Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Time Out for Tyranny

It doesn't seem like it, but it is almost two weeks ago that the people of Iran went to the polls to choose their next president. On June 12, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced off against his challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, in what was to become an historically contested race, but in the aftermath it is clear that this is not about Ahmadinejad or Mousavi. It is about radical change.

One can't help but think that the actions of the Iranians are mimetic, and that they want to join the American president, Barack Hussein Obama, in the audacity to hope. Iranians, along with the rest of the world, were thrilled to see the ouster of Christian fundamentalist jihadists, Bush and Cheney, and the election of the first president of color, a man whose vision is transformative if only because he embraces both Christianity and Islam.

How often, in this country, have we met people of Iranian descent who call themselves "Persians" because they don't want to be associated with radical fundamentalists in their country, people we label "terrorists" out of ignorance. Many, in Iran, wonder: "is it too much to ask that we be proud of our country?"

If what is happening in Iran now can be called a revolution, it is not about ideology; it is about inclusion.

Whether it can be shown that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad legitimately won the June 12 election or not, the recent actions of his regime will render his a renegade rule, and one rife with human rights abuses. And, it has become clear, the apocalyptic devastation that has been witnessed, over the past several days, has little to do with election fraud, or who will next report to the Ayatollah Khamenei, and more to do a growing sense of disenfranchisement among the Iranian people, a desire for unity, not dissonance, with the west.

All but the most hard of heart must turn away from footage of the barbaric shooting of a teenage girl, on a Tehran street, capturing her last seconds on earth, that went viral on the Internet. Still, we watch as, deep down inside, we know that her death is our death, too. We have seen the horror in the eyes of a student at Kent State who stood over the cold body of a friend gunned down by a National Guardsman. Surely, we would see the same horror on the face of the daughter of an unarmed civilian slaughtered by U.S. forces in Haditha. Iran has not invented barbarism. It is a universal pathology from Stalin to Franco to Darfur.

Never think for an instant that this kind of civil suppression has anything to do with law and order any more than it has to do with one religion or another, or who wins an election. This is nothing more than the exercise of brute force.

Ironically, it was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself who said "I don't know why some countries do not understand the fact that the Iranian people do not tolerate force." Did he mean that to apply only to external force?

Whatever the outcome of this week's protests, one thing is certain: Iran, and the world, will never be the same. And, should Ahmadinejad and Khamenei prevail, or the Revolutionary Guard declare martial law, the confrontation between the United States and Iran will be no less inevitable than it was before June 12.

Efforts, on the part of the west, to demonize Iran, and those fundamentalist isolationist Islamists, will continue; Ahmadinejad, and the supreme leader, have just given the west more ammunition. But, they have also made it impossible to forget the faces of those protestors on the streets of Tehran, and the Iranian people's time out from tyranny.

Justifiably, there are grave concerns about the news blackout, the report of twenty journalists arrested, the disappearance of prominent photographers, and the effort, by the Iranian government, not merely to stifle resistance, but to eliminate any record of it.

There is no longer any moral high ground. We're all sinking. Ultimately, there is little difference between a radical Islamic jihadist and a radical Christian jihadist. All too often we forget that behind every ideology is a human face. After the events of this week, we will no longer forget.

So, in the days, weeks, and months ahead, when we hear the clamor of war drums, and phrases like Islamofascism coming from the radical right, keep in mind we have been to the heart of darkness. Remember, too, that every man, woman, and child who participated in these protests would want us to consider that, when war is declared, it will be their blood that will be spilled which, in the end, makes us no different than those who spill their blood today