Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I’m writing about Iran. Not about the missiles. A lot has already been said about the missiles, much of it quite good. I left this blog over the summer amid a flurry of moving apartments and other people’s weddings, and it doesn’t seem right to follow my posts about the protests with nothing.

I am sad about Iran. The protests aren’t going on much anymore, Ahmadinejad was inaugurated, and it’s clear that public outrage didn’t count for much this time. The emperor may have no clothes, but he sure has an army. This sucks, obviously for Iran’s reformers, but also for all of us who were rooting for them. I was a child when the iron curtain fell. This is the first time I’ve been caught up in a revolution I was old enough to understand, and it was particularly gripping to watch one that involved so many things I care about (democracy, media, freedom from dictatorship).

It wasn’t just abstract concepts, either. What made the story compelling was how personal it was. You could search twitter for Iran and spend hours reading 140 characters of news and reactions that had been posted by people, like you. You could go on youtube and see hours of footage of demonstrators waving green. I remember an apolitical coworker coming to me this summer, distraught because she’d seen the video of Neda, a young protestor who was killed by police. “She was in her twenties, she was engaged, she loved the arts...I am this girl.” Traditional media can report on the stories of individuals in the midst of turmoil; they may even do an excellent job of telling them. But there’s just something about reading and watching people reporting their own stories, even if it’s unpolished. Watching a cell phone video someone shot of the police chasing protestors down a side street. If it looks as grainy as the video I shot with my orange EV at my friend’s wedding last week, that makes it feel more real, not less.

And it felt like we were all rooting for the reformers. Google put out a beta Persian translator, my friends posted status updates about how to thwart the revolutionary guard, and even the illegal torrenting site Pirate Bay temporarily renamed itself Persian Bay. If there’s anything positive that comes out of this, I hope it’s a feeling of increased community between Iranian civilians and the rest of the world. Those of us who would never have had an opportunity to travel there were glued to our computers this spring and summer, watching what happened.

I’m not arguing that this was a victory. The optimists among us point out that these things often take time. It took 13 years took get rid of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and even longer to get rid of Suharto in Indonesia. True, the Communist Party of China was able to survive Tienanmen Square, but that was in large part because of the country’s economic growth and openness to free enterprise. Iran has a soaring inflation rate, its banking system is clunky and heavily regulated, and the government’s saber rattling has turned off potential trading partners. It’s doubtful this regime is competent enough to be able to buy off its people. If it’s going to survive in its present form, that leaves military dictatorship.

This may well be what happens; I’m sure most of us would rather it didn’t. I hope, however, that something comes of the affinity a lot of us foreigners felt with the protesters. Many of us have felt we don’t have much to contribute, other than turning our avatars green and attacking the occasional government, web site. I hope, however, that we provided something by serving as witnesses.

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