Iran: The Un-Michael Jackson/Un-Sarah Palin

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 8, 2009

Despite the fact that the King of Pop and the soon-to-be former Governor of Alaska have nothing to do with the story of what is happening in Iran, the story continues to be an important one and worthy of attention.

1. Notwithstanding reports that the protests are withering away, silent protests are expected to take place to remember the 10th anniversary of reformist demonstrations that led to a conflict between students and security forces. The demonstrations are supposed to take place in over 200 cities and towns–hardly evidence that the demonstrations are slowing down. The New York Times is right to highlight the degree to which the regime is persecuting dissenters, but its story clearly underestimates the reformist movement. One cannot predict whether the reformists will be successful, but it is surely a mistake to dismiss them out of hand.

2. To be fair to the Times, while one of its stories appears to denigrate the power of the reform movement, another acknowledges that there is a significant behind-the-scenes fight going on for the heart and soul of Iran.

3. The Secretary of State–and almost-President of the United States–informs us that Iran may soon face “stricter sanctions” as a consequence of its failure to respect democratic principles. Okay . . . but so much for the Obama Administration’s policy of non-meddling, eh? Has the Administration finally acknowledged that its earlier so-called strategic silence was a failure?

4. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is as delusional as ever. No surprise there, but the story is noteworthy for its confirmation of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s efforts to oppose Ahmadinejad behind the scenes. Who knew that someone as crooked as Rafsanjani could turn out to be such a potential hero? It says something about Ahmadinejad that he is able to make Rafsanjani look so good.

5. Try not to let your jaws drop in shock:

Iranian authorities are using beatings, sleep deprivation and long interrogations to force confessions from those detained in the country’s postelection turmoil, an international human rights group said Wednesday.

Human Rights Watch said in a report that the confessions appear meant to support claims by Iranian government officials that foreign powers were driving the unrest and that the protests were aimed at overthrowing the government, rather than holding a new election.

Claims of fraud in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s June 12 re-election set off days of street protests that were subsequently quelled by a harsh crackdown. Iran’s reformist opposition has called for the result to be annulled and for a new election to be held.

“The Iranian government is desperate to justify its vicious attacks on peaceful protesters,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch. “What better excuse does it need than confessions of foreign plots beaten out of detainees?”

The UN wants to investigate these allegations. I strongly doubt that it will be allowed to, for obvious reasons. In related news, show trials! Can’t be Orwellian without them. Not being content with detaining Iranians who work for the British Embassy, the Islamic regime is now detaining a French student as well. One wonders who is left for the regime to insult, offend, and alienate.

6. Roger Cohen:

I confess that, out of Iran, I am bereft. I have been thinking about the responsibility of bearing witness. It can be singular, still. Interconnection is not presence.

A chunk of me is back in Tehran, between Enquelab (Revolution) and Azadi (Freedom), where I saw the Iranian people rise in the millions to reclaim their votes and protest the violation of their Constitution.

We journalists are supposed to move on. Most of the time, like insatiable voyeurs, we do. But once a decade or so, we get undone, as if in love, and our subject has its revenge, turning the tables and refusing to let us be.

The Iranian Constitution says that the president is to be elected “by the direct vote of the people,” not selected through the bogus invocation of God’s will. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Revolution, said in 1978 that: “Our future society will be a free society and all the elements of oppression, cruelty and force will be destroyed.”

The regime has been weakened by the flagrance of its lie, now only sustainable through force. No show trials can make truth of falseness. You cannot carve in rotten wood.

I was one of the last Western journalists to leave the city. Ignoring the revocation of my press pass, I went on as long as I could. Everything in my being rebelled against acquiescence to the coterie around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose power grab has shattered the balances of the revolution’s institutions and whose goal is plain: no eyewitnesses to the crime.

Of course, Iranians have borne witness — with cellphone video images, with photographs, through Twitter and other forms of social networking — and have thereby amassed an ineffaceable global indictment of the usurpers of June 12.

Never again will Ahmadinejad speak of justice without being undone by the Neda Effect — the image of eyes blanking, life abating and blood blotching across the face of Neda Agha-Soltan.

Iran crushes people with its tragedy. It was unbearable to go. It remains so. Images multiply across the Web but the mainstream media, disciplined to distill, is missed.

Still, the world is watching. As we Americans celebrate the Declaration of Independence, let’s stand with Iran by recalling the first democratic revolution in Asia. It began in 1905 in Iran, driven by the quest to secure parliamentary government and a Constitution from the Qajar dynasty.

7. Repentance:

For most people around the globe, the images of club-wielding men on motorcycles beating demonstrators on the streets of Tehran was just another case of brutality in a far-off land.

But as he watched the violence of recent weeks unfold on television and YouTube, Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, an exiled Iranian, recognized some of the attackers.

They were once good friends.

His life, encapsulating the betrayals and disappointments that followed Iran’s tumultuous revolution 30 years ago, as well as the hopes and fears of Iranians now living abroad, had come full circle.

Once a lonely young man in exile, a rejuvenated Ebrahimi is now using his experience as an insider within Iran’s hard-line militias to “out” members of the group.

On his well-regarded Persian-language blog, he has listed the names and phone numbers of about a dozen militia members whom he has spotted in photos and video of the demonstrations over his homeland’s disputed presidential election.

One of them rang him up in a tizzy. “This is unethical,” his onetime friend told him.

Ebrahimi was flabbergasted. “You’re killing people,” he said. “Isn’t that more unethical?”

Why does the question even need to be asked?

8. Finally, a look at the reaction of Iranian-Americans to the goings-on in Iran. Unsurprisingly, the reaction breaks down along generational lines, but surprisingly, the older generation is less accepting of the regime’s actions than the younger generation appears to be. I guess I identify with the older generation, as the following excerpt should make clear:

On a recent Tuesday,Pouneh sat with her father in the living room watching parts of President Obama’s news conference. She was dressed in jeans, a black hoodie and a colorful OBEY T-shirt that read, “Helping Other People Everywhere HOPE.”

Avesta [the father--ed.] took issue when Obama said that the United States would not get involved and that the Iranians were having a “debate.”

“Is killing people a debate?” he asked.

“See, that’s one of the things that we disagree on; I don’t think the West should be involved in Iran,” Pouneh said.

“Not involved,” her father countered, “engaged.”

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