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Iran: Neda’s Martyrdom

By far the most powerful and disturbing image to have come so far from Iran is the footage of a young woman lying on the ground, shot in the chest and staring into the sky as blood suddenly starts gushing from her mouth and eyes as she dies. Soon after this video was posted, we learned that this woman’s name was Neda and she was just standing beside her father watching the situation when a sharp-shooter put a bullet directly into her heart. I can hardly imagine the horror she must have felt in that final moment, let alone the absolute agony of her father.

Very little is known about the situation, so one can only guess as to the intentions of the scum who pulled the trigger. This young woman was clearly not a threat, and the shot came from far away so there can be no doubt that it wasn’t self-defence. One could imagine that the sharp-shooters were encouraged to shoot innocent bystanders as a way to further frighten the people and get them to go home—by sending the message “just being outside puts you at risk” that will certainly have the effect of keeping thousands inside who might have otherwise gone out. But why shoot an innocent woman? Say what you will about social equality, but Muslims are far more inclined to be outraged over the death of a female than of a male (as am I). By beating up or killing women you greatly risk inflaming things even further. The fact that this was caught on tape, that millions of people have seen it, and that thousands of Iranians already know her name and are celebrating her as a martyr, is the last thing Khamenei could have wanted.

My speculation is that the sharp-shooter himself wasn’t thinking at all about the consequences—that he was just a sadist who got off on the cold-blooded murder of a woman. But the motives of the shooter himself are not nearly as important as the motives of Khamenei in allowing this tragedy to take place at all, and the consequences it will ultimately have. His motives were probably religious. He probably really believes that he is divinely inspired and that any challenge to his authority is a challenge to Allah. Therefore he couldn’t do the practical thing and spare his country all this unnecessary trauma by allowing a new election—he had to stand firm and declare all dissidents to be enemies of the state and therefore enemies of Islam. If his only motivation was to stay in power, he could have done so peacefully, but that would have required compromise. And for a man like Khamenei, compromise is not an option.

As for the consequences, those remain to be seen. What began as a series of peaceful protests will certainly take a more violent turn as the rage continues to grow. Many more will stay home out of fear, and the only ones who remain on the streets will be those willing to fight and die. The innocents who have died thus far will be their rallying cry and we’ll see many more martyrs before this is all over. And when the violence finally subsides, whether the Ayatollah remains in power or not, Iran will have become a fundamentally different country, and this a fundamentally different world.

Corey wrote in the comments to my last Iran entry that I may have been exaggerating the idea of the new media revolution, and he made a good point that we’re only able to witness this because Iran is for the most part a modern country with a modern technological infrastructure. If something similar were to happen in Africa or any third-world nation we wouldn’t be getting tweets and pictures and videos directly from the people, so it might not work as a prototype for other revolutions. Furthermore, other brutal dictators are surely already working on figuring out how to completely stop the flow of information should the need arise. Personally, I think that whatever obstacles these dictators put in place, the people will find a way around it. I think media has advanced to the point where it really can’t be stopped, where the only way to truly block the dissemination of information would be to cut power across the entire country, which would almost certainly backfire even worse.

No, I still believe that we’re witnessing something extraordinary in terms of the impact of new media on world events. Gone are the days that a government can attack its own people and not be held accountable for it. If you’re killing innocent women, the world will know about it.

The protests may very well be crushed, and Neda’s death may appear to have been in vain. I’d like to think that if she hasn’t become a martyr for this particular revolution, she may at least be a symbolic martyr for an even greater, worldwide revolution that is just beginning.

Just the fact that I’ve felt such strong emotion over this woman today when yesterday I didn’t even know she existed speaks volumes about the interconnected world we’re living in. What would the effect have been if we’d seen images like this during the Iraq invasion? It’s important to confront people with the true horror of these situations so that we will hopefully stop repeating them in the future.

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