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Jeffrey Dvorkin

Monday, February 8, 2010

Arthur Koestler and the Turmoil in Tehran

He haunts us still.

A new biography of Arthur Koestler by Michael Scammell has just been published and it's a brilliant evocation of an amazing period. Mid-20th century Europe saw the emergence of a new political engaged journalist who wrote, agitated and in some cases, fought and died for what they believed.

Many were on the left and not a few were active Communists. Koestler was intellectually promiscuous (or perhaps curious would be a better description). He dallied with Marxism, Freudianism, Communism, anti-Communism, Zionism, anti-Zionism, science and ESP. He was a tremendous womanizer and was once accused of rape by which Scammell, to his credit, addresses directly. He fought against the fascists in Spain and wrote political science fiction which changed how people viewed totalitarianism.

Scammell even mentions that his seminal work, "Darkness at Noon" was a critical factor in keeping France from going Communist after World War II. Koestler was hugely influential on the thinking of many writers, including George Orwell whose great book, "Animal Farm" drew inspiration from Koestler.

A few years ago I noted in this blog how the quest for a more populist atmosphere in a television newsroom resulted in a 20 second piece of copy I wrote on Koestler's suicide in 1983 to be rejected.
"Who wants to hear about a dead Hungarian?" said the editor as he spiked the copy. 

Koestler came to mind again last week as my journalism class met with a courageous Iranian political cartoonist, Nikahang Kowsar, now in exile in Toronto.

As Nik told us of his imprisonment, expulsion and a four year separation from family and friends, I thought "what would Arthur Koestler say?"

He'd probably say in his reported impenetrable Hungarian accent that the fight against brutal regimes must go on, but that in order to defeat Nazism, the values of humanity must triumph. He said the same thing about Soviet Communism which did not endear him to the anti-Fascists who assumed that Soviet Communism would inevitably triumph.

Nik Kowsar has the same Koestler-esque approach which is to trust in the eventual emergence of a new Iran which respects minorities, women and sees Islam as an aspect of Iranian culture - not the other way around.

It gives me hope.

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