Friday, June 19, 2009

A Seismic Shift In Iran

The news coming out of Iran is electrifying. The regime is so desperate that they have shipped in Hamas and Hezbollah militias to force the Iranian people to accept the stolen elections. The Wall Street Journal published a digest of Twitter and other communications that slipped through the barricade of the Iranian government.The picture created in accounts from people in Iran is that of a groundswell of popular opposition to Ahmadinejad and the theocracy that he represents. Although Mousawi's candidacy was a catalyst, it seems as though the concerns of Iranians range far beyond the stated agenda of Hussein Mousawi. The Wall Street Journal relates an eyewitness account of an anti government demonstration in Teheran as follows.

"There is something in the air in Tehran these days. We remain afraid, but we also dare to speak.

I left my home in Tajrish along with my family at 3 p.m. to head to the protest on Monday. We knew that people were supposed to gather in Enghelab [Revolution] Square at 4 p.m. and march toward Azadi [Freedom] Square. From Gisha Bridge onwards, we saw people walking. Cars were blowing their horns and people were flashing the victory sign. I also saw a group of about 20 militiamen with long beards and batons on motorbikes.

My hand was hanging out of the taxi window with a little green ribbon -- the color of the reformists -- tied around my finger. One of the militiamen told me to "throw that ribbon away!" When I refused, 15 people attacked me inside the car. They beat me with their batons and tried to pull me out.

My wife and my daughter who were sitting in the back seat cried and held me tight. I also held myself tight to the chair. As they tried to shatter the car windows the driver went out and explained that he is just a taxi driver, we are just his passengers, and he hadn't done anything wrong. After about five minutes they left us alone.

Soon we joined the crowd at Enghelab Street. What I saw there was the most magnificent scene I have ever witnessed in my life. The huge numbers of people were marching hand-in-hand peacefully. There were no slogans being shouted. Hands were held up in victory signs with green ribbons. People carried placards which read: silence. Young and old, men and women, rich and poor were marching cheerfully. It was an amazing show of solidarity. I was so proud.

Enghelab Street, the widest avenue in Tehran, was full of people. Some estimated that there were one to two million people there. As we marched, we passed a police department and a Basij base. In both places, we could see fully-armed riot police and militiamen watching us from behind fences. Near Sharif University of Technology, where the students had chased away Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a few days before, Mir Hossein Mousavi (the reformist president-elect) and Mehdi Karrubi, the other reformist candidate, spoke to the people and were received with cries of praise and applause.

My family and I had put stickers on our mouths to represent the suppression of the regime. Other people carried signs. One quoted the national poet Ahmad Shamlu: "To slaughter us/why did you need to invite us/to such an elegant party." Another made fun of the government's claim that Ahmadinejad won 24 million votes: "The Miracle of the Third Millennium: 2 x 2 = 24 million." Others just read: "Where is my vote?"

When we finally arrived at Azadi Square, which can accommodate around 500,000 people, it was full. We saw smoke coming from Jenah Freeway and heard the gunshots. People were scared but continued walking forward.

Later, my sister told me that she saw four militiamen come out from a house and shoot a girl. Then they shot a young boy in his eye and the bullet came out of his ear. She said that four people were shot.

On my way home at around 2 a.m. I saw about 10 buses full of armed riot police parked on the side of the road. There were scattered militiamen in civilian clothes carrying clubs patrolling the empty streets. And in Tajrish Square I saw a boy around 16 holding a club, looking for something to attack.

At Ahmadinejad's "victory" ceremony, government buses transported all his supporters from nearby cities. There was full TV coverage of that ceremony, where fruit juice and cake were plentiful. At most, 100,000 gathered to hear his speech, including all the militiamen and soldiers.

We reformists have no radio, no newspaper, and no television. All our Internet sites are filtered, as well as social networks such as Facebook. Text messaging and mobile communication were also cut off during the demonstrations. And yet we had hundreds of thousands, if not millions."

It should be noted that the man relating this account was accompanied by his wife and daughter. He witnessed violence and intimidation, as did members of his extended family. Despite this, he took to the streets with his family, as did countless other people. Those who demonstrate in Iran today are running the risk that the demonstrations will subside and that the secret police will hunt down the participants. It is difficult to overstate the risks taken by the people of Iran.

Another misconception that is melting away from our picture of Iran is that of yuppies and students being the sole supporters of Mousawi. It has now become apparent that women in religious garb, peasants from villages and parents of grown children have broadened the ranks of the opposition with their numbers and concerns.

To understand this phenomenon, one should look at the events prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. A leader of the opposition to the communist dictatorship was a small group called Neues Forum. The group was essentially reformist. It did not challenge the foundations of the East German state. It essentially wanted a kinder, gentler "communism with a human face." It was very effective in organising impressive demonstrations, but when free elections were held, its supporters melted away and supported mainstream parties that wanted to do away with East Germany.

In Czechoslovakia, Alexander Dubcek was a loyal communist who believed in democracy and free speech. His reforms ended when the Russians and allied Warsaw Pact nations invaded in August of 1968. The Velvet Revolution of 1989 in Czechoslovakia went beyond Dubcek and the Communist Party for leadership to dissidents with no Communist Party experience. Under a dictatorship, you go as far as you dare and no further. Party loyalists like Mousawi, Dubcek and Neues Forum open the door that others walk through.

The Ahmadinejad regime claimed to be asserting Iran's sovereignty in developing nuclear weapons. During the unrest, they showed themselves to be unconcerned with this principle. Hamas and Hezbollah were seen in the streets beating Iranians demonstrating for their freedom. The Jerusalem Post quotes as follows some Iranians who were angered at the betrayal of Iranian sovereignty.

"The most important thing that I believe people outside of Iran should be aware of," the young man went on, "is the participation of Palestinian forces in these riots."

Another protester, who spoke as he carried a kitchen knife in one hand and a stone in the other, also cited the presence of Hamas in Teheran.

On Monday, he said, "my brother had his ribs beaten in by those Palestinian animals. Taking our people's money is not enough, they are thirsty for our blood too."

It was ironic, this man said, that the victorious Ahmadinejad "tells us to pray for the young Palestinians, suffering at the hands of Israel." His hope, he added, was that Israel would "come to its senses" and ruthlessly deal with the Palestinians.

When asked if these militia fighters could have been mistaken for Lebanese Shi'ites, sent by Hizbullah, he rejected the idea. "Ask anyone, they will tell you the same thing. They [Palestinian extremists] are out beating Iranians in the streets… The more we gave this arrogant race, the more they want… [But] we will not let them push us around in our own country.

The news coming out of Iran points to a seismic shift. Each day seems to bring a change in the attitude of the people. In this large country with 70 million people in the land mass of Alaska, the latest developments are dramatic and important.

What can we do? I hope that our government withholds its recognition of the Ahmadinejad "victory". What will I do? I will continue to post my articles as an unabashed display of solidarity with those in Iran seeking freedom. If they can penetrate the cyber wall thrown up around their country by the Ahmadinejad regime , let them not find that the west does not care. Let them find that people are following events in their country with fascination and admiration. They are often in my thoughts and prayers. May the Iranian people know that millions abroad care deeply about their welfare and that of Iran. I am a blogger with a very small readership. But I hope others join me in solidarity with the brave, dangerous and courageous struggle of the Iranian people.

Dolores Ibarurri, also known as "La Passionaria" was a leader of the Republican opposition to Francisco Franco who spent much of her life in exile in Moscow. She is quoted as saying, "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees." It is quite apparent from recent events that the Iranian people concur with these stirring words. The world must feel their pain, see their desperation and respect their decision. Sphere: Related Content

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