Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Crushing Silence from Iran

Throughout the days that have followed the outcome of the June 12 election in Iran, the people of that country of taken to the streets and responded and protested against their willful government in a manner that has endeared them and their nation to the world in a way the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran have never been able to do over the last 30 years.

As the government has employed its tools of repression in the last few days things have taken a dreadful, bleak turn. Lives have been lost and snuffed out, all of them equal in their tragedy despite the fact that we still have not been able to count them.

The most disappointing thing is the lack of response from older men in positions of power who seemingly had the influence to steer Iran away from the course it is on now and direct the government towards achieving a rational detente with its own people. Instead the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij continue to assault, beat, kill and detain people without discretion. As this crackdown began, I thought it would undermine the credibility and authority of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but I grow cynical that the Ayatollahs are demonstrating all of the worst characteristics of politicians in their effort to sustain their control of the country blind to all of the principles that they claim to stand for.

As the mainstream media gets arrested or forced out of the country and the Iranian government finds a way to duct tape the eyes, ears and mouths of the Twittering citizen-journalists, most significantly Persiankiwi, I am deeply saddened and discouraged by the silence that is follow over the opposition movement. Days ago these people were lauded the world over for their convictions and their bravery, even by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but as the government of Iran make clear their willingness to oppress its people and shatter the facade of stable democracy they fabulated about earlier this month, it is frightening to consider how far this government is willing to go.

As the next protest is mounted, I anticipate it with more anxiety than hope. Mir Hussein Mousavi's recent silence, along with that of Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani and former President Mohammad Khatami, harbinger bleaker times ahead rather than anything that will mark the positive reform and advanced freedoms that were distant but still light years closer than they are now.

As things proceed from here I just hope that my friends there and their families are safe.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


In August 2005, I had the opportunity to work in Tehran for a month, teaching English to a group of professional engineers as part of a Masters of Engineering program. My time there was one of the most interesting, rewarding and profound experiences that I have had as a traveler or educator. I invite visitors to the blog to read my posts from 2005 to help give some more shape to the place that is dominating news headlines at the moment. I was supposed to return again in June 2009, but things have been "delayed."

If you don't have time for that please let me share with you my thoughts and observations on the place where these events are taking place.

Iran first splashed into my consciousness the last time things were this uncertain there, winter 1979. The Shah was about to flee from the opposition protests and Ayatollah Khomeini ascended from exile to leadership of the country. At the end of the year, the US Embassy was captured and a 444-day drama was hatched that captured world attention and sowed the seeds of enmity that continue to fester between the US and Iranian governments. One of the first books I ever bought for myself was a paperback account of the hostage crisis.

Iran remained very much in the back of my thoughts until the opportunity to go in 2005 was presented to me. Perhaps I should not say the back of my thoughts. With the election of Ayatollah Khatami as president of Iran in 1997, there was hope that the moderate would be able to establish some rapprochement between Iran and the west or at least make the country as moderate as its young population wanted it to be.

When I arrived in Iran in 2005, weeks after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election there was a bit of anxiety about the government or police being emboldened to crack down a little stronger on things but there was still a willingness to privately voice disdain for Ahmadinejad's leadership as mayor of Tehran and pessimism about how he would lead the country.

After my 30 days there I came away with the impression that it was a youthful, engaged country aware of the world beyond and eager to resume its place in the world community. Prior to the revolution in 1979 Tehran had aspirations of hosting an Olympics and the economic might and cultural prestige to warrant serious consideration. It had the same standard of living as South Korea before the revolution had fallen far, far behind while the government preoccupied itself with religious issues and its impermeable dogmas rather than the economy. It was the promise of dealing with the economy that won Ahmadinejad what support he got but since 2005 he has squandered that credibility.

At this point I believe that the protests taking place in Tehran and beyond right now are a step in the direction the people of Iran want to go. There will be a great deal of change that will have to take place in order for Iranians to have the country that they want. What is happening is very much like eastern Europe in 1989, though it may not be as "velvet" as the changes in Czechoslovakia or East Germany.

I encourage you to read on. Check the archives for 2005. If you have any questions let me know and I'll give you the best info I can or send you to a reliable resource.