Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sea of Green in Iran...and Obama's Response

Due to my medical situation and a variety of complex personal elements, it's been a long time since I've posted a new article. Today, however, I am moved to write about the post-election conflict in Iran.

I am very supportive of the movement for change in Iran. I have particularly been following #iranelection on Twitter, where I have learned of the non-violent demonstrations and the strategies and counter-strategies that have been employed by both the Sea of Green protesters and the leadership.

Here I will share:
  1. Clips of protests today (Sat., 20.6.09) that give a visual sense of the demonstrations
  2. Tactics used by the police/military
  3. Important symbolic tactics employed by the protesters
  4. My perspective on President Obama's stance on the events in Iran
This first clip is from an apartment balcony and shows the general unrest. Embedding has been blocked,but here is the url:

This second clip is from Shiraz University, an indication that the protests are not simply located in Tehran:

Finally, this is the clip that moved me to tears. I warn you that this clip of a young woman dying after being shot in the street is hard to watch:

People have, indeed, given their lives for this freedom movement, this Sea of Green.

The Iranian government has used many strategies to combat their opponents:
  • Although there are reports of some military generals refusing to fire on the protesters, people like the young woman above have been shot and killed - by police, military or Revolutionary Guard.
  • There are also reports that the injured have been forcibly removed from hospitals. Therefore, there are reports that they are now being taken to embassies that have opened their doors to them for medical assistance.
  • Beatings have been routine, with batons and wire. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition leader, was threatened that he would be held responsible for any illegal (i.e., any) protests.
  • Tear gas has been extensively used, including from helicopters. (Some tweeters have reported it as acid or boiling water...)
  • As has also been reported extensively, the mainstream media have been directly told not to report from Iran right now, and they have complied.
  • Attempts have been made at closing down the Internet, but first-hand reporting and videos have leaked out via social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook. In many ways, Twitter has proven its raison d'etre over the past several days by providing opportunities for the whole world to witness this struggle unfold.

How have the opponents confronted the Iranian leadership?

  • Pure numbers. When hundreds of thousands of protesters march, they are impossible to ignore.
  • When they come out in such numbers, these protesters are know as a "Sea of Green." Green is a positive, empowering color in Islam. Some say it was Muhammad's favorite color. These protesters are using their Muslim identities to bring out the Truth, rather than separating themselves from it.
  • "Allahu-Akbar!" God is Great! Has become the chant of the opposition. This moving poem the night of the 19th is filled with Muslim imagery and wording, including the calling of "Allahu-Akbar" from the surrounding rooftops:
  • Many protesters have covered their heads with the Qur'an, a spiritual protection for themselves, as well as a strategic protection, since attackers would be less will to hit their own holy book.
  • Chants from the protesters have moved into another, surprising realm. They are now shouting: "Death to Khameini" - a reference to the Supreme Leader of Iran. This indicates that the goal is no longer simply voting justice, but also the toppling of the regime in power.
  • Opposition leader Moussavi has stated that he is ready for martyrdom. He has stated that he is willing to go to jail or die for this cause. He has called for a general strike (an extremely important event if it were to take place) if he is arrested.
President Obama has appropriately taken a measured approach to the Iranian conflict thus far. He has voiced his concern for violent repression and stated, "The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights." (Entire text may be found here.)

John McCain and others on the political right can make all the pronouncements they want against the Iranian government, but they are not our head of state. I am sure that once things have settled down and Iranian society has focused itself once again, Obama will share a more in-depth perspective of where we, as a nation, stand regarding Iran. At this time, it would be irresponsible for him to do more.

Will this Sea of Green bring about central changes in Iran? Many questions need to asked: Who are their leaders? (In many ways, it's a positive for the opponents that there is probably not just one leader.) Will there be the strength to continue over many more days or weeks? Will this movement expand - such as to a general strike? Will the military crack down even more sharply? (Or, are there as reported some generals who have refused to follow orders?) Will Supreme Leader Khamenei shift and offer a concession?

The following is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi about movements for change:

"First, they ignore us.
Then, they mock us.
Then, they fight us.
Finally, we win."

Time will tell if Gandhi's paradigm plays itself out in Iran for the Sea of Green.

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