'Islamophobia may bring war to Europe'

Written By Unknown on Minggu, 11 Januari 2015 | 22.23

Reza Deghati bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Ben 'Gandhi' Kingsley. A remarkable coincidence considering the 63-year-old Iran-born National Geographic photojournalist is a huge fan of the Mahatma. "All the wars I've seen have made me a pacifist," confessed Reza, who has dodged more than his fair share of bullets and bombs. During the 1979 Iranian Revolution, he mastered the art of shooting in conflict zones - tricks like how to neutralise tear gas shells using lemon juice and newspapers have stood him in good stead. Since then, he's been criss-crossing the globe in search of poignant images of celebration and suffering. In 2007, he snapped images of Ramzan in Paris, while in 1980 he shot Kurds racing out of their homes to escape an aerial bombardment while lugging the corpses of family members.

Reza, who is in Mumbai for the launch of 'National Geographic: Around The World in 125 Years', will be part of a panel discussion after the book launch at Fort's Kitab Khana on Monday. While in the city, he took the time to visit Mani Bhavan, Gandhi's Bombay home, snapping pictures on an unobtrusive Sony cam and examining the Mahatma's 1939 letter to Hitler in which he counsels against a war that will "reduce humanity to a savage state".

As an Iranian residing in France and a journalist, who has covered Islamic revolutions for 35 years, Reza fears that terror attacks like the recent one on satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, coupled with Islamophobia fanned by right-wing parties will drag Europe to the brink of another Great War. "It's a very dangerous moment," said Reza. "The extreme right in Europe is winning, they're the ones benefiting and they want a civil war."

When asked if he thinks there should be limits to free speech in reference to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Reza, who lost a close friend in the attack, quips, "I spent three years locked up because I believe in freedom of expression." However, he would still urge people to be respectful of other cultures. He believes "humanity" is moving forward, but hasn't reached a stage yet when it is deserving of the term. "We are still evolving, we are still sub-human," he explains.

While studying architecture at Tehran University in the 1970s, Reza would roam the streets clicking images of the widespread social inequalities in the Shah of Iran's regime. At night, he'd paste these pictures on the walls of the campus with appropriate captions. Eventually, the secret police got wind of his nocturnal activities and he was locked up and tortured for three years. "Imagine you are 22 and one night, people with guns knock on your door. You don't know who they are. They blindfold you and take you to some place, put you in a cell and start beating you."

After being released from prison, Reza began working as an architect until he spotted a young student with a camera documenting a political protest. He was transfixed. He left his job and began shooting images around the clock falling back on his prison contacts to stay at the forefront of the protests - always one step ahead of the glut of international photographers. But it wasn't until after the revolution that he visited Paris and got hired by one of the world's leading news agencies.

Back in Iran, it didn't take long for him to attract the ire of the new regime - the Shah was overthrown in 1979. In the 80s, Reza left the country for good by posing as a wounded war veteran - an injury he suffered while covering the Iran-Iraq conflict helped bolster his story. "The scariest thing was the government official in charge of giving me the permissions had my photographs pasted on his walls," laughs Reza.

Born a Muslim, Reza, who no longer practices, is no stranger to religious intolerance. During the 1914 Balkan Crisis, he recalls a Serb officer holding a gun to his head and demanding that he beg for his life. He survived, he believes, because he refused. Another time, a violent explosion in Beirut had him so convinced of his death that he groggily wondered, "How can the next world be just as messed up as the one I've left behind?"

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/followceleb.cms?alias=Reza Deghati,Iranian revolution

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