Where is this place that no one can help us?
Where is this place that we are only shouting out our words with silence?
Where is this place that the young are killed and people stand in the street and pray?
They stand in the blood and pray.
Where is this place that people are called trouble makers?
Where is this place?
Do you want me to tell you?
It is Iran.
It is my home land and your homeland.
It is Iran.
Who is the mysterious woman who intoned this moving piece of poetry over what appears to be the sound of Tehran residents crying Allah-o Akbar into the night air. We may eventually find out; we may never do so. For now, such is the fear that grips this proud nation that it is best not to ask too many questions.
But we have to assume it is genuine and, even if we don’t understand a word of what the woman is saying, we can imagine it; we can feel her pain and anguish; we can shed tears along with her. Tears for a nation brought low by the unbending hand of religious dictatorship.
Even for hardened journalists trained to report affairs as even-handedly as possible, it is hard to stay on the sidelines when you hear such messages as this, when you see the events that have unfolded in Iran over the past week. And when , like me, you have been here before and seen revolutionary hope turn to dictatorial despair, you know there is only one side you can be on. Impartiality be damned. That woman’s tears are my tears, her despair is my despair, her longing to be free of her prison is my impatient longing too.
But it is in a sombre mood that I await today’s possibly crucial events. Is it to be a sea of green or a sea of red? The relative silence from the Iranian capital seems ominous.
When you think of dictators you don’t imagine an avuncular-looking old man with poor eyesight and a fluffy beard. You don’t expect a religious man, a man of God, a turbanned leader of one of the great faiths of the world, to be denying people freedom, to tell them they are lying, to threaten to rain death and further oppression on their heads. But that is what Ayatollah Khamenei did at Friday prayers.
I doubt he sees himself as a dictator. Rather a defender of all that he tenaciously believes in, beliefs shaped by the narrow, closeted world he inhabits, that can only see the outside world as a constant satanic threat to his religion. He most certainly thinks he is doing the right thing, the only thing, to defend his religion and the grip on Iran he insists it must have.
He can comprehend no other way. But few people can truly comprehend his way. They didn’t really get it the first time, when Khomeini, after returning to Iran, clearly told them to forget ideas of western-style democracy. Islamic democracy was the key, a democracy determined solely by those who truly understood Islam. It is a democracy that, in the better interests of Islam, is able to lie and cheat in order to maintain power and sees nothing wrong in doing so: the Islamic end justifies the unIslamic means. And the leadership has never wavered from that stance since.
But this week that has finally been called to account and the movement against it has clearly taken the leadership aback. Khamenei’s response on Friday was no surprise, but in it’s rigid refusal to recognise any justification in the opposition case, in it’s blatant authorisation of drenching any opposition in blood, it was nevertheless quite shocking.
I cannot help feeling that, whatever today’s outcome, he has done lasting, if not terminal damage to his revolution. Even if the crackdown works, Iran will become an increasingly difficult country to govern and, sadly, will lose many more of its cleverest people to the rest of the world. And what message will Moslems elsewhere take when they see a people so cowed and possibly witness large-scale bloodshed in the name of Islam as the engine of repression swings into full gear? Should it end this way, however, the rest of the world should be a little afraid too, because Iran will become an even more difficult and dangerous country to deal with (something I sadly understand certain neocons in America quite relish).
Moussavi’s supporters face a monumental decision today. One has to applaud their bravery even this far, and to be extremely moved by their equally brave determination to carry on the fight in the face of the leadership’s obduracy. I believe they can still do it, that their overwhelming numbers, their intense anger at what Khamenei has done, the feeling that they cannot sit in cowed silence any longer, their desperate need to throw off the shackles of religious fundamentalism, will defy the regime’s attempts to subjugate them. But I fear it may cost the lives of many people; and my heart sinks.
But here is to the brave people of a very beautiful and highly cultured country. May their God truly go with them this day.