Lesson: Crackdown on Demonstrators (Teachable Moment)
Blood in the Streets of Tehran
On June 15, a million or more Iranians protested the election results in Tehran without interference from the authorities. An anonymous author wrote in a "Letter from Tehran" published in the New Yorker magazine: "The demonstrators around me represented an impressive cross-section of Iranian society… dominated by young people and many of the girls wore the regulation maghna'eh, or hooded cloak, that they wear in class. There were also elderly men and women, and families whose dress and appearance suggested that they had come from modest precincts of Tehran or the provinces…."
There were also "pious middle-aged Iranians. This is the generation that took part in the 1979 revolution…fought in the long war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and, finally grew tired of all the lies….
"If the afternoon of June 15th was hope, the evening was despair. Seven protestors were killed during a clash with Basijis [militia] and pro-Moussavi demonstrators who had set fire to trash carts and buses. Drivers sounding their horns in support of Moussavi were dragged out of their cars and beaten, and the Basijis damaged and looted houses where they suspected Moussavi supporters had taken sanctuary….
"On June 19th, after a week of steady--and peaceful--protests, and clashes after nightfall, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader--the man who has the last word on all matters of state, and who is an unabashed supporter of Ahmadinejad--made it clear while addressing a large congregation at Friday prayers that the demands of Moussavi and his supporters would not be met. 'The Islamic Republic state would not cheat and would not betray the vote of the people,' he said, effectively ruling out annulment of the vote. If the street protests, which he described as 'not acceptable,' did not end, there was the possibility of 'bloodshed and chaos.'" (The New Yorker, 6/29/09)
Among those killed in the protests was Neda Salehi Agha-Soltan, 26. She was shot in the chest on June 20 by a militia sniper from a rooftop moments after she stepped out of a car stuck in traffic. Mobile phone footage of her final moments, as she lay dying in her own blood, was posted on the internet and viewed around the world. Neda Agha-Soltan became an instant symbol of martyrdom.
The Role of Women
New York Times correspondent Roger Cohen repeatedly emphasized the role of women in the protests. "From Day 1, Iran's women stood in the vanguard. Their voices from rooftops were loudest, and their defiance in the streets boldest….Women marched in 1979, too. But when the revolution was won women were pushed. Their subjugation became a pillar of the Islamic state….
"In a way it is simple: laws that can force a girl into marriage at 13; discriminatory laws on inheritance; the segregated beaches on the Caspian; the humiliation of arrest for a neck revealed or an ankle-length skirt (a gust of wind might show a forbidden flash of leg)….Today 60 percent of university students are women, about double the figure in 1982….Women are angry with the state, of course. But they are also angry with the passive way men have accepted discrimination….Their courage and pain haunt me."
Cohen also pointed out that, "One benefit of the massive show of resistance to a stolen vote, and future, has been to awaken Americans to the civic vitality of Iranian society--a real country with real people rather than a bunch of zealous clerics posing a nuclear problem." (6/27/09)
A Severe Crackdown
By June 24 Iran's Revolutionary Guard and security forces dominated the streets of Tehran and other cities, beating and arresting demonstrators. The official Iranian news agency reported that those forces had determined that the Moussavi campaign office was a center for "illegal gatherings, the promotion of unrest, and efforts to undermine the country's security." It shut the office down and later closed Moussavi's website. Ayatollah Khamenei said on national television, "I was insisting and will insist on implementation of the law. That means we will not go one step beyond the law. Neither the system nor the people will yield to pressure at any price."
Security forces arrested former high-ranking government officials and hundreds of others they viewed as supporting opposition to Ahmadinejad. "The government banned foreign news media members from leaving their offices, suspended all press credentials for the foreign press, arrested a freelance writer for the Washington Times, continued to hold a reporter for Newsweek and forced other foreign journalists to leave the country. (New York Times, 6/25/09)
A British newspaper reported that Iranian officials forbade Neda Agha-Soltan's family from holding mourning ceremonies at their apartment, forced them to move out, did not return her body to them, and did not permit them to conduct a funeral. Secret police patrolled the street. (www.guardian.co.uk, 6/24/09)
With street demonstrations being suppressed violently, more people were now expressing their opposition across the rooftops of Tehran with 10 p.m. shouts of "God is great" and, increasingly, "Death to the dictator." During the day "the streets remained quiet. Many businesses and shops stayed shut as life appeared frozen in the grip of wait and see." New York Times, 6/26/09)
Moussavi no longer appeared in public and may be under house arrest.
"TEHRAN: An eerie silence has settled over this normally frenetic city." (Nazila Fathi, New York Times, 6/28/09)
Whether or not organized resistance continues, the Iranian government appears to have lost its legitimacy in the minds and hearts of many Iranians. The consequences remain to be seen.
1. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?
2. How have Iranian authorities responded to public demonstrations? Why?
3. What reasons does Adam Cohen cite for the prominence of women in the demonstrations?
4. Why do you suppose that Iranian officials would not allow Neda Agha-Soltan's family to hold mourning ceremonies, even forced the family to leave its home? What does this tell you about how Iran's top leaders view their positions?
5. Why do you suppose the Iranian government has also cracked down on foreign reporters but not domestic reporters?
Source: Written by Alan Shapiro; http://www.teachablemoment.org/high/iran.html