Saturday, July 11, 2009

Iranians---An Inspirational Embarassment

The people of Iran have embarrassed me. I am uncomfortable with their bravery. What have I ever done that could begin to be as inspiring?

I remember kind of following their upcoming election, and the “Green Revolution” and thinking—wouldn’t it be ironic of Iran became more Democratic on its own---than Iraq is after we ripped that country apart to ‘give’ them Democracy?

Once the demonstrations started I was avidly following every moment. Since I was not working I had the time to click between Nico Pitney at Huffington Post, Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic, the New York Times Lede, the Daily Beast, BBC, Asia Times……..
I figured out Twitter and tried to decipher things among all the repetitious ‘re-Tweets’. I opened the link to DailyKos multiple times a day to see what members were saying. I found various Iranian sites and blogs—Tehran Bureau, Revolutionary Road and others.

The magnitude of this outpouring took my breath away. In any country, at any time it isn’t easy to get that many people off of their butts and out the door. Defying authority always has a price. We still seem to be shocked when it happens here. There—they are well aware that freedom is not free.

I was impressed beyond words to see them, all ages and all kinds of people walking together—silently. In those early days, before the crackdown began, the images of green, and hope and determination seared in our minds.

Day after day they came. Theories and predictions were as common as internet sites. Some predicted that the vote count would be overthrown and a new election would occur. Others that the “Supreme Leaders” days were over. Like many others, I studied sites and charts explaining in detail how the Iranian Islamic Republic was constructed.

Many comparisons were made to the days of Gandhi, and how his peaceful resistance changed India. Or the American Civil Rights movement with Martin Luther King. I agreed that it can be a brilliant strategy, but could see it was one that had a frightening future. Because violence doesn’t disappear in the face of non-violence. Non-violent protests might win in the end. But the horrors of the South in the United States—the rapes, murders, the terrible beatings wasn’t that long ago. The marchers sang ‘we shall overcome’, but a lot of people died before they overcame.

I wasn’t alone when I began comparing the Iranians of today to the Americans of 2000. Our election was stolen---yet we stayed home and let it happen. Why? Are we less brave?

The more I thought about it, the situations were not exactly parallel. Here we spent over a month while ballots were counted and re-counted and lawyers filed motions. And part of our problem was that the election was so close. Americans were split down the middle on so many issues, no one was surprised at the tight election. And the Democrats had a third party candidate splitting their votes (Ralph Nader). With such a tight contest, and so many stories of corrupted ballots and election day cheating we were overwhelmed with information. I remember thinking at the time that it would be months and months before this was resolved. Instead, the Supreme Court made one ruling on one recount situation and everyone caved. I don’t think that people expected Al Gore to concede after that court ruling. In addition, the long gap between election day and the court ruling took a lot of air out of a possible resistance.

In Iran, they announced a winner well before all the votes could have been counted. Moussavi refused to concede. It is a different dynamic.

I wrote this on another site a few weeks ago:
If things had been the same here in 2000---would we have taken to the streets? I don't know. That was a world where we still thought America stood for the Bill of Rights and followed the Geneva Conventions and didn't run around starting wars over false information. (I realize we did bad stuff in South America and the Middle East over the years, but most Americans were unaware of that stuff back then). We are and were more naive than these Iranians who have seen so much in their lives---dishonesty, brutality, false hopes.
We are still young in this world under the Patriot Act that allows people to be arrested for shaky reasons and held without an attorney indefinitely. That has been a way of life in Iran for as long as anyone can remember. We are still naive enough to let an event like 9/11 turn our entire ethos upside down and throw our Bill of Rights out the door. In countries like Iran---3,000 could be a daily total in the Iran-Iraq War.
They have had to fight harder and more recently for the most basic rights. Yes, we have had many brave men and women that died or had their lives ruined in wars or police actions over the past fifty years. But they are the minority of the population. The rest just go about their lives taking freedom for granted. Just look how veterans are actually treated once they return.

The good thing about this is that it has brought a human face to Iran. A country that too many Americans only know as ‘the place that took American hostages for 444 days’ and of course as one of Bush’s ‘axis of evil’. Seeing those hopeful faces marching for freedom, it is hard not to think of them as fellow citizens of the world. People just trying to make their own lives a little better, just like everyone else.

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