Middle East Resources

One Man’s Journey to Freedom: From Tehran to Switzerland

By Bassam Michael Madany


Mireille Vallette is a Swiss journalist and human rights activist. Her website is hosted by the Swiss daily, La Tribune de Genève. Her weekly email message provides the latest news related to her podcast, Boulevard de l’Islamisme. On Tuesday, 4 February 2020, Ms. Vallette posted an interview with an Iranian refugee in Switzerland. Following are translated excerpts from the French article.

A few years ago, Nahid (a pseudonym) arrived at Saint-Gall, Switzerland, as an ideal refugee. To date, his request has been refused, but there still hope. It’s difficult to find a more warm-hearted smiling and communicative resident of Saint-Gall; he seems more integrated than a native Swiss. He is loved by some, appreciated by many; he speaks both French and German. We want more refugees like him. Except he is not a refugee, that status has been denied him. 

Nahid, when and where were you born? 

I was born in Tehran in 1991, twelve years after the Revolution. My family was moderately religious; I followed those rituals imposed on us by culture and by religion.  We prayed at school, and recited passages from the Qur’an. As for the Revolution, my parents were neither for it, nor against it. Once, I heard them say, "the mullahs suck our blood", it didn’t shock them. 

When did you begin to critique Islam?

Quite early in life, I began to think for myself and to choose unusual subjects to read. I got interested in Darwin very early, and I loved Dostoevsky. At around 12 years old, I asked my teacher a question, pointing out that Darwin contradicts Ali, our First Imam’s teaching. He slapped me and summoned my parents. I think my rejection of Islam started there. 

Did you continue the study of Islam?

At college, I changed completely. My reflections deepened; I got interested in history, Western culture, the great literature like Dante. I was in love with the study of languages. At 12, I was doing very well in English, but none of the studies were in the religious field.

What else?

I was drawn to heavy metal, hard rock, I belonged to a group. I spent many evenings with music, girls, alcohol ... At the age of eighteen, I started working. And suddenly, the fateful day arrived, my summons to military service. 

How did this period go?                                                                                                                                              

It was the worst time in my life! As soon as Iranian boys become teenagers, they begin to dread military service. You live with people you can't stand; you pretend, you have to get up at dawn with the calls of the muezzin, which I had never done in my life. Sometimes I used to cry; I got angry too. If you don't do the two year-service, you can't get a passport and be stuck in Iran.

What did you do after leaving the Army?

At college, I studied pedagogy. I taught English and began traveling. I met a Christian girl in Bulgaria, and eventually we got married. Her folks didn’t approve the match. I lost my passport, and finally made it to Switzerland.
[No explanation how that happened, and the way they arrived in Switzerland]

Have you applied for asylum? 

Yes, but we were not believed, our application was refused. It was a terrible moment. In addition, a fortnight before the return flight, my wife fell ill. We were granted a temporary medical permit to stay in the country. Furthermore, we welcomed the birth of a son, and found many friends. I look forward to being authorized to remain here with my small family.


According to Nahid, “Sometimes I wanted to hit my head against the walls thinking about the future of Switzerland. I met people who were there for decades on social assistance who made no effort to integrate, and others who did not speak a word of French after 20 years spent here. It saddens me for this country. "
Nahid confidently awaits the permit that would allow him to stay in Switzerland.


There has been a good deal of news and reporting about Iran. The Islamic Republic sphere of influence has been growing. Its support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the Assad regime in Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, prove that. The United States was responsible for the killing of a senior Iranian commander, Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad on 3 January. A few days later, Iran admitted "unintentionally" shooting down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing all 176 people on board.

Accounts about the life of ordinary Iranians are rather scarce. So, the story of the young Iranian Nahid throws light on the difficulties encountered by the younger generation living under an Islamic Shi’ite regime. Founded in 1979 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the country’s policies are inspired by a tradition derived from an eschatological (end-time) view of history. After Khomeini’s death, he was succeeded in 1989 by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

The worldview that has motivated the leaders of Iran since 1979, can be illustrated in a quote from an article published on 6 September 2016, in the Arabic online journal Al-Awan. It is a plea to the followers of Shi’ism to get over their spirit of victimhood. The quote is my summarized translation of the Arabic text.

“Shi’ism has been based on two foundations: Suffering from Victimhood and Asking for Justice. With the passing of time, these basic principles became deeply embedded and accentuated. The tragedy morphed into a catastrophe accompanied by an unbearable weight. The resulting sadness turned into a melancholy transcending time and space.

“Wherever Shi’ites live has become Karbalai, and all time is now ‘Ashuraii . The main purpose of the believer has become an act of bemoaning the historic Event and transforming it into a contemporary Event that must be both actualized and condemned.  Furthermore, requesting justice has changed into a powerful quest for vengeance. It has become the source of dreams, anticipating with alacrity, the execution of the demands for justice. This powerful motif is then passed on from one generation to the following one. 

“The Shi’ite Eschatology has developed these unique features: at the return of the Twelfth Imam, he will be accompanied by Ali and his sons, as well as by their enemies; now resuscitated, to receive the just retribution, they deserve!

“Thus, instead of seeking justice, Shi’ites dream of a grotesque vendetta. For example, Aisha, the youthful wife of Muhammad and an enemy of Ali’s Caliphate, would be publicly lashed; Abu Bakr and Umar, will be crucified and burned! Such Shi’ite tales that describe horrific methods of torture would surpass Dante’s description of the Inferno in his Divine Comedy!

“What a wonderful day that would be when Shi’ism would have transcended a legacy that had become an integral part of worship; and would adopt an ethic of forgiveness and reconciliation!” 


i Karbala is a city in Iraq where Husayn, the grandson of Muhammad met a violent death at the hand of the Umayyads in 680.
ii Yom Ashura or Ashura is the tenth day of Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar. It marks the day that Husayn was martyred in the Battle of Karbala