“Tis light makes color visible”

[Title quotation by Rumi]

1) On Monday, demonstrations in Tehran were fragmented. Juan Cole notes that:

Since demonstrations are becoming so hard to stage, what with motocycle Basij forces constantly patrolling and the regime’s willingness to break heads even just for having a peaceful demonstration, the opposition is rumored to be shifting tactics.

He includes the following eyewitness account from Monday:

I cannot sleep and not write this.

Today in Haft-e Tir, there were so many members of basij that they outnumbered the demonstrators 3 or 4 to 1. They were less focused on women. This must be related to the murder of poor Neda. And this was also why whenever they got hold of a man, women would surround them and shout don’t beat him, don’t beat and they would turn and anxiously say we didn’t beat him. It was astonishing. They explained; they talked.

But they didn’t allow us to congregate; they kept telling us to walk and the crowd walked quietly for 2 hours in the circle (meydaan) and spontaneously gathered in whichever area they were not present. About 2000 of us were walking around the circle and only shouting Allah-o Akbar until they were forced to disperse us with tear and pepper gases. I thought people’s patience and persistence was great, although there were also many bad scenes and I cried.

They arrested a whole bus load of people. There were many intelligence folks in the crowd too. They would point to a person and the basijis would arrest that person. There was no one from Sepah and the police was obviously sympathetic to the crowd. I swear some of the Basijis were only 14 or 15, or at least what they looked like to me. On the other hand, women are playing an amazing role in the streets; both in terms of numbers and effectiveness..

He also links to a report that the Guardian Council, one of the main bodies on the clerical side of Iran’s government, has denied the request to annul the disputed election results and arrange a new vote.

2) While he has not been arrested, Mousavi has apparently been muzzled by the Iranian regime. According to a friend of Mousavi’s in Paris, “he has security agents, secret police with him all the time. He has to be careful what he says.” And thus can no longer speak freely to supporters. However, Mousavi’s friend also says: “The regime, arguably, is losing ground, not the protests. Ordinary Iranians are openly rejecting the legitimacy and power of Ayatollah Khamanei. That is entirely new, unheard of.”

3) Khamenei’s address from last Friday is worth reading for the full flavor of authoritarian rhetoric including nationalistic flattery, fearmongering insinuation, and veiled threats.

4) In general, Juan Cole has had a lot of good information on what’s happening in Iran — including reports from his contacts there.

Robert Fisk’s reports from on the ground in Tehran are worth a look too. He’s been ignoring the restrictions on journalists, and thus has eyewitness accounts of many of the protests.


5) Aaron Bady of zunguzungu has one of the better posts I’ve seen putting the events in Iran in perspective:

The difference between the last election in Iran — widespread voter apathy and boycotts — and those green hands in the streets now is pretty striking, and has to be a lot more important than the political leaders themselves. Iran has always had an incredibly vibrant civil society but a huge part of the story of the Iranian revolution was the tragedy of how a single faction within it took control of what had begun as an unruly heterogeneity of many different people with many different reasons for wanting the Shah gone. And seeing that unruly heterogeneity exert itself now is exciting precisely because it gives us occasion to hope that something strange and unpredictable and even wonderful might be happening as people forget, for a while, that politics is hopeless, and might even give us license to think that maybe Levison was right and that when people gather themselves in non-violent movement, they “inexorably” transform the relationship between government and the people. But that, of course, has little or nothing to do with Mousavi or the election, or anything we here in America or Twitterland can really know or think. And it’s good that it does. It’s happening there.

He only gives half the story on the technology aspects, but I pretty much agree with the half he does give:

I vaguely fear the kind of information (and illusion of information) that’s being passed around on twitter; nothing can be more perniciously misleading than welding the appearance of authenticity to the context-less brevity of a text message and soldiering it all together with a media narrative about technology bringing the revolution (especially when there are so many neocons chomping at the bit to make the imbroglio in the streets into an American cassus belli). Or maybe I’m just grumpy about the 140 character limit on twitter (and I definitely am grumpy about that). But what makes me hopeful — and sort of reverently awes me — is the prospect of things we don’t know anything about being the things that make all the difference, the movements in the streets and the unspoken decisions made by humans in the presence of other human beings.

The importance of Twitter to what’s going on was (like most everything else in this situation) never about us — it was about the use the Iranian protesters made of it. It was part of the “things we don’t know anything about” that coordinated the movements and decisions. That it was “visible” did not make its actual effect more knowable.

Technological vagaries seem to make it possible for random people in other countries to help the Iranians keep such lines of communication open, but it can only be a distant and abstract contribution to human needs for free speech and dissent, and a slightly less abstract contribution to Iranians’ knowledge that someone is bearing witness. It is not an entry into those movements and decisions.

One of AB’s commenters links to an (English-language) Pakistani column about how shamefully many news agencies have been acting with respect to Iran.

AB also links to an account of the human rights situation in Iran which includes an account of Mousavi’s past contributions to state repression in Iran. Given that he appears complicit in the executions of thousands of protesters during his term as Prime Minister in the 80s, how has Mousavi become the figurehead of a mass movement of dissent? Just another reminder that this is the Iranians struggle to bring their “unruly heterogeneity” to light.

5 Responses to ““Tis light makes color visible””

  • I am returning the blog to its usual background color. This probably has more to do with my own self-perceived inadequacies as an activist than anything else. I should leave symbolic gestures to those able to use them effectively. Anyone not a member of the triumphalist asshat chorus feel free to call me a chundermuffin if you think it will help.

  • Do post updates show up in our RSS feed?

  • I’m not clear if updates do- you can bump to the top by changing the time stamp if you want it more visible.

    plover is not a cundermuffin. I think the green has been hijacked by the cobag crowd as an an armchair interventionist aesthetic. Thank you for this post, though.

  • armchair interventionist aesthetic

    nice summary punko!

    but yeah, the green thing was a bit much for me, though i understand your intentionas and your hearts are in the right places(though i cant say that about brainz, what with zombies lurking n all)

  • A reading of Obama’s take on Iran from Egyptian blogger Baheyya:

    The true test of the new American administration’s Middle East policy is whether it will respect the outcomes of elections, even when the winners are not America’s favourites, and even when the winners are against U.S. policies. After all, being against U.S. policies is not a crime and is not “anti-American,” and it won’t do to pretend that all groups who oppose U.S. policies can be put in the same basket as the murderous Osama bin Laden and his vile associates. Obama’s remarks about the Iranian elections are heartening, but the Iran case is too easy, because the American president is supporting voters who picked his preferred candidate. Obama’s words will mean something only when he speaks out for wronged voters elsewhere in the “Muslim world” who pick candidates he may not like.

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