Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Neda Salehi Agha-Soltan

She was just a young girl, one year older than my esteemed case manager, but what a precious thing that is. She meant no harm to anyone, bore no weapons, yet now her murder has been witnessed around the world.
On June 12th the tenth Iranian Presidential election took place between the volatile incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Reformist Candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi . Three hours after the polls closed, with over 39 million ballots cast, the Islamic Republic News Agency announced that with two-thirds of the votes counted, Ahmadinejad was declared the overwhelming winner, gaining 66% of the votes cast, while his opponent received the remaining 33%. This was not anywhere close to the expected outcome, polling indicating that most voting Iranians were fed up with the clownish antics of Ahmadinejad, with Mousavi in the lead, or at least the expected race to be very close.
Immediately cries of election fraud were made, within Iran, and without. Voting irregularities became apparent. Over 30 voting sites had a turnout of over 100%. The government had blocked internal communications and Internet sites on election day that had been vital to Mousavi's campaign. Many other blatant irregularities were reported by various news organizations, not least among them that Ahmadinejad had won in Mousavi's home town by a resounding margin. Yet the Iranian government stood by the results. Ahmadinejad poo-pooed the demonstrators demanding an nullification of the election and a re-vote, as like disgruntled soccer fans whose team had lost, they'll get over it soon, he hoped.
But they didn't. Crowds of an estimated 1,000,000 gathered in the streets of Tehran, as well as protests in all major cities in Iran, and around the world, demanding an accurate election. All three opposition candidates claimed election fraud. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the real power in that theocracy who controls foreign policy and the military, first declared Ahmadinejad's victory as a "divine assessment" and urged the nation to unite, and later, faced with the greatest continuing mass demonstrations the country had faced in 30 years, ostensibly ordered an investigation into the claims of voting fraud and irregularities. Later still, he declared that although irregularities did exist in a few instances, they would not have resulted in a victory for Mousavi, that another vote would not take place, and that future marches and protests would be dealt with harshly by units of the infamous Revolutionary Guard, and its offshoot, the Basij militia. The next day, June 20, fewer protesters took to the streets. At the protests that did occur, said to number in the tens of thousands of people, much violence occurred, causing many would-be protesters to stay in their homes the next day. The Iranian government has confirmed the deaths of twenty people during the protests. Authorities have closed universities in Tehran, blocked web sites, cell phone transmissions and text messaging, and banned rallies.
This is how corrupt regimes hold onto power at any cost. They fake election results, stifle interior communications, and block those to the rest of the world, and use ruthless force, or the threat of ruthless force to control its own population, while blaming the internal strife on anybody but themselves, in this instance, on agents of Great Britain and the United States as stirring up trouble within the Iranian populace.
The protests continue however. In this age of Twitter, Facebook, the Internet, and cell phone cameras, the authorities in Iran find it impossible to quash all dissent. Calls of "Allāhu Akbar!," "God is great!" continue on the rooftops at night. Plans for a general strike are made. Mir-Hossein Mousavi states he will gladly become a martyr for the cause of justice.
It doesn't make much sense. Despite the title of Reformist Candidate, there does not seem to be a huge difference in the policies of Mousavi and Ahmadinejad, except for maybe that Mousavi is sane. Why would the real authorities in Iran blunder so greatly in rigging the election and backing Ahmadinejad? It certainly has turned into the biggest headache and threat Khamenei has experienced while in power. And the eventual outcome has yet to be seen.
The French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henry Levy observes in the Huffington Post today, "Whatever happens, the Ayatollah Khamenei, Khomeini's successor and Supreme Leader of the regime, tutelary authority of the President, father of the people, will have lost his role as arbiter, will have shamelessly sided with one faction over the others, and will have therefore lost what remained of his authority: "Only God knows my vote," he carefully replied four years ago to those who were already calling upon him to denounce the fraud--"in the name of merciful God, I armor, I hammer, and I dissolve the people," he has responded this time to the naïve who believed he was there to uphold the Constitution."
Further, the Iranian authorities are needlessly inflaming their own populace with the extraordinary practice of requesting $3,000 payments (a bullet fee) from the families of the victims they have killed, as in the case of 19-year-old Kaveh Alipour, who was shot in the head as he stood at an intersection in downtown Tehran. He was returning from acting class and a week shy of becoming a groom. Having no way to pay the fee, the authorities released the body anyway, but told the family Kaveh could not be buried inside of Tehran.
President Obama has shown restraint in criticizing the election results and its aftermath, although condemning the violence, amidst Republican calls for a more aggressive verbal stance. Politicians like John McCain, Eric Cantor, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham, and virtuously all the other Republicans, would have Obama intercede in another nation's internal affairs, calling him weak and timid. Comparisons to Ronald Reagan telling Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall have been made, although nothing the Reagan administration did brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been on it's last legs anyway, despite current Republican revisionism of history. If Obama looked like he was trying to interfere in Iranian politics he would just give the Iranian leaders fuel to continue and increase the repression by blaming the United States for their troubles. Barack has not done this, and the Iranian leaders find themselves in a quandary.
Neda Salehi Agha-Soltan, 26 years old, a university student and uncommonly beautiful, worked part-time at a travel agency.
The Los Angeles Times reported today that she was the "The second of three children, she studied Islamic philosophy at a branch of Tehran's Azad University until deciding to pursue a career in tourism. She took private classes to become a tour guide, including Turkish-language courses, friends said, hoping to someday lead groups of Iranians on trips abroad. Travel was her passion, and with her friends she saved up enough money for package tours to Dubai, Turkey and Thailand."
Her fiance did not wish her to go to the demonstrations last Saturday in fear for her safety. She didn't even back a candidate in the election. Still she insisted, saying to him it would be so worth it, even if she received a bullet in the heart.
And that is exactly what happened. While waiting in a hot car with her music teacher, she decided to stand outside for a breathe of air near one of the many demonstrations and was shot in the chest by a Basij sniper. Someone nearby recorded this horrific incident on a cell phone camera, as she fell back, while two attempted to tend to her.
I will not post a link to this video, as it is easily enough attained. All I can say is that when I watched it I cried, when I think of it I cry, I'm crying right now as I write this. The video is especially touching and eery because as the camera moves up to her face, Neda looks directly at the lens, directly at us, just before her lungs fill with blood and it begins to stream from her mouth and nose, just before she losses conscience, just before she dies.
The Iranian authorities have resisted efforts by the demonstrators to make Neda a martyr for their cause. They would not allow her family to display posters at her funeral, and other efforts. But the video has spread through the Internet throughout the world, and inside Iran. Her face, unwittingly, has become the latest symbol against repression and violence.
Asked if President Obama had seen the video of Neda's murder, he replied that he had. Asked what he thought about it, he said, "Heartbreaking... it was... heartbreaking."
I agree. And I am sorry for the indignity of being photographed at this last moment, as the last thing she ever saw in this world was a cell phone camera aimed at her face.
In the days following the murder of Neda Salehi Agha-Solatn, a senior Cleric blamed her death on other protesters as a propaganda ploy, stating any wise person watching the video can plainly see she was killed by her fellow rioters. I admit that I am not wise, for I can only see this "Cleric's" attempt at propaganda as patently ridiculous. These deluted, self-important despots proclaim that anyone who disagrees with them are, "at war with God."
The government continues to try to quash further protests. "Basij militiamen have broken up even small groups of people walking together to prevent any possible gathering. Still, dozens of friends and relatives of Neda managed to pay tribute Friday, arriving at Tehran's Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in groups of two and three, uttering brief prayers, placing flowers on her grave and then leaving, witnesses said."
Vigils for Neda have been held around the world
I can only offer my sincere condolences to her, her family, friends, and her fiance.
May she rest in peace.

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