannot and must not take a permanent position in governing of the country, like  we have been used to thus far, be it monarchy or theocracy; rather, all or some of it would  change periodically as the result of free and unobstructed elections.

BW: The Green Movement owed some of its success to the internet. People were able to  use social media to plan where and when to gather. This time the Islamic Republic has  blacked out the internet as well as the cell phones. Is this state of affairs sustainable for the country? Does such a blackout show the power of the state to control information? Or   does such a blackout show the weakness of the regime clinging to power?

MKH: Let me respond to the last part of your question first. This and all kinds of  blockades show nothing but the weakness of a regime that is not supported by its people.  But remember, Iranians are resourceful people, especially the youth. They have and will find ways to communicated their struggle to the outside world, as we witness in the  amount of visual, audial, and written news seeping through the Iranian government’s iron  fingers. What we do need, though, is the support of the world in this struggle, which as  mentioned before, it has received from many individuals; celebrities, artists, and activists.  But it needs to receive such support from governments, organizations, and NGOs as well.

BW: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has President Ebrahim Raisi, President Raisi has the  Morality Police, the Basij, the Revolutionary Guards, and if need be the army. What  chance does a leaderless, unarmed populace have against such odds?

MKH: In one word, Their WILL! Look, it has always been the practice of all oppressive  regimes to relay on their lackeys, their thugs, their guns, and their armed forces. But, as  we have learned from history, the people’s will have triumphed over such brute forces  times and times again. We will succeed! I am sure of that. Now, whether our people  succeed with relative tranquility and in a somewhat peaceful manner, with the least number of casualties from both sides, or this government will force the people to take up arms and return to the police the same gift they have presented the people; blood and more blood! The answer may also lie in the international support the people of Iran will receive!

BW: Is there anything you are looking for in the following days that might suggest to you  that this uprising is something completely different than anything we have ever seen before?

MKH: I don’t need to look for anything in the coming days. This struggle IS different!  It is led by women. It is led by a generation of Iranians who have surpassed their  government by far with their knowledge about the world, their accessibility to the  contemporary medium, their desire to live free from the lies and deceits of their religious  leaders, and their determination to create change. Yes, this is different from any other  movements we have seen in our recent history.


BW: Here is one of the iconic images from the current uprising. Could you first explain
the context of the image and then relate how you felt when you first saw this image.

MKH: This is a magnificent image. Perhaps the strongest and most symbolic flag of my
country, a flag made of two natural elements: a tree branch representing nature, growth,
and life, and women’s flowing hair, a symbol of freedom that has fought the Islamic
Regime for all its existence.

BW: Any final words?

MKH: As an artist I am used to taking risks. So, at the risk of being wrong, let me
express what I foresee in the near future: Khamenei is dead, or will die very soon! The
regime, as it did with Khomeini’s death, will wait for the situation to calm down before it
announces his death. The situation will not calm down. People will learn of his death.
The struggle for power will begin fracturing the regime from within. Part of the regime
will join the people even if to pretend that they are on the side of the people for future
opportunities, or to save themselves from prosecution. And the regime will fall! Now,
there are also things I hope DOES NOT happen: an armed struggle between different
factions of the regime leading to a civil war, or a brutal killing and destruction that lead to
the blood of my people running through the alleyways of my country. Finally, as an Iranian national, I ask every individual, group, organization, and  government, to stand with the people of Iran and help them in their struggle for freedom  dignity and love. Please help us gain our liberty! Thank you!


Iran Is the Stage And Youth Its Major Players , Chapter 5, Performing Iran: Culture, Performance, Theatre. Edited by Babak Rahimi. Published by I.B. Tauris, 2021


Mahmood Karimi Hakak is a poet, author, and translator. In addition, he is a theater and  film artist whose creative and scholarly works are focused on peacebuilding through the  arts. He is the founder and CEO of Café Dialogue LLC, and Founder and President of  Free Culture Invisible LLC <>. He has created over seventy stage and screen productions in the U.S., Europe, and his native Iran. His creative  works explore the ideas of intercultural discourse and reconciliation. His 1979 production  of Passion of Ashura aimed at alarming his country against a rushed revolution, where  one dictator might replace another. In 1991, he created Seven Stages: A Symphony in  Seven Movements as a dialogue between the 20th century’s most celebrated Iranian female  poet Forough Farrokhzad, and 12th century Sufi poet Jalal-al-Din Rumi. His selection  from Rumi’s Masnavi (2000) employed actors from seven different nationalities, each  speaking in their native tongue. In his 2001 adaptation Six Characters in Search of An  Author, Pirandello’s characters appear through the ruins of The World Trade Center where  the murderers and the murdered faced each other. In 2008, Karimi Hakak used Aeschylus’  The Persians to reference the devastating aftermath of American military industrial  expansionism. His HamletIRAN (2011) imagines Shakespeare’s prince within the Iranian  Green Movement of 2009. His most recent play, Justice (2022) is a commentary on  sexual assault and abuse by educators, politicians, and the clergy. Mahmood Karimi Hakak Karimi Hakak, has published seven plays, two books of poetry, five translations from and  into Persian, and numerous articles and interviews in both Persian and English. His  translation of Hafez (with Bill Wolak), entitled Your Lover’s Beloved: 51 Ghazals by  Hafez (Cross-Cultural Communication, 2009) was nominated for the Best Translation of  Poetry by American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) in 2010. He is a recipient of
several artistic and scholarly awards, including Critic’s Choice Award (1999), KCACTF  Merit Awards (2003, 2008, and 2011), and the 2005 Raymond Kennedy Excellence in  Scholarship Award. In 2009, Karimi-Hakak received a year-long Fulbright award to  produce an original theater production with Palestinian and Israeli actors. However,
facing the difficulties of staging such a play within the region, he created The Glass Wall,  a documentary film where theater practitioners of both sides express their frustration and  opposition to the barrier that has divided them physically, intellectually, and artistically. Professor Karimi-Hakak has taught at CCNY, Rutgers, Towson, and Southern Methodist  University in the U.S., as well as universities in Europe and Iran. Presently, he serves as
Professor of Creative Arts at Siena College in upstate New York. <>

Bill Wolak is a poet, collage artist, and photographer who lives in New Jersey and has just
published his eighteenth book of poetry entitled All the Wind’s Unfinished Kisses with Ekstasis
Editions. His most recent translation with Mahmood Karimi-Hakak, Love Me More Than the
Others: Selected Poetry or Iraj Mirza, was published by Cross-Cultural Communications in
2014. Mr. Wolak has been awarded several National Endowment for the Humanities scholarships
and two Fulbright-Hays scholarships to study and travel in India. In 2007, he was selected to
participate in a Friendship Delegation to Iran sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation,
America’s largest and oldest interfaith peace and justice organization. He was selected to be a
featured poet at festivals in India five times: at the 2011 Kritya International Poetry Festival in
Nagpur, at the 2013 Hyderabad Literary Festival, at the Tarjuma 2013: Festival of Translators in
Ahmedabad, at the 2014 Hyderabad Literary Festival, and at the 2017 Goa Arts and Literary
Festival. He has been a featured poet at The Mihai Eminescu International Poetry Festival in
Craiova, Romania; Europa in versi, Lake Como, Italy; The Pesaro International Poetry Festival,
Pesaro, Italy, The Xichang-Qionghai Silk Road International Poetry Week, Xichang, China, The
Ethnofest, Pristina, Kosovo, the Chengdu International Poetry Week, Chengdu, China, and the
International Poetic Conference, Poznań, Poland. Recently he was awarded the Grand Prize for
Poetry at the the 2022 International Poetry Festival Mihai Eminescu, Craiova, Romania


Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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