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A Time to Betray: True Story of Former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Wins Two Prizes in 2011 International Book Awards
A Time to Betray by Reza Kahili, published in April 2010, was just awarded two prizes in the 2011 International book awards in the categories autobiography/memoirs and best new nonfiction. The book was also a finalist in the non-fiction narrative category. The winners were announced May 11, 2011 by the JPX Media Group.
Like Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef, which I previously did a review of, this book would compete with the most riveting spy novel in its suspense but yet it is a completely true story.
Reza Kahili (a pseudonym, as are all the other names in the book), in telling his story, describes how life went from normal and peaceful to harrowing and repressive when the Ayatollah Khomeini preempted control of Iran from the Shah in 1979.
He sets the stage for the divergence of three life pathways by describing his two closest friendships when he was young. The three were as close as any camaraderie could hope to achieve in this life, yet the completely different pathways they took in lift resulted in a rift which ultimately ended in death for two of the three.
The book is now being used by the Department of Defense in its training program. It was also chosen by the US Marines magazine, Leatherneck as book of the month for Jan. 2011.
Reza originally joined the Guards with the thought that he would be helping his country. He thought the revolution was going to do what was right and good for his country. As he began to realize the atrocities they were committing in the name of God, he began to feel it was his moral duty to report what he was learning and witnessing to the CIA in hopes they would dethrone the radical Islamic regime that had hijacked his beloved country.
Reza describes his childhood with his two friends Naser and Kazem. Reza and Naser lived in a well-to-do neighborhood and their families practiced Islam moderately whereas, Kazem lived in a very poor neighborhood in a family that practiced Islam zealously.
As youths, they loved going to American movies with John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen as they ate popcorn and drank soda. The only part they didn’t like was having to stand before the movie started as a picture of the Shah and the national anthem was played. Many years later, two of the three would have welcomed such a simple act of devotion in light of the tragic turn of events that ripped freedom away from Iranians.
Reza remembers how, when he was young, girls were able to wear mini-skirts and make-up. Extended family gatherings included dancing, singing and other merry-making. In 1979 this would all change and these joyous occasions would be forbidden and punishable by death
Reza would listen to his grandfather and a neighbor having weekly political discussions. His grandfather praised the Shah because of all the modernizations and freedom for women that he brought to Iran. The neighbor maligned the Shah for not allowing freedom of speech.
Some conflicts developed in the friendship trio as the entered their late teens. Reza and Naser enjoyed smoking, drinking beer and chasing girls, while Kazem followed Islam rigidly and remonstrated his two friends for their unholy choices.
As his high school graduation approached, Reza’s dad encouraged his son to go to America to obtain his university education as he himself had done. So, in the spring of 1972, with the help of an aunt who lived in Los Angeles, Reza enrolled at USC to pursue a degree in computer science. When the day of departure arrived, the three amigos pledged lifelong friendship to each other though separated by many miles.
He was amazed by the freedoms in American. He wrote to his friends about the partying on campus, and the student protests that included flag burning and defacing photos of President Nixon. He knew that such activities in Iran would result in immediate imprisonment in Evin Prison accompanied by beatings. His friends’ letters of reply included many questions. He knew they wanted to know if a society of free speech and protest could really work.
In his senior year, he got a teary phone call from his mother informing him that his chain-smoking father had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was in serious condition at age 50. So he went back home for the first time since beginning his education.
His friends greeted him at the Tehran Airport when he returned home and their reunion was joyous despite having to inform Reza that his father had just passed away. They gave Reza great comfort during his entire stay by remaining at his side continuously throughout his mourning.
The friends’ discussions naturally turned to politics and the current unrest in Iran. Naser and Kazem both criticized the Shah but for different reasons. Naser complained of no freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Kazem complained of the Westernization of Iran and its accompanying demoralization of the youth and economic disparity.
Kazem was sure a return to a strict practice of Iran was the solution while Naser felt the views of an open-minded Islamic scholar name Dr. Ali Shariati would be more equitable. Shariati simultaneously decried the mullahs and capitalism and was somewhat of a socialist.
After his father’s funeral and a time of mourning, Reza returned to USC to finish his degree. He began to fervishly study the writings of Shariati whom he was sure was the key to Iran’s future. However, no sooner had he begun when he got a letter from Naser informing him that Shariati had been assassinated.
Meanwhile, his friends at USC Islamic Students’ Association were becoming mesmerized by the recorded speeches of an imam that strongly touted freedom and equality and who was inspiring a movement in Iran. The imam’s name was Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Eventually, Reza heard the news that mass public uprisings had forced the Shah to leave Iran and had paved the way for Khomeini to take over the government. Reza returned to Iran after obtaining his Master’s Degree from USC.
His friend Kazem had been hired to join the Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guards because of his devotion to Islam. Kazem convinced Reza to join the Revolutionary Guards so they could make good use of his computer skills.
It soon became apparent that Khomeini was not going to transform Iran in the way many people had been led to believe. Reza was disturbed when he found out that Khomeini had encouraged the student break-in at the U. S. Embassy in Iran. In the ensuing months, hundreds of former Shah supporters were hauled before firing squads without being given an opportunity to defend themselves.
Naser joined the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, an organization that sought to follow the teachings of Dr. Shariati and had formerly resisted the policies of the Shah. Now they were resisting the policies of the mullahs. The dichotomy in their personal ideologies soon created an irreconcilable wedge between Naser and Kazem.
Meanwhile, Reza’s beloved grandmother passed away, but at the memorial service he was mesmerized by a beautiful young woman named Somaya. His grandmother and the girl’s grandmother had already been plotting a match. They were married a few months later.
Two weeks after the marriage, Iraq attacked Iran and an eight year war ensued. Air raids became a common occurrence and fearful adjustment factor in their young marriage.
Meanwhile, as Khomeini continued to strip away freedoms from Iranians, Reza became more and more disillusioned with the Revolution. The final straw for him was when his friend Naser, along with Naser’s young brother and sister who had no political affiliations whatsoever, were arrested, tortured and thrown into the Evin prison. They were all eventually shot before a firing squad. Naser’s young sister was raped prior to the execution, a standard procedure with female prisoners since Muslims believe all virgins go directly to Heaven if they die and the executioners wanted to prevent these “criminals” from enjoying eternal bliss.
Reza was so distraught about the turn of events in his country and he diligently sought God in prayer about what to do. He finally came to the conclusion that he had to return to the U. S. and inform the CIA of what was really happening in Iran. He was sure that if Americans really knew what was happening in his country, they would surely do something about it.
To accomplish this, he was able to obtain a leave of absence from the Guards by saying he had to go back to the U. S. to help his aunt who was ill. His request was miraculously approved.
When Reza returned to the U. S. he contacted the FBI who connected him with the CIA. In his mind he continuously vacillated back and forth about whether he was doing the right thing. At times he thought he was out of his mind for doing it. Then he would tell himself “this is what you have to do for your country. This is the only way to bring democracy and fairness to your people.”
After meeting with several CIA agents and informing them of what was going on in Iran, they told him that the best way he could help them would be to go back to his job in the Revolutionary Guard and be a double agent. He agreed and they gave him the code name Wally. Before returning to Iran, they sent him to London for several weeks of training. They taught him how to send and receive coded messages.
In order to avoid arousing suspicion among his fellow Guards, Reza went out of his way to appear even more zealous for the Revolutionary cause in Iran. He had to pretend to be happy whenever he was informed of killings and bombings that were done in the name of Allah as, for example, when he heard about the suicide bombing attack on the U. S. Marine headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon on October 23, 1983.
His commitment to the Guard caused him much conflict with relatives who did not approve of the way Khomeini had commandeered their nation. The long hours Reza kept with the Guards often got him in trouble with his wife Somaya, particularly when she became pregnant with their son. This put a lot of stress on him.
Interestingly, Reza does not share anything in this book about his feelings toward Jews and Israel. He made it clear in the book he was very pro-American but there is no hint about his personal feelings toward the Jews as he describes the goals of both Iraq and Iran to annihilate Israel.
Reza talks about some appalling things done by Iran under Khomeini in the war against Iraq. One was the establishment of a teenage force called the Basijis. Their job was to walk through minefields to clear the way for the Revolutionary Guard. They also tied bombs to their bodies and then threw themselves up under Iraqi tanks to blow them up. Reza thought this was a terrible way to make use of the country’s youth.
At one point he began to realize a co-worker named Javad had become suspicious of him and was actively working to set him up or trap him into unwittingly giving himself away. But even when he was scared out of his wits on the inside, Reza always managed to keep a perfectly calm façade on the outside and talk his way out of every situation.
It was then that he decided to start carrying rat poison capsules around with him. He reasoned that if he was suddenly accused and arrested, he could end it all immediately. This would protect his wife and child, because if he was dead, the Guards would have no reason to torture them to get him to elicit a confession from him.
It seemed, however, that God was protecting Reza. He had a number of narrow escapes. Kazem and Reza were occasionally sent to the front lines of the war for special assignments. On one of these assignments, the suspicious Javad volunteered to go along with them. This made Reza more anxious than the dangerous battlefront they were going into.
Suddenly, the three of them found themselves in the heat of enemy fire. Kazem and Reza were mildly wounded, but Javad was hit by a large piece of shrapnel and died shortly thereafter.
As time went on, Reza found it more and more difficult to restrain his anger at the abuses and distortions of truth by the Khomeini government. At the same time he became more and more concerned for the safety of his wife and son in light of the frequent Iraqi air raids and the possibility that his cover might be blown . He convinced his wife that she should go live in London where her parents lived until the war was over. But then he began to ache from the emptiness without her and his young son.
When he returned to Iran, his mother had a heart attack and died. He regretted that he had never been able to tell her the truth about himself. Their relationship had become almost hostile because his mother disapproved of his working for the Guard. She loathed what Khomeini was doing to her country.
I don’t want to completely ruin the story here. I will mention that Kazem eventually realized where Reza’s true loyalty lay. You will have to read the book to find out how Reza got out of that situation and how he eventually separated himself from the CIA and came to the U. S. where he lives with his wife and son today.
This book is a real eye-opener about Iran and other radical Muslim activities. According to other reviews I have read of it, most people finish it in a short period of time because they are unable to put it down.