‘Not Without My Daughter’ is a biographical account of Betty Mahmoody’s and her four-year-old daughter’s harrowing escape from Iran during the gruesome Iranian Revolution and War. Sharing her two-year-long traumatic ordeal from 1984 to 1986, under Ayatollah’s leadership, Betty narrates how she and her daughter, both American citizens, were held hostage by her husband in an Islamic country that erupted a movement against the US-backed monarchy.
Betty had known the anesthesiologist, Dr Sayeed Bozorg Mahmoody — or ‘Moody’ as she lovingly called him — for four years before marrying him. He came to America to pursue medicine. Mahmoody eventually settled down with Betty, raised an adorable daughter and called Michigan his ‘home’. Mahtob, meaning moonlight in Persian, was named so by her father after he caught a mesmerizing glimpse of a shining full moon. He was a perfect husband and way more than a perfect father.
It had been more than a decade for Bozorg to glance back at his life in Iran. However, certain situations unfolded in his native country that coerced dark, controversial opinions in his mind, stripping him of his job. Almost immediately, a dire change began. Hanging Ayatollah’s portrait, worshipping day and night, getting rid of all the liquor at home — Betty would later realize this lethargic, insipid duration to be a strong indication of Moody’s extremely complex character.
Lying to his family, Moody took them to Iran, citing it as a ‘two-week getaway’. The moment that plane took off for the capital city of Tehran, Betty knew this was a mistake and regretted it immediately. It was the first time she was being forced by her husband into doing something against her will. In her heart, throughout the journey, she felt there was something amiss and shivered at the chilling possibility. Yet, she let those fears slide away and hoped to embrace Moody’s family.
Two weeks elapsed in awe and bewilderment. Foreign land, new practices, alien cultures delighted Mahtob but often left Betty in disgust (mostly because of their treatment of women). The night before they were flying back home, Betty and Mahtob packed when Moody stormed into the room and announced that they would remain in Iran ‘until they die’. Betty is threatened, abused, and hit, her daughter is taken away from her, her every movement is monitored and scrutinized, and his vicious family, his entire nation supports and stands with Moody.
She did, however, manage to find numerous people, total strangers, who were ready to provide help in whatever ways they could, even if that meant putting themselves at great risk. All the comfortable routes of going back to the States implied losing Mahtob forever. But she was absolutely determined on one thing — she was not leaving without her (hence, the title). Betty chose to be smuggled out of the country in the century’s harshest conditions with her daughter.
This extraordinary story perfectly encapsulates how fundamentally connected we remain to our countries. A global environment demands us to identify ourselves with our nations. The way we associate our existences with our homelands tends to tell a lot about our psychological, emotional statuses. In Moody’s case, initially, he was almost ashamed of anybody knowing that he hailed from Iran. But later, he exhibited starkly contrasting behavioural signs. Nevertheless, whatever happens at the international stage affects individuals in ways no entity can anticipate. As individuals, we may never know what part of our conscience may get triggered by the events orchestrated at such a level.
Moreover, oftentimes, leaders of the countries fail to fathom the magnitude of influence their actions carry. Misjudgements and misinformation are the primary consequences of religion- or culture-induced political activities. Unfortunately, the outcome of this patriotism, sparked in distressing periods primarily through propaganda, proves to be dangerous. Even while residing in foreign lands, a part of us longs for that familiarity presented at home. And so, in troubling times, when dissent is suffocated, it becomes difficult to handle. Empathy for one’s people gets amalgamated with anger and nationalism, deposing clarity and rationale. This is one possible explanation of Mahmoody’s sudden behavioural, moral degradation. Staying in America and not being able to go to the aid of his people choked him on resentment and dissatisfaction.
Glancing on the other side, Betty perceived Iran to be a cruel society where women were nothing but mere possessions of the males, Westerners were heavily despised, and the societal structure was as dilapidated as it could be (with the civil war happening in the background). But she was not wrong to presume so; her own household and surroundings compelled her to believe all her nightmares. But it was only because of those few Iranian strangers Betty realized that she could never mistake a few individuals for the entire country or vice versa.
This struggling tale hurts in all the places but pins an empathetic smile at the end, enlightening us of the fate of two courageous women who refused to abide by the rules written for them by somebody else.