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Letter from a Tehran Jail

In the New York Times today, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett–both of whom I deeply respect–argue that the protesters in Iran make up a small, demographically isolated minority of Iranian society, and their activities therefore have very little chance of enacting real, substantive change in Iran’s political system.  For evidence of the protest movement’s weakness, the authors pose three questions:

“First, what does this opposition want? Second, who leads it? Third, through what process will this opposition displace the government in Tehran?” 

Needless to say, none of the potential answers proves satisfactory.                                                                                                

The Leveretts are entitled to their opinion, sacrilegious as it may be to some.  But in downplaying and even denigrating the activities of Iran’s dissidents, I fear that they will have justified the accusations that are sure to be flung their way–accusations of acting as apologists for the government, of disparaging a courageous and non-violent protest movement, and even of siding with Iran’s violent regime. 

I am reminded of the Letter from a Birmingham Jailthe famous essay by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in which he decries the so-called “white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” more concerned with the negative peace of the status quo than with bringing about that which is right through urgent action.  By action, of course, Dr. King was talking about civil disobedience. 

Like the “white moderate” in King’s letter, the Leveretts do not dare pin their hopes on seismic changes righting Iran’s political injustices.  Instead, they recommend the US acknowledge the movement’s futility, embrace Iran’s current leaders, and secure America’s strategic interests through rapprochement.  But their cynicism, which dismisses a popular movement without a manifesto, charismatic leader, or strategic playbook, ignores the plain and simple fact that repressive governments are inherently unsustainable. 

People who have awoken to the dawn of a freer and more open society cannot be pushed backwards and kept permanently in darkness.  Like Dr. King, the Iranians who take part in the protest movement–even if they are a minority–engage in civil disobedience in order to “bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive” in their society.  Iranians have not always lived in fear of roaming militias or cyber-surveillance teams watching their every move online; nor have they been closed off to alternatives structures that value individual liberty over ideological fealty.

“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever,” King said. 

The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained.

In the case of Iranians, the “something within” is the long and arduous journey toward a democratic system of governance–a journey that began with the Constitutional Revolution in 1906, caught a fleeting glimpse of success with Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953, erupted chaotically in 1979, and has been brewing once again since June 12.  The “something without” is their forebears: Gandhi, Mandela, King, and Walesa.

I agree with the Leveretts’ conclusion that Iran’s government is not about to crumble under the pressure of the protest movement.  But I believe now more than ever before that democratic change in Iran is bound to occur eventually.  The events of the past seven months have revealed a conflict embedded deep within Iran that will not go away.  It might be suppressed for awhile, but it won’t be extinguished. The struggle for rights will continue, and, to paraphrase President Obama on the night of his election, the Iranian people will “put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.”

  • 28 December 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 3 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Trita Parsi on CNN: Why the US should care

Trita went on CNN yesterday to discuss why Americans should care about the roiling demonstrations in Iran. He was also asked about the IRGC’s role in an increasingly militarized Iran, and what that might mean for the days and weeks to come.

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more about “Trita Parsi on CNN: Why the US should…“, posted with vodpod

To Twitter or Not to Twitter

“It was Sullivan who famously proclaimed ‘The Revolution Will Be Twittered’ and called Twitter ‘the critical tool for organizing the resistance in Iran,’” writes Evgeny Morozov a Foreign Policy blogger and Georgetown University Fellow. “It is easy to see why so many pundits accepted this narrative: they had seen something similar before,” he continues, referring to the “Velvet Revolutions” of Eastern Europe during the eighties and nineties.

However, Morozov quickly points out the fundamental flaw in such pre-emptive victories:

“In reality…this new media ecosystem [like Facebook and Twitter] is very much like the old game of ‘Telephone,’ in which errors steadily accumulate in the transmission process, and the final message has nothing in common with the original.”

Morozov’s critique – in the Fall 2009 issue of Dissent – on the opinion that Iran’s protest movement is somehow catalyzed through the conduits of social networking would make any postmodern thinker at least grin. However, Morozov posits that it is wishful thinking and arrogance on the side of Western democracy exporters who believe that the gadgets and toys for capitalist mass consumption can be seriously considered a source for “real change”.

  • 11 December 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

“It’s not easy being Green”

(h/t Andrew Sullivan)

In honor of the Iranian protesters, Minnesota Public Radio and Kermit the Frog update a classic Muppets song:

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_Iwq7HPLfM”]

  • 8 December 2009
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Violence Spills into Day 2

Payvand via Radio Zamaneh is reporting that members of the Basij and Revolutionary Guard (Sepah; IRGC; Pasdaran) have stormed Tehran University and Shahid Beheshti University.

According to Amir Kabir Newsletter, Revolutionary Guards and Basij forces have entered the campuses… and engaged in beating the students with the assistance of university security.

Amir Kabir reports that the Revolutionary Guards and Basij have attacked students with batons and pepper spray, arresting some and forcing others out of the campus.

Basij forces have entered Shahid Beheshti campus in several buses and attacked the law departments, closing down the classes.

Reportedly several class at University of Tehran have also been shut down. Reports tell of plain clothes and police breaking windows of the Technical Department of University of Tehran and throwing tear gas bombs into the building. The Students have reportedly taken shelter in the halls of the building and lit fires to fight the tear gas.

The New York Times is also reporting on the violence today and further harassment of Mir Hossein Mousavi:

The violence continued Tuesday on the campus of Tehran University, where security forces were using tear gas and arresting students, according to reports and video clips relayed through Twitter and Internet postings. There were protests at large squares near the university as well, witnesses said. Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported that the clashes began after groups of pro-government students carrying pictures of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, clashed with protesters on campus.

On Tuesday, the opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi — who was reportedly prevented from attending Monday’s demonstrations — had a tense standoff with angry security men who had surrounded his office, according to opposition Web sites.

As Mr. Moussavi was leaving his office in a car, dozens of men on motorbikes, some wearing masks, blocked his way and chanted angry slogans against him, the Gooya News Web site reported.

Against the advice of his security team, Mr. Moussavi got out of his car and angrily shouted at the men, “You are on a mission — do your job, threaten me, beat me, kill me.” Mr. Moussavi’s security detail then took him back inside the building.

However, there are signs that the movement may be moving away from Mousavi:

But in recent months, it has become unclear how much Mr. Moussavi speaks for the opposition, which includes many who appear to be taking a more radical approach and demanding an end to the theocracy. During Monday’s demonstrations, there were fewer people with clothing or banners in the trademark bright-green color of Mr. Moussavi’s presidential campaign. And there were more chants aimed directly at Ayatollah Khamenei — a taboo that has increasingly eroded since the election. In addition to the now common chants of “death to the dictator,” some protesters chanted, “Khamenei knows his time is up” on Monday.

  • 8 December 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 3 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Turning Iran’s paper money green

Via Payvand, an ingenious new strategy from the Iranian protesters: scribbling opposition messages on bank notes.

Anti-government activists are not allowed to express themselves in Iranian media, so theses activists have taken their expressions to another high circulation mass-medium, banknotes. The Central Bank of Iran has tried to take these banknotes out of circulation, but there are just too many of them, and gave up. For the activists’ people it’s a way of saying “We are here, and the green movement is going on”.

Most of the notes are written in green ink.

Translation: “Plan to write 1 Billion slogans on bank notes.  Bank notes without slogans is like saying no to spring.”

A re-write of a saying on the left side, which says ‘Iranian people will find “knowledge” no matter where – Prophet Muhammad’ – changed to say ‘Iranian people will find “justice” no matter where’

“People’s enemy”

See more here.

  • 17 November 2009
  • Posted By Patrick Disney
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

PBS: A Death in Tehran

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Check your local listings.

At the height of the protests following Iran’s controversial presidential election this summer, a young woman named Neda Agha Soltan was shot and killed on the streets of Tehran. Her death — filmed on a cameraphone, then uploaded to the web — quickly became an international outrage, and Agha Soltan became the face of a powerful movement that threatened the hard-line government’s hold on power.

With the help of a unique network of correspondents in and out of the country, FRONTLINE investigates the life and death of the woman whose image remains a potent symbol for those who want to keep the reform movement alive. The film also explores a number of unanswered questions in the aftermath of the greatest upheaval in Iran since the 1979 revolution: How many were arrested and killed as the security forces attempted to contain the growing protest movement? To what extent was the presidential vote manipulated? What is the future of the movement that seems to have been silenced?

Read the official press release after the break.

  • 5 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

Reporter Arrested by Security Forces

The Associated Press is reporting that a reporter working for the Agence France Presse was arrested on November 4th. The Agence France Presse has said it has not heard from reporter Farhad Pouladi since Wednesday.

The AFP’s acting bureau chief in Tehran said Iranian reporter Farhad Pouladi was taken into custody Wednesday as he headed to cover a state-sanctioned rally outside the former U.S. Embassy. Anti-government protesters also clashed with anti-riot police during counter marches not far from the rally.

Since the June elections in Iran, foreign press agencies have been barred from covering protests. Numerous reporters, both from foreign and domestic media outlets, have been arrested by the government in the months following the disputed election.

 The Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance is reported to be examining Mr. Pouladi’s detention.

  • 4 November 2009
  • Posted By Sanaz Tofighrad
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

Tear Gas Shot at Karroubi

According to Norooz, Karroubi once again became a target when security forces shot tear gas at him and his guards.  One of the shots reportedly hit the head of one the guards who was taken to the hospital.  Karroubi himself fell to the ground after the tear gas attacks.  Karroubi’s car was also attacked and severely damaged by security and plain clothes forces.

  • 4 November 2009
  • Posted By Sanaz Tofighrad
  • 1 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Uncategorized

Videos from Today

 [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioZFLG4_l8Y&feature=player_embedded#]

Seven Tir Street:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Zcj_dvvAOY&feature=player_embedded]

Woman being attacked by security forces:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PW4y93fwX-8]

Tehran University:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2U9ALI4XN0&feature=player_embedded]

 

Sign the Petition

 

7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.

Sincerely,

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