George Bush isn't talking to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But he is speaking to Iranian student dissident Amir Abbas Fakhravar. And Fakhravar's dead set on keeping it that way.
The thirty-two-year-old looks the part of a revolutionary. To embrace cliche, he has the fierce green eyes of a panther, and an eerie confidence that makes you wonder if he sees something you can't. Dressed in mesh shorts and a T-shirt, he ushers me into his bare D.C. apartment late one night. There's a desk flooded with papers in one corner. On the wall hang a pre-revolutionary Iranian flag and a cowboy hat.
The flag is for Iran's past and future, he says, and the cowboy hat is for his greatest hero: George Bush. "Bush and I were both born on July 6, within the same hour" he says. And because of this cosmic occurrence, "[we] are both hard line, passionate people" who want to rapidly, unabashedly change the world. But far more than a birthday and a cowboy ethos bonds the two men.
Last year Bush's neo-conservative confidant, Richard Perle, former head of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee who advocated invading Iraq, helped Fakhravar flee Iran's jails for the U.S. Once in D.C., Fakhravar found more allies in the White House who supported an aggressive stance toward Iran. He made the rounds, speaking out at senate hearings, democracy conferences and conservative think tanks. This led some Iranians, including student dissidents like Kouroush Sahati, to ask: is this really fate or just opportunism?
The question has followed Fakhravar throughout his rise to student dissident fame. Someone has contested almost every part of his story -- from why he was jailed to where he was held. The first in depth look at him within the English language press was done by Laura Rozen in a must-read-piece for Mother Jones. And a few things are clear.
Fakhravar was jailed in 2002 for "defamation" after criticizing the Supreme Leadership. Once in custody, he was terribly abused. Even the judge in charge of his case took the liberty of bashing Fakhravar in the knee, tearing his ligament. He still hobbles.
In jail, Fakhravar claims he was held for extended periods of time in an all white room, wearing white clothes, eating white rice, defecating in a white bucket. A bright ceiling light kept it always white as day. The guards outside walked on sponges so prisoners couldn't hear anything. This went on for endless stretches of time. Fakhravar dubbed the practice "white torture" for Amnesty International and says, "I used all my strength not to go mad." No wonder his eyes are fierce.
Fakhravar was moved between solitary confinement and ordinary jail. In the latter he read, wrote, and studied law. Then in early 2006 he was afforded a two-day leave from jail to take an externally administered law exam -- a peculiar practice -- after which he was supposed to return for another four years. Instead, Fakhravar boarded a civilian plane to Dubai where he met Richard Perle in a hotel room. From there he pushed off to America with high hopes, leaving a "shoot on site" order awaiting him in Iran should he ever return.
"The U.S. is my biggest hope, especially the neo-cons in America," Fakhravar says, "because I've seen how these people act....American youth have died to spread democracy around the world." Speaking for his indeterminate following he continues, "Iranians respect America for that [sacrifice]."
In the U.S., Fakhravar hopes to aid his revolution by helping craft a cogent U.S. strategy to overthrow the Iranian regime. He wants transatlantic media, international figures like the Shah's son Reza Pahlavi, and networks of dissidents within and outside the country to collaborate, with U.S. aid, and foment rebellion.
If all that fails, Fakhravar opposes military action, but then says "...many Iranians would actually welcome a military strike by the U.S. because of how strongly they wish to get rid of their government." Americans would be greeted as liberators, he says on his patio, eyes locked on mine, sounding eerily familiar.