From: No Friend but the Mountains

Quotes from Behrouz Booshani's No Friend But The Mountains
Behrouz Booshani | Photo by Hoda Afshar via Wikimedia

Behrouz Booshani‘s No Friend but the Mountains: The True Story of an Illegally Imprisoned Refugee is a book that has captivated my thought and imagination in the last couple of days. His words, his use of language, his art to make you feel what he is feeling, and his philosophical and critical thinking are more than urgent in our day and age. This book underlines more than ever that if not everyone has human rights, no one has!

The book has been translated beautifully from Farsi to English by Omid Tofighian whose advice is: “Rather than categorise his writing as ‘refugee narrative’ or ‘refugee memoir’, the book is better situated in other traditions: clandestine philosophical literature, prison narratives, philosophical fiction, Australian dissident writing, Iranian political art, transnational literature, decolonial writing and the Kurdish literary tradition.”1

Hereunder you will find my favourite quotes from Behrouz Booshani, and I genuinely hope this will invite you to read the whole book. Everyone should!


Respect

“I’m in situations where I do all the work requested by journalists so they can write their report without receiving the kind of respect I deserve. I don’t feel there is recognition of my role as an individual. What I’ve learned is that journalists need to respect others; journalists need to respect the subjects they cover; they need to respect the people they write about.”

“Respect is central. We need that to continue resisting, we need respect to become stronger and fiercer.”

“This will take time, but I’ll continue challenging the system and I will win in the end. It’s a long road, but I’ll do it.”

Mortality and Finitude

“Moments like these awaken a kind of metaphysical power within and the realities of mortality disappear from one’s thoughts. No, it can’t be that I should submit to death so easily.”

“One imagines one’s own death differently to the death of others.”

“We look up at a sky the colour of intense anxiety.”

“The path of death and the flow of life are both made manifest in our bodies; the empty vessel is subject to destruction. I imagine myself looking back from an unknown place beyond — myself looking back at me.”

“For some moments I exert everything to reach something far down inside the deepest existential places of myself. To find something divine. To grab at it … maybe. But I uncover nothing but myself and a sense of enormous absurdity and futility.”

“This is the nature of death; even a brush with mortality gives life a marvellous sense of meaning.”

“Death is death /
Plain and simple /
Absurd and sudden /
Exactly like birth.”

Solidarity and Struggle

“I embed the image in a corner of my distressed mind so I can visit it every so often.”

“A common will takes form in solidarity and struggle.”

The Collapse of Others

“The weak always consider themselves powerful when they see others suffering. But the collapse of others appeals to the oppressor in all of us. The collapse of others becomes a cause to celebrate our own state.”

Truth

Sometimes ignorance of the truth brings tranquility.”

“But the truth has another face, a form of comfort, something to be found beneath the surface of terror.”

Waiting

“I have always despised waiting. Waiting is a mechanism of torture used in the dungeon of time.”

The Courage to Think

“Understanding the concept of courage requires a form of courage in the very act of thinking.”

“But I think that it is only when our theoretical positions are put into practice that we can know their profundity. Only one who contemplates and theorises death to its fullest extent is truly unafraid of death. Theories are theories in the real sense of the word when we internalise them, and only become something more when we embody them.”

“We cannot practise contemplative and sincere theorising in relation to monumental concepts such as death and life if we choose to be dispassionate.”

“Courage is profoundly connected with folly /
Battling the waves and continuing on that odyssey would be impossible without foolishness.”

Suffering

“Sometimes experiencing suffering and hardship up close is easier than being terrorised with impending torment.”

Names versus Numbers

“From their perspective, we are nothing more than numbers. I will have to forget about my name.”

“All my life I have despised numbers and maths.”

The Prisoner

“The prisoner is a piece of meat with a mind that is always moving between the darkest, dullest and most worn-out scenes.”

“The mind of a prisoner is a brew of images that are sometimes contradictory; scenes constituted by his own philosophies and histories. The prisoner is captive to his own life history, and all these isolated occurrences take shape in the unconscious during periods of solitude and silence. However, they also destroy his sense of self.”

Life

“Life is such a magnificent thing /
Life is such a terrifying thing /”

Starvation

“It leads to nowhere /
Nothing /
No answer to his futile questions /
Nowhere /
Nowhere except the threshold of 
insanity.”

Bureaucracy

“The bureaucratic ranks are determined by relationships of power. Every boss is subordinate to another boss. And the superior boss is also subordinate to another boss. If one investigated this chain it would possibly lead to thousands of other bosses. All of them repeating the one thing: ‘The Boss has given orders.'”

The Past

“Childhood constitutes our very first battle; childhood is a mythical tale, a complete epic. People are all born naked, born tiny, completely bare, exposed; one is always on a journey. A childhood that replicates death, forever intertwined with death, and always in perpetual flux.”

“I am disintegrated and dismembered, my decrepit pas fragmented and scattered, no ;longer integral, unable to become whole once again.”

“Growth and development of a lifetime takes place by perpetually traversing from the foundations of family life to our times with friends … from friends to other friends … from our city to another city … to another love … and to another life … and to another death.”

Freedom

“The prisoner constructs their identity against the concept of freedom. Their imagination is always preoccupied with the world beyond the fences and in their mind they form a picture of a world where people are free. At every moment their life is shaped by the notion freedom. It’s a basic equation: a cage or freedom.”2

The Refugees in Manus Prison

“[The] refugees held in Manus Prison have modified their perception and understanding of life, transformed their interpretation of existence, matured their notion of freedom. They have changed so much — they have transfigured into different beings …”

“[All] of them are unique in their own special way; they have become distinctly creative humans, they have unprecedented creative capacities.”

The Kyriarchal System

“I create my own discourse and do not succumb to the language of oppressive power. I create my own language for critically analysing the phenomenon of Manus Prison.”3

Shared Philosophical Activity

“I can’t analyse and express the extent of torture in this place. But I think it’s inevitable that for years to come I’ll end up opening critical spaces for engaging with the phenomenon of Manus Prison … this work will attract every humanities and social science discipline; it will create a new philosophical language.”

“It’s possible, for example, to examine Manus Prison using a Foucauldian framework and apply his philosophical critique of the prison, the mental asylum and psychology.”

“This place really needs a lot of intellectual work … It requires a team to produce research that is rigorous and academic … universities need to get involved.”

Border

“What is a border? … My whole life has been impacted by the concept of “border”.”

Theatrical Ways

“In Iran we would express our critical analysis in theatrical ways; for us, performance is a part of philosophy and advocacy. We act out our ruminations, we embody our thinking … argument is narrative … theory is drama.”


 

Footnotes

  1. Bouchani, Behrouz, and Omid Tofighian. No Friend but the Mountains: The True Story of an Illegally Imprisoned Refugee. London: Picador, 2019. Print, 372.
  2. Booshani has written the book in Farsi, a language that is gender neutral. Unfortunately the english language is not only gendered but also based on the generic masculine use of language. Tofighian has translated this sentence using the generic masculine ‘he’ for the prisoner. I have decided to change it by using the gender neutral singular they.
  3. Tofighian explains: “The term ‘kyriarchy’ is a neologism first introduced by radical feminist theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in 1992 to represent intersecting social systems of domination and oppression.”
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