June 24, 2009

Watching a Sea of Green: June 24, 2009

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Much to my dismay, it looks like I’d spoken too soon about things appearing relatively calm in Iran. Today was chaotic.

The major point of incidence in Iran was at Baharestan in Tehran. Baharestan is where the Iranian Parliament (Majlis) meets. Protesters amassed there today (the 24th) in an effort to again show their rejection of the election results that had President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad overwhelming reelected to the presidency. As is now frequently the case in Iran, where there are protesters there are Basij paramilitary forces. And where there are Basiji there is sure to be violence.

Exactly how violent the protests in Baharestan were is a matter of dispute. Iran remains an infuriatingly opaque nation when it comes to traditional journalism (many reporters have been ejected and those who are there are allowed to only make at most one report today). While this has had the stunning result of introducing Twitter (the link offers more twitter updates from Iran, via Andrew Sullivan’s the Daily Dish) and YouTube as powerful means of reporting, it has also compromised the veracity of what we learn.

The point is, some things are bound to be fabricated, or over-exaggerated, be it due to the intensity of emotion from the protesters or the determined efforts of the government to spread misinformation. Either way, everything must be looked at with a degree of caution.

That said, the reports of Baharestan are at some points no different than the usual news (sad, but increasingly typical) and at others horrifying. For instance, at the
NIAC blog a source wrote:

“I was there from 5:15 to 7:30. It was very tense. Being out in Baharstan was an act of defiance. No one said anything, there were only a few chants coming from outside the square. Although the police were a lot nicer, the Basij continued to be brutal. No one was allowed to stand in one place, we had to keep on moving. The moment we stood in one place, they would break us up. I saw many people get blindfolded and arrested, however it wasn’t a massacre. I heard that someone was killed, however I didn’t see it.”

Other sources, however, said it was indeed a massacre, and a particularly brutal one at that.

The foreign affairs committee blog of the National Council of Resistance of Iran noted that people were being thrown off of bridges in the area and that at least one woman was thrown into the middle of the street and brutally beaten by Basiji.

Worse still, on CNN, a caller from Iran not only confirmed that a woman was savagely beaten and that people were thrown off the bridge, but that people were “shot like animals” and that some were being murdered by Basiji wielding axes. The video of the interview is disquieting.

With the brutality of what is happening in the streets, it can be easy to lose focus on the overall picture of what’s going on. But, that would be unfair to the protesters and their efforts. These protests, and the increasingly violent response to them, show that situation in Iran is intensifying.

The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei spoke today (he will undoubtedly be heard from again at Friday prayers) and reasserted that Iran will remain firm on its commitment to the results of the election. As when he spoke last Friday, his words carry a tinge of menace, ensuring that if people continue to protest than the violence will be sure to continue.

As the government feels more and more threatened, they will take increasingly extreme measures to halt the protests. Already they bar families from mourning their dead, arrest the sick and injured as they convalesce in hospitals, and murder with relative impunity (as the murder of Neda Soltan has shown). Whatever the government defines as extreme will be neigh on unfathomable for most.

Iran’s ever deepening descent into chaos has again convinced some legislators to clash with the Obama Administration’ relative silence on the issue. I do not understand why some members of Congress choose to ignore the history of Iran-U.S. relations and indeed America’s history of intervention.

It literally cannot be emphasized enough that the United States cannot be seen as intervening or manipulating what is happening in Iran, for at least two reasons. One, it gives the current government the opening it needs to cast protesters as mere puppets of devious foreign powers and punish them as such. Two, and more importantly, it undermines the integrity of the protesters. They have taken action of their own volition to assert their right to vote; making it appear that they have been manipulated is an insult to them and disrespects their efforts. It threatens to render the many deaths that have occurred during the protests meaningless. We can—we should—only offer our stated support. We cannot give a push (militarily, financially, whatever) in any direction.

The point is, the problem is internal, and it must be solved internally.