Monday * September 1st 2014

British novelist Jon Stock explores Iranian government’s persecution of Baha’is

British spy novelist Jon Stock featured the Iranian government’s persecution of Baha’is as a central element of Dead Spy Running. The book was published in 2009 by Thomas Dunne Books and is slated to be made into a movie set for release in 2014. In fact, the book’s climactic scene takes place outside the Baha’i House of Worship in India, a landmark universally known as the Lotus Temple.

Below is an interview with Stock by The American Baha’i magazine:

Q. How did you research the Baha’i Faith for the book?
A. I spent a lot of time researching online. It’s amazing how much information is out there! At one point I became so interested in the religion, I was in danger of being completely sidetracked and writing a Baha’i thriller rather than a spy thriller.

Q. What are your personal spiritual beliefs and worldview?
A. On Facebook, I describe my religion as “awe and wonder.” I was brought up a Christian but I don’t have a strong Christian faith. I guess I believe in a God of some kind and I like elements of Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. In other words, I’m a ripe candidate for converting to the Baha’i Faith!

Q. Tell us about your visits to the Lotus Temple.
A. I have a terrible confession to make. To my shame, I never visited the Temple while we lived in Delhi. It was one of those things that we kept meaning to do, but never got around to doing. We drove past it all the time and it became a part of our lives, a much loved feature of our Delhi cityscape, but we never went in. I’m sorry, it sounds so awful! As a result of our cultural indolence, I had a problem when I wanted to use the Temple for the finale of Dead Spy Running. Fortunately, there is a Google and I spent many hours poring over satellite images of the gardens, measuring out distances with a ruler and plotting the final scenes with mathematical precision. For the interior, I turned to the architectural plans. The man behind the wonderful building is Fariborz Sahba, who is, of course, an Iranian Baha’i. This was a nice twist, but I don’t want to spoil the story by saying what happens in the finale!

Q. And how did you hear about situation of the Baha’is in Iran?
A. It was while researching the Baha’i Faith that I came across a press release from Amnesty International. The organization was seeking clarity from Iranian government about a sinister letter that called for the Republican Guard to compile information on Baha’is in Iran and to report on their activities. The letter referred to Baha’is as a “misguided sect.” I was shocked to read how many Baha’is had been killed and suffered in Iran after the Revolution in 1979. Amnesty International also drew attention to an event in 2006, when 54 Baha’is were arrested in Shiraz for teaching underprivileged children. My main female character in Dead Spy Running is called Leila. She has an Iranian mother who fled after the Revolution. I decided to make the mother a Baha’i, as it provided a good motive for Leila later in the book.

Q. Since in the current reality the persecution is actually worsening, what do you think could help reduce the persecution, based on what you learned in your research for the book or from your experiences?
A. Rightly or wrongly, I hope that I might be able to draw some attention to the plight of Baha’is in Iran by writing about them in a mainstream thriller. Warner Bros are currently turning the book into a film. I haven’t seen the script yet (it’s been written by Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan, who wrote Syriana and Traffic), but it would be great if the Baha’i storyline stays in. It would draw attention to the plight of Baha’is in Iran and, hopefully, remind the regime in Tehran that the world is watching. The Baha’i Faith was the subject of a lot of positive coverage in the UK around the time of [British Baha'i] Dr. Kelly’s death, but it’s dropped off the media radar in recent years. I hope that my book has renewed some interest. Interestingly, a number of people have mentioned it to me after reading the book.

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