Inside Teheran – 02

Guest posted by a friend via Monica Narula and the Sarai Reader list, with thanks. Apologies for formatting.

June 14th, 2009

8:45 PM

It‟s still less than ten days before the official beginning of summer. Although the weather may be warm and the blossoms are gone, it is, according to the position of the Earth in relation to the Sun, spring. Tehran Spring. A period of political liberalization under a Reformist government, backed by popular approval against the Soviet-backed Socialist system in Czechoslovakia in 1968 has come to be known as the Prague Spring. Infamous for the brutality of the Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks rolling into the city of Prague eight months after President Alexander Dubcek loosened restrictions on speech, the media and travel, millions of demonstrators were crushed within seconds, although they remained peaceful the entire time. Czechoslovakia remained occupied by Soviet military forces until 1990, when the Socialist system collapsed. The Prague Spring may have not been successful from a populist, anti-authoritarian perspective, but it indicated a trend, rising in Europe and the world at the time, that unrest existed on many levels: cultural, economic, social, and, most importantly, ideological. The demonstrations in Prague temporarily shadowed the International Marxist movement, popular amongst intellectuals in Western Europe, as the USSR proved once again that the utopian yearning for revolution had seceded to authority hungry for control. During the early months of the Prague Spring, inspired by the Socialist reformist experiment in Czechoslovakia, students in Paris and other Western European cities set the university ablaze, workers went on strike, and the bureaucracy collapsed.

A glimmer of hope, only temporary, until the moment of the Grand Compromise between the „68ers and De Gaulle’s government occurred one month later, effectively paralyzing Leftism in the West until even today. This paralysis was confirmed by the multilateral Soviet crushing of the reformist movement later that summer. Foucault‟s take on the Iranian Revolution has always been controversial. His articles in France were read with disdain, as Foucault effectively stepped outside of his typically meticulous mode of analysis to embrace a Hegelian “Spirit” embedded deep within his psyche. He praised the “collective will of the Iranian people” as an undeniable, inspirational force to be reckoned with and to learn from. He was, per chance, nostalgic for “true”, “authentic” revolutionary movement, a nostalgia whose origins lay potentially in the dashed hopes of May 1968. Yet, in an interview between Foucault and journalists Claire Briere and Pierre Blanchet (“Iran: The Spirit of a World Without Spirit”), Foucault exhibits moments in which his analytical clarity shines: “It is true that Iranian society is shot through with contradictions that cannot in any way be denied, but it is certain that the revolutionary event that has been taking place for a year now, and which is at the same time an inner experience, a sort of constantly recommenced liturgy, a community experience, and so on, all that is certainly articulated onto the class struggle: but that doesn‟t find expression in an immediate, transparent way.”

Today, the left-leaning newspaper “Ehtemad-e-Melli” (National Trust) published an empty white page as its front cover. Underneath the newspaper‟s logo and date, it was written that here there should have been an article written by Moussavi and Karroubi together, but unfortunately the newspaper received strict orders from Ahmadinejad that it was not allowed to print this feature. Voice of America‟s Farsi-language service just showed footage, taken by an Italian visitor to Tehran, of a crowd of demonstrators from yesterday cornering a police officer that had been beating numerous individuals,
forcing him to stop and then attacking him, taking his baton and beating him in turn. This lasted for a second. The footage showed the crowd of demonstrators helping the police officer up to his feet. His helmet had been lost in the fight, his body armor was falling off. His face was red and his eyes wide open in shock. He was panting, trying to breathe and re-orient himself. The same crowd that at one point were being beaten by him and then a moment later were beating him were now helping him, holding on to his shoulder, guiding him to an open doorway, embracing him and chanting together, at one another, “Peace” and “Freedom”. The police officer looked grateful, almost as if he had been beaten to his senses. This footage is very important, in my opinion, to show that the use of violence from the side of the regime‟s authority may be matched in self-defense, but it is not the means that the Opposition, or at least a large section of it, is using. And certainly not to the brutal extent that the police, and especially the Basiji, are inflicting violence on the crowds gathered here.

I am trying to restrain myself from valorizing or overdramatizing what is taking place here. Iranians, I myself being one (although I did not
grow up
here), are prone to exaggeration. For me, there is something in the
historical wave of events that manifest themselves, go into hiding,
and then
reappear: indeed I have been accused of being Hegelian and, actually,
I enjoy
the accusation. Last week it was the Summer of Love 1969. This week, I
dare
to say, is Prague Spring Redux: Tehran Spring 2009 (notice that the time
travel in my observations so far sticks exclusively to the „60s).
“People are dying and this guy is just walking around with a
knife,” moaned
an old man on our street. I wonder if someone had been stabbed, we
heard some
people arguing loudly from the living room and ran to the balcony.
Whoever
was here had already passed through, the argument was in its aftermath
and
two men were moving a trash bin that had been tipped over and emptied
onto
the street back to its place. The old man was trailing behind, wailing
about
“those” guys (the Basiji) who are circling the city, carrying
secret knives
that they wield on anyone that sparks their anger in the slightest bit.
About thirty minutes before, after a day of relative calm in our
neighborhood, which last night was witness to cars honking and
demonstrators
clashing with the police until 4 AM, we heard some noise out on our
street.
We went onto the balcony and heard many people talking, the sound of
honking
cars had returned. As our balcony has an obstructed view, we decided
to go up
onto the roof to see what was happening on Valiasr Street. A few
friends were
visiting and we had just engaged in a 2-hour conversation about the
situation
here, what can be done, what should be done, criticism of the
Opposition and
testimony to all of our individual experiences in the past two days.
When we
reached the roof we quickly saw what was happening: a trash bin had
been set
on fire at the entrance to our street, right on Valiasr. A group of
young men
were taking the responsibility upon themselves to move a second trash
bin
from across our house further up towards Valiasr, to set that one on
fire,
too. In a split second we heard the roar of motorcycle engines and a
group of
people screaming “Go! Go! Run” at the head of the street. The crowd
gathered
near the burning trash bin quickly dispersed, running in our
direction. The
men who were moving the trash bin towards Valiasr stopped in their
tracks and
left the bin standing in the middle of the street. From our vantage
point, we
saw a group of men on motorcycles zoom by, abruptly turn onto our
street and
begin their pursuit of the men and women who were running away fast,
aggressively announcing (I suppose to the men who had been moving the
trash
bin), “Don‟t even think about it!” The Basiji, or, level 3 of
this terrible
real-life video game: unrecognizable amongst the crowd, in everyday
clothes,
bearing a deep anger that stems from somewhere I do not want to know,
believing fervently in this regime, many shell-shocked from their
youth in
the Iran-Iraq War, many common criminals who have gotten away with petty
theft and family stabbings, all well trained to show no fear, to
pursue with
vengeance and to act with speed and sleuth, disappearing as fast as they
appear. If they had orders to do it, they would kill. Instead, they
prefer
breaking arms, groping women, or stabbing someone in the side with the
goal
of minimal damage and maximal suffering. First and foremost, their
role is to
fear and intimidate. As they drove past our house chasing the crowd,
they
sternly yelled at everyone gathered on the street, spit coming out of
their
tense mouths, their temples bulging with blood and adrenalin: “GO
HOME! GET
OUT OF HERE! YOU BETTER GET OUT OF MY WAY OR I WILL KILL YOU!” A few
screams
from women too distant to see and a few shouts of defiance from men on
our
street. The Basiji turned around and parked their motorcycles in front
of our
house. An old woman told them to leave immediately, to which their
response
was a brutal shove, move out of our way lady and don’t think about
saying a
word. We quickly ducked our heads so that they wouldn‟t see us
watching them.
When I looked around me, I noticed many of the neighbors had gathered on
their roofs and balconies, similarly crouched away from the Basiji‟s
view.
The men remounted their motorcycles and drove off. As they drove away,
a few
of them forcefully kicked the trash bin, still standing in the middle
of the
road, knocking it onto its side, trash spilling everywhere. A moment
later,
an older man came out of his car and began cursing the Basiji – “So
they come
and throw garbage all over our streets, is this enforcing the law?” A
few
young men came from behind a tree where they were hiding and swept the
trash
back into the bin, lifting it back up. They then started their self-
appointed
task of moving the bin towards Valiasr to set it on fire. Apparently the
Basiji had not fully disappeared, I believe one was hiding around the
corner
observing what was happening, as I heard a yell and then, within a
flash, a
new team of motorcyclists returned. They drove past the men who had been
moving the trash bin and who were now running away and one motorcyclist
smacked one in the head with his open palm. Once again, they
threatened to
kill if everyone did not leave immediately and go home. They returned
to the
bin, got off their motorcycle, and pushed it towards the sewage drain
on the
side of the street, tipping it over into the dirty water. This time,
they
stood on our street, marching back and forth, clenching their fists and
yelling threats to what appeared to be no one actually on the street
– of
course, the Basiji knew that people indoors could hear them, and of
course
they suspected that many of us were hiding on our roofs, peeping over
the
corner to take brief glances. I looked up again and then, all of a
sudden, I
heard a whoosh behind me and looked back to see R., who had ran up to
the
roof and who at this moment, standing far enough away from the edge to
avoid
being seen, shouted at the top of his lungs, “Death to
Dictatorship!” As
quickly as R. came, he ran back downstairs. Shit, I thought. I looked
at N.
and the few friends of ours who were visiting. We were huddled
together and
all of us hung our heads down, wondering what would happen now – why
did R.
do that? He may have endangered all of us! But at the same time, yes, of
course, more people should have such courage to stand up to these
neighborhood bullies, there is no lie, we all hate them, so why do we
cower
away? The Basiji were now revving their motorcycles, circling in front
of our
house, energizing. B. ran up with her camera and we quickly told her
to be
careful, to put the camera down. She crept up to the roof‟s edge and
mounted
the camera with a mini-tripod onto the side of the building, pressed
record
and crept away. Amazing: our very own surveillance camera!
R. came back to the roof. I stood up and slowly walked away to the side,
where I could look down onto the street without fear of being noticed.
And
then I saw it: it seemed that this particular Basiji group‟s leader
had come
to see what had happened. R. walked more towards the edge of the roof
and
then I noticed that the older bearded Basiji saw him. The man pulled
out a
walkie-talkie radio from one pocket and moved his jacket to the side to
reveal a pistol. He said something into the radio and then took the
pistol
out and held it up, pointing the gun at R., who immediately ducked
down and
crawled quickly back to the stairwell. I motioned to everyone else to
step
back, whispering “he has his gun out!” We all shuffled to the back
of the
roof. I tiptoed, crouching low, to the front, the man was still there,
he
still had his gun in his hand. He told the other Basiji to leave. They
followed orders tout de suite and quickly remounted their motorcycles
and
drove away. One of them stayed behind and took out a pen and a notepad
and
began writing down the different house numbers. I only saw this for a
brief
second, I don‟t know how many numbers he wrote or if he wrote down
ours
particularly, I could only overhear his conversation with the Basiji
holding
the gun: “Number twenty-six”. Not our house. A few minutes later,
the one put
his notepad up and the other put his gun back underneath his jacket.
Then
they walked away. A silence overtook our street. We all gathered back
again,
slowly, on the roof‟s edge and watched for anything else. After ten
minutes
and not a sign of activity, other than a few people walking to their
homes, I
decided to go back downstairs.
B. and R. were downstairs and as I took out my computer, R. told me to
write
this message and to send it to as many people as I can:
They have guns. They pointed it at us. They are not afraid to shoot.
They
took down house numbers. For now, we are safe. But we can’t be sure.
There
are four of us here: two filmmakers, an artist and a writer. We are not
alone, but there are many of them and they are ready for violence.
This is a
coup d’etat and, if things get worse, there will be a crackdown. If
that is
the case, they may come back, and we may be arrested, questioned, put in
jail, who knows. Let the world know our situation.
9:21 PM
ALLAHU AKBAR.
ALLAHU AKBAR.
ALLAHU AKBAR.
We are on the roof again. Everyone in this city is on the roof. It is
the
most apocalyptical moment I have ever experienced in my life. I can‟t
see
anyone, it is pitch black, except for the distant orange glow of
Valiasr‟s
lights.
MARG BAR DIKTATOR.
MARG BAR DIKTATOR.
MARG BAR DIKTATOR.
Echoing from everywhere, from every roof, to our right, to our left,
front
and back, people, voices of men and women, invisible to my eyes but a
resounding wave of unbelievable power, are screaming at the top of their
lungs: ALLAHU AKBAR. GOD IS GREAT. MARG BAR DIKTATOR: DEATH TO
DICTATORSHIP.
The city seems as if it were about to explode. The sky is rumbling
with the
call-and-response, spontaneously orchestrated by the people, growing in
number as the minutes pass – more and more people coming outside,
joining in,
adding their passionate voices into the mix. Clouds are boiling above,
it
starts to rain, lightning flashes from behind the mountains to the
North of
the city. There is absolute silence in the city, except for the
chanting of
thousands gathered on the safety of their roofs. A low bass note of cars
driving by on Valiasr Street. Shots are being fired, I don‟t know if
the
police are shooting, if it‟s a tear gas canister being set off
somewhere, or
if someone has personally decided to fire a shot to add to the drama
of the
moment.
Now whistling starts. There are four of us up on the roof: three men
and one
woman. The three males begin chanting ALLAHU AKBAR – in response,
female
neighbors, somewhere close enough to hear us, complement our low tenor
with
their higher pitched response: ALLAHU AKBAR. And all of a sudden, the
honking
starts again, cars add their melody to this eerie crescendo resounding
through Tehran‟s night sky.
I am not a religious person. I never say “God is Great” and I never
pray
(except sometimes when I am flying and there is turbulence). Why am I
joining
in, chanting ALLAHU AKBAR as I sit and write, squatting in a corner on
the
roof where there is a cover from the rain so that my computer doesn‟t
get
wet? Why does it feel so natural to say just that: ALLAHU AKBAR? If I
wanted
to, I could have stuck with the more politically charged “Death to
Dictatorship”. But there are very clear reasons why I, and I am not
alone (of
course, this is not to doubt that other people may have stronger
religious
sentiments than I do), choose to participate in this, with absolute
confidence in saying it: ALLAHU AKBAR.
It is an invocation. On the one hand, it is strategic for all of us to
use
this system‟s own language against it: by saying ALLAHU AKBAR, we
show that
we are not against the Islamic Republic. We show not only a unity with
one
another, but also with the same system that has stolen our vote, spat
on our
integrity, the same system that sends its police and plain-clothes
militia
men to the streets to beat and stab people in the name of “God”.
They may
chant ALLAHU AKBAR in their heads as they beat demonstrators, they may
believe that their actions are holy and approved by God, they may view
us as
base, worthless, not-even-humans, yet, we say the same thing to their
face,
we confront them with the power of an invocation that maybe –
speaking for
myself – we don‟t believe in, but they do. The trembling of not-our-
God, but
their-God. If this system, as it legally perceives itself, is
sanctioned by
the will of some God, if this system‟s leader rules as regent of the
Messiah
who will return to take his rightful place, then this system must also
confront the many-faces of a moody God, expressed by its people who
stand now
and invoke the same God whose name is uttered by the lips of murderers.
On the other hand, the meaning of this expression is less important
than the
simplicity it evokes and how it brings a community together, in this
case, a
community that cannot even see one another, wrapped in the shadow of the
night. This same expression was used in the 1979 Revolution –
repeating it
shows that it can be utilized again, even against the System who came to
power through its use. Our parents said ALLAHU AKBAR thirty years ago,
investing this system with power through their moment of unity. Once
the dust
settled, things quickly changed, divisions became clear, such
invocations
became less and less important, less unifying. Today, for the Children
of the
Revolution to repeat the words of their parents is, somehow, a
confirmation
of this nation‟s historical fate and an insistence that history
cannot be so
easily forgotten.
10:11 PM
I ran out of cigarettes and went outside to buy a few more packs for the
house. Assuming that by now the shop on Valiasr Street was closed, I
walked
up the hill in the other direction to the late night store. When I
stepped
onto the street, I saw that the trash bin directly in front of our
house had
been set on fire. The wind was spreading the ashes into the air. I
couldn‟t
keep my eyes open as I walked past. As I walked up the hill, I saw all
our
neighbors gathered with their families on the street, chanting ALLAHU
AKBAR
and throwing firecrackers. There is a construction site a few doors
down from
us and as I walked by, I saw the Afghani workers gathered outside,
their arms
closed, observing the well-to-do group of women across from them,
chatting
amongst themselves. There is a metal trash can next to the
construction site.
I quickly walked by the workers and the trash can and then, all of a
sudden,
I yelped out of fear as a figure next to me appeared, almost as if from
nowhere, moaning ALLAHU AKBAR. I looked and notice that one of the
Afghani
workers had been hiding in the trash can, covering it with a piece of
cardboard, waiting for someone like me to walk past, only to jump up in
surprise, waving his arms in the air and tremulously chanting ALLAHU
AKBAR.
He laughed at my shock and I began to laugh, too. A few small children
screamed in glee, giggling at the man who had been hiding in the trash
can.
The entire time on my walk up the hill to the store, I received
suspicious
glances from the people I walked past. It was most likely due to the
fact
that I was dressed in all black and that I have a well-trimmed beard.
Maybe
the black wasn‟t so important, but beards in Iran aren‟t “young
and trendy”,
they are the sign of Islamic fundamentalism and therefore, I can
easily be
mistaken for a Basiji and/or Ahmadinejad supporter. To all those
disapproving
glances, I simply returned a smile and a flash of a victory-sign,
immediately
easing the tension.
11:27 PM

I received a phone call earlier this afternoon while I was watching the live broadcast of Ahmadinejad‟s acceptance speech/supporter‟s rally at Tehran’s main square from London-based curator. I turned the television set’s volume down as the cheering and chanting of the crowd, paired with the invocation of the Prophet Mohammad‟s daughter Fatima Zahra, whose saint day was today, was driving me crazy. I watched in disbelief how what looked to be thousands upon thousands of supporters gathered at Valiasr Square, filling every nook and cranny available, waving Iranian flags and religious banners, cheering as Ahmadinejad took stage, led prayer, and began denouncing the “enemies of the nation”, the foreign “spies” who had infiltrated the country and where trying to interfere with our “democracy”, the “dirty, morally corrupt” demonstrators of the Opposition, declaring that Iranians have rightfully chosen their divinely sanctioned future and that Iran will be strong, cannot be harmed, will never be touched nor even dare to be touched by any of its antagonists under his leadership. It was too much for me to know that most likely, somewhere else in the city, any attempt on demonstrators part to gather was being brutally repressed, while thousands had most likely been shuttled into Tehran from remote villages, paid, housed and fed by Ahmadinejad‟s various charities to come and display their presence, their support. I picked up the phone and the curator asked me what the situation is like here and whether it would be safe for him to continue on his planned trip and come on Thursday. I told him that regarding safety, if his trip were scheduled for today then it probably wouldn‟t be such a good idea, but by Thursday everything should be fine, although I made clear that I can in no way predict where things will go in one hour let alone in so many days. I reminded him that most likely no artists would be interested in meeting to discuss art, that there were many more important issues on the table these days and that trying to find time for appointments, studio and gallery visits would probably be next to impossible. However, I urged him to really consider coming, to not be afraid, and to take the opportunity to see this moment of history and try and engage with it through conversations as much as he can. In his heavy German accent he responded: “Oh no, if it is dangerous today than I cannot come on Thursday, I must postpone my trip, although I do not know when I can make it again.” He handed the phone over to a colleague of his that I had been in touch with. I founded the whole situation so very amusing, especially with the footage of Ahmadinejad‟s rally playing in the background. Once again, self-declared, politically-minded curators shying away from what is truly possible, from what does not exist in representation. I suppose it is exhilarating to think about it, to conduct an interview after the event, but for so many, as soon as it becomes physical, real, as soon as it breaks out onto the streets or confronts them with bodies, then it is too much.

Better wait and attempt to frame it in the exhibition context! I hope he comes; there is nothing to be afraid of. Life, although strange and exciting, is somehow carrying on here as normal. We just heard from Voice of America that the police and military forces have raided Tehran University and that there has been a major clash there. Legally, the government does not have permission to enter university grounds. Not even during the one year of protests and demonstrations during the 1979 Revolution, many of which took place at universities across the country, did the Shah‟s forces attack students on university property itself. “The last time such an offense occurred was 44 years ago”, P. told me. The police have begun shooting now, switching from rubber bullets to real ones. Apparently 11 people were killed yesterday, but it is not clear whether this is true or a rumor, or even if it is true, if they were killed due to gunshot wounds. But tonight, it is confirmed: police are shooting. This means that by tomorrow, there will be a steadily rising death toll to consider.

R. just called the house. B.‟s mouth is wide open. I‟m dying to know what he is saying. Now B. shares the news with us: Ayatollah Saanei, a very important, Reformist-leaning cleric, has arrived in Tehran from the city of Qom and is now staying at Khomeini‟s former house, asking upon all the highest members of the Islamic clergy, and especially the Council of Experts, to convene there.

1:53 AM

After R.‟s phone call, we had a late midnight dinner of khoresht-e-karafs (lamb and celery stew with rice). We then slowly moved into the living room for our, what has now become standard, television/internet news briefing, seeing how the days events have been recapped. B. downloaded a selection of articles from major international newspapers and passed her computer around while BBC Farsi‟s “Sedaye Shoma” (Your Voice) program aired, broadcasting sent-in footage from today‟s riots, emails written describing the situation here, and phone calls from viewers from Iran and abroad expressing their opinion about the post-election events. Most of the viewers sympathized with the Opposition movement and the program‟s moderator had to stress that in no way does BBC Farsi take a position either with or against the election
results. One Ahmadinejad supporter, however, called in, a man living in London. Unlike the rest of the individuals who wrote emails, telephoned, and sent video clips, all of whom spoke calmly and clearly with well-deliberated language, open to the program moderator‟s questions and Devil‟s advocate-style provocations, this particular man immediately blared off in a violent and aggressive tone. I could barely understand him, he was speaking so furiously and so fast, but from what I pieced together he was (1) denouncing the BBC as a foreign propaganda agent of the CIA and MI6, (2) giving proof to this by providing the example of Zahra Rahnavard‟s phone call yesterday to BBC Farsi, (3) accusing all the demonstrators of being “spoiled rich kids” with no “aim or goal”, and (4) declaring that if things progressed as they were, the entire country would fall apart. The program‟s moderator attempted successively to intervene and re-direct this man‟s focus on an important point: given the lack of media outlets for the Iranian Opposition, what other recourse does someone like Zahra Rahnavard have to express her position than to utilize a service such as BBC Farsi? Since the Iranian government is systematically censoring any form of opposition to the election results, does the freedom to express one‟s opinion in a public context such as the BBC immediately implicate the international media as agents provocateurs?

The man didn‟t address these questions, blaring away, repeating how all Opposition
supporters are rich and spoiled (notwithstanding the fact that the man was supposedly calling from London, a city not so easy to live in let alone immigrate to from a third world nation when one isn‟t rich or at least a benefactor of opportunity). Thankfully, he was cut off and the program moved on to the next caller. I started sifting through B.‟s downloaded articles and was quite impressed by the New York Times‟ NewsBlog, the Lede, which has been updated almost half-hourly with a collection of quotes, comments and conversation threads from different newspapers, online news sources such as Facebook and TehranBureau.com and blogs. A few things stuck out, especially amidst all the testimonies from individuals in Iran, news that for me was now all too familiar through my experiences the past two days. One was about the employees from the Interior Ministry who resigned from their jobs in protest of the ministry‟s handling of the votes: “One employee of the Interior Ministry, which carried out the vote count, said the government had been preparing its fraud for weeks, purging anyone of doubtful loyalty and importing pliable staff members from around the country.„ They didn‟t rig the vote,‟ claimed the man, who showed his ministry identification card but pleaded not to be named. „They didn‟t even look at the vote. They just wrote the name and put in the number in front of it.‟” (NY Times, “Memo from Tehran – Reverberations as Door Slams on Hope of Change”, Bill Keller, Published June 13, 2009)

The second was from the official Islamic Republic News Agency, a memo announcing that Ahmadinejad has received three congratulations on his election to a second term so far: “Tehran, June 13 IRNA – Following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‟s  andslide victory in the 10th Presidential Elections, Syrian, Egyptian and Palestinian leaders cabled messages of congratulations Saturday on his re-election. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Leader of the Egyptian Ikhwan al-Muslimin Mohammmad Mehdi Akef, Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), and Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement in separate messages congratulated President Ahmadinejad on his victory. They wished him success and prosperity.”

The Lede itself cynically comments, how ironic that the three (rather,
four)
congratulatory remarks come from one dictatorial state (ie. Syria) and
three
illegal, internationally-recognized terrorist organizations! Not
surprising
though, given Iran‟s massive financial aid programs under Ahmadinejad
in the
past four years to the Syrian government, Hizbollah in Lebanon (note
the lack
of comment so far in the wake of this past week‟s Lebanese elections)
and the
Palestinian Resistance. What about Hugo Chavez? When is he coming to
town?
While I was reading these articles, news footage showed the crowds
gathered
to demonstrate at Iranian Embassies abroad: Berlin, London, Paris,
Toronto,
Dubai. Meanwhile, reports were streaming in that the same street
battling
that was occurring in Tehran was also taking place, with the same
severity,
in cities around the country: Shiraz, Isfahan (a traditionally
conservative
city), Mashhad (Iran‟s most important pilgrimage capital, also
traditionally
conservative, and the second largest city population-wise after
Tehran) and
Tabriz (Moussavi‟s hometown). In the popular uprisings under Khatami
or
Rafsanjani (which were significantly different from this time around,
consisting mainly of students), never had the violence spread so fast
and
with such vigor to other major cities. If anything there were small
turnouts
that quickly dispersed, not to show up again. Once again, another
element
bearing too much similarity to 1979 – a nationwide series of
demonstrations
and clashes, a leveling of social and economic contradictions,
unification
under religious rhetoric and the protest of clerics through self-
enclosure at
home and the call for an assembly of review. This is becoming all too
quickly
uncanny.
R. said that he had been out earlier this evening at Chahar-Ra
Parkway, a
major intersection of Valiasr with the Chamran and Hemmat Highways
further up
north. There, he saw a major crowd of protestors gathering, this time
however
completely peacefully. They held their hands up in the air and
melodiously
chanted “Allahu Akbar”, walking towards the intersection with the
police at
their side. They started a round of prayers, acting in a cool and
collected
manner, resisting any display of force and not looking or directing
their
actions at the police. R. said how beautiful it was, in the eerie glow
of the
humongous LCD screen hanging from the highway overpass at Chahar-Ra
Parkway,
flashing advertisements for video cameras, to see a crowd choosing to
act in
a non-violent, pro-active way, as they had done a few days before
during the
pre-election celebrations. The police attempted to provoke them, even
hitting
a few on the sides, but those hit simply got back up and walked away.
There
was no show of resistance. R. went on to say how at a certain point,
even
some police officers began chanting “Allahu Akbar”, joining the
ranks of the
demonstrators. After all, the police are just “doing their job”,
and like
many of us when we are at work, it doesn‟t mean one believes in
everything
one “has” to do. This is the key, a sign of weakness in the whole
structure
of militarized authority: the subjectivities involved in the conflict.
If
these subjectivities can be activated, directly addressed, then the
tides can
change, sides are crossed, a wave of contradictions may reveal the
formation
of unexpected communities. Amongst the crowd gathered, in between their
invocations, R. reported that he saw people whispering in each
others‟ ears,
spreading news, giving advice on how to behave, supporting one
another, and,
most importantly, telling each other where to be and at what time
tomorrow.
Moussavi‟s campaign has called upon all the Opposition supporters to
gather
tomorrow in Tehran at 4 PM at Enghelab Square (Revolution Square, in
the City
Center near to the University). From there, the demonstrators are to
form a
peaceful protest, they are instructed to pray and to maintain calm, even
under the face of fire, and to march slowly towards Azadi Square
(Freedom
Square, the next main square after Enghelab, many kilometers down the
road,
where the Azadi Tower, a symbol of Tehran, stands). Further plans
include
marching past Azadi and down south, towards Imam Khomeini‟s sanctuary
outside
of the city, near the airport. Moussavi‟s wife, Zahra Rahnavard,
announced
that they will attempt to secure permissions for the demonstration.
This is,
however, quite implausible, and most likely the demonstration will face
serious challenges from not only the police, who may be violent, but the
Basiji, who are hands-down deadly and who can speed through the crowd
and
discreetly wreck havoc, provoking the peace with their anger. If the
demonstration turns violent, it is another score for the coup d‟etat,
one
that they can use to show that all those gathered are simply rabble-
rousers,
good-for-nothings, spies, etc. It is very important to stay peaceful,
to keep
focused. Demonstrations are scheduled in other major Iranian cities as
well,
also at 4 PM, an attempt to nationally unite the Opposition and its
supporters in the hope that something can come out of this, that this
time it
won‟t be ignored.

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