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domingo, junio 21, 2009

Iran: The Pain Has Begun


There are no surprises in Tehran today. Today is Sunday. The New York Times informs us of what we already know to be the case:

A day after police and militia forces used guns, truncheons, tear gas and water cannons to beat back thousands of demonstrators, a tense quiet set over this city Sunday as the standoff between the government and thousands of protestors hardened into a test of wills that has spilled blood and claimed lives.

It was unclear how the confrontation would play out now that the government has abandoned its restraint and large numbers of protestors have demonstrated their willingness to risk injury and even death as they continue to dispute the results of Iran’s presidential election nine days ago.

Iranian state television reported that 13 people were killed in the clashes Saturday.

State television also reported that the government had arrested five members of the family of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who heads two influential councils in Iran, a move that escalates the government’s crackdown against the reform movement.

There are no surprises. Guns. Truncheons. Tear gas. Water Cannons. Burning motorcycles. Injured bystanders. Arrests. Home invasions. Brutality. Murder. That "the government has abandoned its restraint" is a record breaking understatement. The violence, of course, was to be expected. After all, didn't Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threaten violence during Friday prayers:

"Street challenge is not acceptable," Ayatollah Khamenei said. "This is challenging democracy after the elections." He said opposition leaders would be "held responsible for chaos" if they did not end the protests.

There are no surprises. The Times, and just about everyone else, fears the very worst:

There was no sign on the streets early Sunday of the heavy security forces from the night before, but there were reports that protestors planned to demonstrate again later in the day, beginning at about 5 p.m., giving both sides time to regroup, or reconsider.

Since the crisis broke open with massive streets protests — posing the greatest challenge to the Islamic theocracy since the 1979 revolution — the government has declared its refusal to compromise, instead turning loose its security forces and militia to crush opposition voices. The government has pressed its policy of repression and intimidation the last several days, arresting reformers, intellectuals and others who promoted reform ideas or challenged the leadership’s version of events.

But now as the numbers of dead and injured begin to mount, it is unclear how, even if the protests can be stopped, the leadership can patch over the deep divisions in the Iranian society and rebuild legitimacy with Iranians who believe the election was rigged.

There are no surprises. Things, I suppose, will now grow even worse. The repression will become fiercer, even less restrained, even more purposeful and frightening. More people will be killed and injured and arrested.

President Obama's statement on Saturday was strong, and he fortunately kept the matter at arm's length:

Saying that “each and every innocent life” lost would be mourned, he added: “Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.

“Martin Luther King once said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian people’s belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.”

Sadly, he's right. All we can do outside of Iran is bear witness as the struggle unfolds. And while we bear witness, we can continue to lift our voices as individuals (and not as a government) in solidarity with the demonstrators. And offer our thoughts and prayers* for a peaceful resolution. And find other, creative ways to support the struggle in Iran for democracy and freedom.

The Iranian Democracy movement is absolutely worthy of our personal (as opposed to governmental) support. Support and solidarity at this point require, indeed permit only the simplest of things. There are only simple things we can and should do:

Things like changing our location and time zone on Twitter to Tehran and GMT +3.5 hours. Things like making our avatar green. Things like reading the posts of those who are there. Things like posting and distributing their videos on youtube. Things like writing blogs and asking others to link arms with them in solidarity. Things like talking about what ideas we might have that could be of help to them.

These are things that might be completely ineffective to help Iranians achieve democracy, to get a new, fair election, to overturn the sham outcome of their last election, to prevent governmental violence and repression. I realize that. But that's not what's important. That's not what's important now.

What's important, I think, is our continuing solidarity with this struggle, our saying, however we can say it, "Brothers and Sisters, we're with you. We want you to succeed. We want you to be safe, and free. We want you to obtain the change you seek."

I am full of admiration for the courage of the Iranian movement. I applaud and support these people. Please join me in solidarity with them. Sign the available petitions. Take the numerous, available, small steps. It'll make you feel great. And it's the right thing to do.

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