Voices from Iran

The days of revolutionaries penning manifestos in candle-lit garrets are over, just as preconceptions about the nature of crowds in the streets are being tested.  When English writer Thomas Fuller said, “The mob has many heads but no brains”, he surely wasn’t speaking of Iran, a nation where the literacy rate is nearly 100%, education is valued and political savvy is common.

photos courtesy .faramarz on Flickr

Today, as events in Iran compel world attention, Facebook and Google pages are being translated from Farsi. The BBC  has increased the number of satellites carrying its Persian television broadcasts to Farsi-speaking citizens in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan in order to counter Iranian interference with its programming.  Twitter, YouTube and bloggers have added to the “citizen journalist” pool, and more than a few commentators, looking particularly at the role Twitter is playing, have recalled another pairing of technology and resistance – the use of fax machines by University of Michigan students to spread word of the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

Given the massive flow of postings, it’s been especially difficult to sort facts from gossip, intentional disinformation and pure silliness.  There are credible attempts, however, including Nico Pitney’s live-blogging of post-election events for the Huffington Post. Depending on the time of day, the latest bulletin from the Tehran streets or whether he’s managed to snag a little sleep, his view of things can be expressed more or less sharply, but his sources provide some extraordinary glimpses into the way Iranians themselves are experiencing events.  This poignant posting of a woman’s quiet reflections (with English text below) is an example.

Tomorrow is Saturday. Tomorrow is a day of destiny.
Tonight, the cries of Allah-o Akbar are heard louder and louder than the nights before.
Where is this place? Where is this place where every door is closed? Where is this place where people are simply calling God? Where is this place where the sound of Allah-o Akbar gets louder and louder?
I wait every night to see if the sounds will get louder and whether the number increases. It shakes me. I wonder if God is shaken.
Where is this place that where so many innocent people are entrapped? Where is this place where no one comes to our aid? Where is this place that only with our silence we are sending our voices to the world? Where is this place that the young shed blood and then people go and pray — standing on that same blood and pray. Where is this place where the citizens are called vagrants?
Where is this place? You want me to tell you? This place is Iran. The homeland of you and me.
This place is Iran.

Across Iran, real people have been making real decisions and dying real deaths, and no matter how events in these days resolve themselves, the need for decision-making will continue. As the cries of Allah-o Akbar echoed across the roofs of Tehran, From Iran pondered  participation in today’s events, looking at life against the horizon of history.

I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed.
I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them.
I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism.
This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, spokesman for Mousavi, seems to understand the process of self-examination and re-commitment happening around the election process.  In a statement published in The Guardian, he reflects on larger issues fueling the resistance.

Many criticize us and wonder what does Mr. Mousavi have that is so special? They argue that after all he is one of the many in that corrupt system of the Islamic Republic and will never act against it.
My argument is that this is not about Mousavi, but about people realizing that they are not followers like a herd of sheep that goes anywhere it is summoned to go. They will know that the individual will does matter and that their actions can be effective and can speak louder than any specific person; this to me is the most important aspect of these events.
Now either Mousavi or anyone else who will end up in power, they will have the understanding of what people want and what they are capable of, and how they can voice their requests. This is the significant and important step and now that Mousavi has chosen to go ahead, we will support him.

Finally, there is this. In the same article from The Guardian, Makhmalbaf notes that, before the revolution,

Mousavi was a religious intellectual and an artist, who supported radical change but did not support the mullahs. After the revolution, when all religious intellectuals and even leftists backed Khomeini, he served as prime minister for eight years. The economy was stable, and he did not order the killings of opponents, or become corrupt.
In order to neuralise his power, the position of prime minister was eliminated from the constitution and he was pushed out of politics. So Mousavi returned to the world of artists because in a country where there are no real political parties, artists can act as a party. The artists supported Khatami and now they support Mousavi.

In a voyeuristic and celebrity-obsessed culture like our own, where politicians seem to prefer celebrity to accomplishment and celebrities imagine good policy can be implemented through press release, the thought of writers, film-makers, painters and poets serving as a party seems fanciful, if not absurd.

And yet, there was a Persian poet of the 13th century whose words seem prescient and perfect for this moment. Still beloved around the world, Rumi adds his own voice to the clamoring voices of Iran and the sudden silence of Neda,  herself the call and voice of a rising movement.

Your way begins
on the other side
become the sky
take an axe to the prison wall
walk out like someone
suddenly born into color
do it now


Comments are welcome.  To leave a comment or respond, please click below.

16 thoughts on “Voices from Iran

  1. It is terribly frightening to me, while it is also exhilarating, to watch the teetering teacup of this movement.

    But what will mullahs do to recognize this sea change? They won’t relinquish power. They will continue their theocracy. There is no such thing as “Islamic democracy.” They will try to hold the saucer steady, or they will try to shake off the cup, with the “leadership” of the President. It is so fragile!


    Fragile, indeed ~ and your teacup and saucer metaphor is so wonderful.

    It makes me wonder if the “teacup regime” is being gently rattled down the shelves of history. I’ve been in three earthquakes in my life. None was serious, but each was noticeable. During one, I watched glassware being “walked” down the length of a shelf. When the first goblet reached the end of the shelf, off it went, still standing perfectly straight as it fell and shattered. Perhaps history is vibrating this regime to the end of its shelf. Only time will tell.

    Isn’t it amazing how often fright and exhilaration go hand-in-hand?


  2. Linda,

    Thank you for an informative and poignant post on the current situation in Iran. Your last picture reminds me of that iconic photo of a single man standing in front of a line of tanks exactly twenty years ago this month on Tiananmen Square. It is disheartening to note that while communication methods might have changed with cell phones, videos and twittering, totalitarian means remain so similar.

    I watched with distress the events unfold on the news then, and now I’m seeing such a human tragedy repeat in another country. I just hope that its magnitude would not be as massive as that previous democracy movement in China. One way of measuring the magnitude: Tiananmen Square has been quiet ever since. The ground was washed clean of blood almost the next morning. Voices from Iran need the voices from the international community to echo on their behalf. I’m moved by your posting this very crucial message.


    You know from our previous conversations I was a bit of a Twitter-skeptic, but news reports about the role Twitter and other social media sites were beginning to play in the unfolding of events in Iran intrigued me. I signed up in order to see what was happening, and was drawn in. One link led to another, and I wanted to add my voice to those raised in the streets and calling from the rooftops.

    I’m not qualified to offer historical analysis or political commentary, so I took a somewhat different approach – choosing particular voices and allowing them to speak for themselves. Iran’s rich artistic and cultural heritage is a part of the story, too – Rumi belongs here as much as Rafsanjani, Shamlu as much as Mousavi.

    Even in the streets, there’s always a place for the poets.


  3. So brilliant, so beautiful, and so powerful. I’m at a loss for words of my own, so I’ll let my spiritual father say what I cannot:

    “But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.” – Thomas Paine

    Thank you.


    Your words are gracious and kind, and those of Thomas Paine appropriate beyond words. Many facts of this matter remain in dispute while others are quite clear, but if I have allowed even a glimmer of the truth to appear, I am content.

    I appreciate your comment very much.


  4. Yes, the media reach from tweets coming out Iran is pretty massive. I conducted a study yesterday that found that most tweets coming from on-the-ground protesters in Iran received an average of 57 retweets.


    I’m almost completely ignorant of the workings of Twitter and the other social media, but I’m certainly willing to learn. I took a look at your blog and it’s quite interesting – thanks for stopping by and leaving the link.


  5. good morning, just checking in, will be back later to read this thoroughly, (off to work now) and want to see what you and others are saying here. We must care.


    I find myself watching events unfold the way Dixie Rose attends to the strange, unexpected sight or sound – attentive, absolutely alert, not at all sure what she’s about to confront, if anything at all.

    And after writing the piece and titling it, and then to learn that the name of the woman who died – Neda – means voice… I hope the piece honors her, and all of her brothers and sisters.


  6. Thanks for sharing an interesting post. Let freedom ring!

    Indeed, Al, Thanks to you for stopping by, and leading me back to your own blog. I followed several links, and did some learning myself.
    I did notice your reference to farming – I surely do hope you’re faring better than we are this year. Rain would be a great gift!


  7. You must be the change you wish to see in the world – Ghandi


    Entirely appropriate, and gently cautionary as well. I’ve seen the quotation used in the midst of the flow of tweets, and am glad your brought it here.


  8. Linda: This is piece I will read again and refer to others to read.

    We have neighbors who are Iranian. He has been in the United States for several years but only moved into our neighborhood three years ago. However, he only recently married and his wife has been in the United States less than three years. Her English is quite limited and we do not speak Farsi so her husband often helps translate. Yesterday, for the first time, they opened up to Kate about their feeling about what is happening in Iran. It is difficult to know what is truth in all of this. But their concern for their families is basic and human. We must all hope that basic human rights emerge and prevail.


    As I’ve noted elsewhere, all of us are closer to Iran and her people than we may realize. And in the end, it is the people who count. Those whose names we know and those who remain anonymous and unspoken are real, not simply counters in some geo-political game. The one thing people like you and I can do that may have some small impact is to keep reminding those around us that movements are people first, with all of the passions and commitments that implies.

    Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for passing the Iranian story on.


  9. Out of all of the important and valuable insights and information to be found here, the story that sticks with me–and according to the paper this morning, with the rest of the world–is that of Neda. In the front page report by The New York Times, she was apparently in the company of her singing instructor when she was shot. Irony upon irony upon irony: a young woman whose name means voice(and remembered by all as nonpolitical), pursuing an activity banned for women, traversing the outskirts of the protests with her teacher. Shot. In the heart.

    Neda can no longer sing, but the powers that be clearly cannot hear. It is up to the rest of us to keep Neda’s metaphorical voice alive. This is one to be linked back to (and yes, I am trying to find a way).

    I am so glad that you are paying attention.


    I’m going to claim a heat-baked brain as an excuse here… I went off to read the NY Times article you referenced, and by the time I got done I just wandered off, thinking about it. I was sure I’d replied to your comment until I got up this morning and looked. Ooops!

    On the other hand, now we know a bit more about how terrified the regime is that Neda’s death will become a rallying point. It was reported last night that her family has been evicted from their home, and as far as I could determine, no one knows where they are. Apparently it wasn’t enough to deny them the customary ways of mourning. And, of course, they are attempting to blame her death on other protestors, foreign agents provocateur, etc.

    I’m afraid I’m not so charitable in my judgements. I suspect the issue is not that the powers that be cannot hear, but that they have heard and prefer to silence the voice. It’s the best reason I know to keep that voice alive.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and for the reference to the Times article.


  10. Hey Linda,

    It’s been awhile since I’ve stopped by. Hope you don’t mind an “old friend” popping in.

    We are certainly watching some kind of history in the making in Iran. It shames me to think how lightly I hold and take for granted the freedoms I have as an American.

    May the struggle of the Iranian people bear the fruit of truth and freedom.

    Good morning, tee!

    Mind? Good gracious – as you know, I’ve kept a bit of an eye out to see when you might pop up. It’s awfully nice to see you.

    Despite our taste for quick resolutions, this business in Iran is going to take some time, and I suppose there’s no real knowing at this point how it will resolve itself. But I think you’re right, that “some kind” of history is in the making.

    One of the greatest complicating factors is that regime members and resisters were on the same side thirty years ago when they took on the Shah. Now, both sides are employing some of the same techniques in this struggle, rather like two teams in a football game working from the same playbook. I did hear last night that one new factor – the social networking sites – were being combatted by the regime in an old, old way. They’ve simply started confiscating every mobile device they run across. Brute force can be effective. A computer isn’t going to do anyone much good if someone takes a hammer to it.

    Again – great to see you. Hope all is well.


  11. Your post is deeply moving and as the events unfolded I found myself writing one on my personal blog too.

    I don’t know if you are aware of the Bloggers Unite to support Human Rights in Iran campaign on Monday June 29th. http://www.bloggersunite.org/event/free-iran

    On Monday June 29th, we ask Bloggers from around the globe to Unite for a Free Iran. Please JOIN this event and use your blog to educate your readers and spread the word about how we can help support a Free Iran.

    Tweeting about this event use hash tag #FreeIran.

    What can you blog about? How can you help?

    * write a post about the lack of basic human rights and freedoms
    * ask democratic leaders from around the world to unite and stand up for the citizens of Iran
    * let the people in Iran know we are supporting them and their fight for freedom
    * do what we can to help highlight the disappearance and inhuman treatment of Iranian citizens
    * arrange/promote Blogger and Twitter Meetups in your town on Monday
    * write a post offering moral support to the people of Iran
    * call on the Iranian government to stop arresting peaceful protesters and opposition supporters, and to free those it has already detained
    * blog to get the people of Iran free and open Internet access
    * blog for a fair and just election
    * write a post asking your readers to email the United Nations Human Rights Commission to hold an Emergency Meeting
    * blog to free the press and remove the controls that have been placed on media and bloggers
    * call for an end to the violence in Iran
    * blog to ask your readers to turn all avatars black to mourn those killed in the protests
    * add an Action Badge to your blog before June 29th and ask other bloggers to join in.


    Appreciate the visit, and appreciate the information about Bloggers Unite even more. I’ll be passing it along, and finding a way to participate.

    Amnesty International is active as well, promoting activity on behalf of Abdolfattah Soltani and others.

    Rumi himself has a word for such situations:

    Load the ship and set out. No one knows for certain whether the vessel will sink or reach the harbor. Cautious people say, “I’ll do nothing until I can be sure”. Merchants know better. If you do nothing, you lose. Don’t be one of those merchants who won’t risk the ocean.

  12. I have read this thoroughly in toto, having missed so much in my first (hurried) read. (note: i have taken to slowing down my mornings, even if it means being a little late to work because I always stay late there anyway.)

    I find this a wonderful weaving of things (one of your fortes, the weaving of ideas and concepts), and a better feel for the people here than I get from the so-called news. And I was delighted to see your mention of Rumi! We recently saw something on channel 9 about him; about a “performance” reader who recites Rumi’s poetry along with music. So HM got a volume of the poetry and it follows us around the house.

    I also remarked with great interest the fact that “artists” could form a political party. I understand how they must do it and am sad to think our own “pop” celebrity culture just might not know how to go about this. But writers, Linda! I believe the good journalists and writing artists…ah, I dream, but I see wonderful and good stuff among writers, old and new (yes, I always bring it back to writing, don’t I?)
    And 100 percent literacy in Iran! Egads, that’s a dream come true for any country.


    I was especially caught by your remark about literacy. One hundred percent literacy is wonderful, but I wonder… Is it better to have 100% literacy in a nation where government censorship proscribes what can be read, or to have 70% literacy in a country where citizens are free to read whatever they please? If a government is ensuring literacy only to guarantee their citizens will be able to read their propaganda, that’s not much of a step forward. People do find a way, of course, but as always, admirable goals can be pursued by tyrants for their own ends.

    Several people have mentioned to me The Illuminated Rumi as being an especially pleasing presentation of his work. I think one of these hot afternoons I’ll be making a trip over to the local bookbox to see what’s available.

    Remember that old song from our youth – “slow down, you move too fast”? We do move fast, and a little slow down from time to time isn’t bad ;-)


  13. I came back and read the other comments, including DS’s about Neda.

    I like Makhmalbaf’s words that this is not just about Mousavi. What are the other issues that have burned into the Iranian psyche for decades, centuries and millennia? Neda is a songbird, and that she was a non-political woman is for me remarkably wonderful. If she becomes the symbol of this protest, and a martyr, she is a martyr not for a fraudulent election, I think. I know so little! (They say only those who know little about the Middle East declare to understand it.) But the pain of being an Iranian woman, for instance, is perhaps what took her to the street. And the woman in the quote who took care to align the artifacts of her life before going out to protest. The issues of daily life and human exchange are what matter, and who the leader of Iran is may not matter quite so much if things don’t change in essence.


    Today I heard an interview with a woman who said that, for the women of Iran, the protest has been going on for years as women have taken to the streets with uncovered hair, or clothing that fails to meet strict Islamic guidelines. I wasn’t aware that arrests, detentions and punishments have been meted out for these offenses on a regular basis, just as I didn’t know that it was not allowed for a woman to sing in public. How little we know, and how much we take for granted…

    And, I might add, how easily we are distracted. I suspect tonight many, many people from Mark Sanford to the mullahs are giving thanks for the unexpected death of Michael Jackson. You wouldn’t know anything else of import was happening in the world.

    This comment – “They say only those who know little about the Middle East declare to understand it” – did bring a smile. It reminded me again of the complexity of those cultures, and their love for many traditions and customs which seem strange or oppressive to us. After all, there are as many youtube videos praising the wearing of hijab as opposing it. In the end, the freedom to choose may be the point.


  14. Back I am, and glad that you were able to read The Times’s article. Also shocked, though I suppose I should not be, that her family was not only denied the ‘traditional ways of mourning’ (about which I know nothing), but that they are now among Iran’s “disappeared.” I agree with Ruth that if Neda becomes a martyr or symbol for these protests, that she will not represent a fraudulent election, but rather a culture that is at war with itself, and has been so for a very long time. I know less than nothing; this is just what strikes me.


    Cultures at war with themselves abound. I wonder if, in fact, it isn’t the same struggle, played out in a variety of cultural contexts. On the one hand are the forces of a conservatism that is far more than political – tradition, memory, hierarchical or rigidly authoritarian structure. On the other lie forces intent on self-determination, equality, freedom from the imposition of others’ values. The challenge, of course, is adopting the best of the new while maintaining the best of the old, in Iran or any other context.

    Sometimes the struggle devolves into armed conflict, sometimes not, but it always is painful. And sometimes we seem willing to look away from others’ struggles bcause they remind us of our own. After all, our own nation is involved in a few culture-war skirmishes these days.

    Thanks so much for your spot-on comment.


  15. Hi Linda,

    Just noted your reference/well-wishes regarding rainfall to enhance a better harvest later this Fall–Thank You. Thanks also for doing your part to recognize the brave Iranian people seeking a more just and free society.

    Morning, Al,

    I’ve varnished boats for a living for nineteen years – and it took me a long time to learn I wasn’t going to be able to control the weather. On the other hand, living and dying with the weather, so to speak, has given me a real sensitivity to the plight of farmers. Many here in Texas are on the edge after three years of drought. We need rain too, and need it now. Whether it will come, no one can know.

    Thanks again for the kind words. Eventually Iran will be back below the fold, but that only increases the importance of supportive alternative voices.


  16. I’ve just been riveted by this and heartbroken at the brute force of sham holy men and their puppets. Some Americans who remember 1979 and the hostages, as I do, are unmoved and unforgiving. To each his or her own, I guess.

    The Washington Post had an interesting piece some days ago about technology and protests, going back to the 1950’s when the technology was the photocopier.


    I went snooping and found a couple of very interesting Post articles from recent days, including this one about “swarming” entitled “Cell Biology“. It’s clear that emerging technologies are a big part of this story – to paraphrase, we’ve come a long way from the broadside, baby.

    As for the hardliners and hard-hearted – at least we have the option to hear other voices if we choose.

    Always a pleasure to have you stop by!


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