Nilou Mobasser Obituary

• Mar 21st, 2012 • Category: Works On Soroush

By: Malu Halasa

By translating the work of the Persian scholar Abdolkarim Soroush, the dissident journalist Akbar Ganji and many other censored Iranians, my friend Nilou Mobasser gave voice to a complex culture, particularly in the US, where these authors were published in English for the first time. In 1997, she translated Ghazi Rabihavi’s Look Europe, a play based on a 16-page fax smuggled out of Iran by the detained journalist Faraj Sarkohi. The play was performed that year at the Almeida theatre, produced by and starring Harold Pinter. Nilou, Rabihavi and Pinter also appeared on stage at the Southbank Centre with Salman Rushdie and Doris Lessing, discussing freedom of expression for Index on Censorship, a publication Nilou translated for until her death from heart failure at the age of 52.

From 1988, Nilou worked for the BBC Monitoring Service at Caversham Park, in Reading. As a Persian media monitor, she translated the official pronouncements of the regime. She also served as an editor for the Arabic monitoring team during the Arab spring. It was intensive, technical work, highly regarded by the news agencies and the Foreign Broadcast Information Service of the CIA, now the Open Source Centre.

Nilou once admitted to me that she had tired of the political speeches of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Friday sermons of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and that she preferred translating the essays, reportage and fiction of a frustrated generation that Maziar Bahari and I featured in the 2009 anthology Transit Tehran: Young Iran and Its Inspirations. She also translated Ehsan Naraghi’s memoirs From Palace to Prison: Inside the Iranian Revolution, from the French (1994).

Nilou was born in Tehran. She attended Tehran international school and became fluent in English and French. In 1977 she moved to Portland, Oregon, where she earned a BA in political science from Reed College and published Liberty: A “Good” or a “Right”?, a critique of the American philosopher John Rawls. By 1984, she had obtained an MA in economics from Manchester University, and soon after she published the essay Marx and Self-Realisation in the New Left Review.

She met Soroush in 2002, when he lectured at Oxford University, and translated his interviews, lectures and his 2009 book The Expansion of Prophetic Experience: Essays on Historicity, Contingency and Plurality in Religion. She was working on his autobiography at the time of her death.

Softly spoken and intensely private, Nilou was “freedom’s translator”, said her brother, Bahman: “Translating was more than a job for her. It was her passion.”

She is survived by Bahman and her sister, Soussan.

• This article was amended on 28 March 2012. The original said that Nilou Mobasser worked for the BBC Monitoring Service from 1997. This has been corrected.


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