10 May 2014

Reading A Sliver of Light: Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran

In the summer of 2009 I remember hearing news about the three Americans hiking in Iraq who ended up being arrested and imprisoned in Iran's notorious Evin prison. Early on, I remember listening and watching for updates, always curious about the story and the people involved.  Hearing Sarah was an English teacher drew me into the story even more since I, too, was an English teacher. At some point, I happened upon the Free the Hikers website and then I made a point of following the story by watching for updates there. I wanted to know more about Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer, and Josh Fattal. I wanted to know who they were and what they were doing in the Middle East, and I wanted to know why they were political prisoners. Their recently released memoir A Sliver of Light:  Three Americans Imprisoned in Iran answered many of my questions and let me learn about what they experienced as prisoners. By interweaving their individual perspectives, they share with us a true story of espionage accusations, interrogations, days (410 for Sarah) in solitary confinement, and year(s) of imprisonment in Iran.

The story begins with a morning hike in the mountainous Kurdistan region where Sarah, Shane, and Josh were vacationing.  A fourth friend, Shon, vacationed with them but stayed behind at a hotel when the other three set out for an overnight hike.  In the first few chapters, the writers take turns narrating the morning hike, describing the beautiful region, sharing the apprehensiveness Sarah felt the longer they hiked up the mountain, and finally detailing how they were waved forward on the trail by a soldier. Only when they near an outpost building do they notice the solider is actually wearing an Iranian flag on his uniform.  From there, they are taken captive with a brief moment to make a phone call (to their friend Shon whom they asked to call the Embassy in Baghdad).

The phone call to Shon is the last time any of them speak with someone on the outside for many months. The remainder of the book provides details of months and years of confinement including stories of connections they make to other prisoners and the strains on mental and physical well-being. The extensive solitary confinement Sarah endures is especially difficult to read because of the psychological torture depicted in the details of her 23 hours a day of solitude (she had only one hour per day with Shane and Josh). When Sarah is finally freed after 410 days of solitary confinement, she works tirelessly through  political channels to free her fianc√© Shane and friend Josh.

Knowing these young Americans were political prisoners and held captive because of political issues between Iran and America expanded my perspective on issues in the Middle East and caused me to ask many questions about political issues and about the conditions of people held in solitary confinement in any prison.

Long drawn to humanitarian issues and issues of injustice, I always feel compelled to do something. Usually my doing involves learning and/or educating myself and others. I believe we should pay attention to our larger world and not just what's happening in our own families, cities, states, and countries.