Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Upheaval in Iran

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history. ~ Mohandas Gandhi

The big event now: Iranian supporters of Mousavi claiming election fraud take to the streets by the hundreds of thousands in cities across Iran. News reports say information in Iran is difficult to come by, as the Iranian government blocks key websites used by protesters, restricts journalists, and cuts off cell phone and satellite TV usage.

As reliable news slows to a trickle, journalists and others are turning to Twitter, of all sites, as a means of gauging events inside Iran. Protesters are working hard to get information out. The protests themselves have taken most by surprise. All the analysts and pundits seem to have a grasp on the political situation there, but are wondering if the protests are unsustainable and will slow down in the days and weeks ahead. Or will a violent crackdown on protests end the upheaval more abruptly? Would it backfire and further destabilize the government in the short term or the long term?

All valid questions for sure. But Iran, being so enigmatic and difficult to grasp by Americans, through a complex bitter history between Iran and the US (and perhaps much of the West), cultural barriers, and ideologies, few people have any good answers. Nobody's quite sure what will happen, and nobody is quite sure about the correct response the rest of the world should take. So, I shot off a Facebook message to the one aquaintaince I knew in Iran, and am currently awaiting her take on events.

I'm not expecting much from this person, as Facebook and Twitter are reportedly blocked inside the country and the government and its dissenters are engaged in an electronic duel of sorts. Email and internet speed in general are reportedly greatly slowed, as protesters scramble to send news and camera phone images out on hastily assembled proxy servers and the government scrambles to shut them down. If I do hear or learn anything about events, I'll put it here, in solidarity with those brave souls willing to stand up for freedom, justice, and democracy.

But while there are many caveats and pitfalls in writing about Iran (my last attempt to write on the subject was met with some very angry replies), I feel safe saying this much:

1. The election itself looks very, very suspect to me. While I have no proof, the accounts I've read (including Iranian law ignored requiring a waiting period before announcing results) have me pretty well convinced the election itself was fraudulent, rigged, or whatever. Given the huge new turnout reported, accounts of demographics and the electorate in Iran, and the enthusiasm people had in opposing Achmadinejad, I find it difficult to believe Achmadinejad won by nearly 2/3 majority. Then again, I'm not surprised that it was rigged to begin with.

2. While many in the US might disagree with me, I feel it was prudent, in the least, for Obama not to respond immediately. He showed a good deal of foresight in understanding that many would try to make this "about the US." He knows a heavy handed involvement would only make things more difficult for those trying to dissent and that blaming the US is a common tactic the regime uses in dealing with its own failings.

3. I would hope those engaged in protests don't lose courage or become disillusioned with a lack of immediate progress. I would hope they would ultimately embrace a long, drawn out nonviolent dissent modeled after Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Nelson Mandela.

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