Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pedal 4 Green: Ambassadors of Hope

Hassan Alizadeh and Amir Hossein Ahmadi were not unfamiliar names to us. I met Mr. Alizadeh at the Brooklyn Film Festival in 2005. I think it was his demeanor and athletic comportment which impressed so many of us and compelled us to put aside our competitiveness and wish that their documentary, made about their four-year trip around the world, would win the grand prize. Unfortunately, well-wishers were not the jurors in the festival. But the features of these two champions won the prize of our hearts and minds. My husband and I had no difficulty recognizing them as they walked into our home. “Yes, that’s them!” I uttered as I led them into our sitting room. Indeed, the entire documentary came back to me.
While staying with us, Hassan and Amir Hossein created another documentary worthy of another prize. This time, the documentary was a live narrative of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s downfall and the grand jury consisted of my family of five, plus my two dogs. They won the prize unanimously with six votes. (One of the dogs, Omar Khayyam, nicknamed “Mojtaba,” abstained.)

“When did you leave Iran?” I asked.
“Yesterday,” one of them answered.
I rubbed my eyes to make sure I was not dreaming. “Just 24 hours away from the news? First hand news?” I could not believe it.
“How was everything? Do people know about the news? Is everything kept away from them? Do they hear from us? Is what we are doing here important? Do they hear us at all? Do they have any expectation from us?” I could not wait for an answer before launching into another question.
“Oh, by the way, are you hungry? Do you want something to drink? Are you tired? Do you want to take a nap until dinner time?” And again, here I was with another series of motherly questions, not giving them a chance to answer. Finally one of them, I think it was Amir Hossein, replied: “No thank you. We are fine.”
Serioja, (nick named “mini-Mojtaba”), our little dog, ran downstairs and sheepishly crawled over Amir Hossein’s shoos and grabbed the string of his shoes which led him to discover the edges of his socks and then the rims of his pants and here we lost both our dog and our guest together. They were running from room to room playing hide and seek with each other with a mixture of laughter and barks.
The round of telephone calls started. Friends wanted to know what we all wanted to know. BBC, VOA, and few others called back. The press along with the rest of us wanted to know not so much about them but about the life in streets of Tehran, “Allaho akbar!” on the rooftops, injured patients in the hospitals, prisoners in Evin, journalists cooped up in the offices of the closed newspapers and finally the young defenseless people in the street meeting danger and even ready to die. In response to every question these trubador-champions unveiled with ease the mystery of this phenomenal courage. Well-informed and fully aware, balanced, devoid of bitterness or anger, very humbly with their answers, they created another puzzle, they themselves turned into the object of curiosity.
Passing by them, on my way to kitchen while they were on the phone, I could not help but overhearing their conversations with their wives, friends and a few interviews they gave. I do not make any apology for hearing them, nor for repeating them. Explaining their mission, knowing that they would very likely wind up in Evin Prison upon their return, I would hear them saying over and over, “The movement belongs to the people, it does not belong to Mousavi or Karoubi for that matter, though I voted for Karoubi myself. But they are far behind the people. We pedal for the movement; we want to bring the movement to the United States more than any other place,” without any boasting or reproach or even defensiveness.
“But your wives?” almost everyone seemed to asked them. “They knew whom they married, and still, they are no better or worse than all those women in prisons. They would have done exactly the same as we are if they were in our position” They said this not only with certainty, but with respect and love. I could envision their wives as lovely, caring, independent women whose trust and confidence in their husbands had encouraged them to such an undertaking.
They were not anxious, not even when the bicycle store called and made lousy excuses for delaying the delivery of their bicycles and helmets and other accessories. They were not annoyed when the activists who were supposed to welcome them in New York were too busy to see them. And they never lost their temper when they were repeatedly checkmate by my brother. However, if I could attribute their mental balance and their acceptance of failure and loss to their general athletic training, I was most puzzled by a very unique character which sports alone could not possibly explain: their air of freedom.
The champions carried with them an aura of freedom unique to themselves. Surely it won’t match the one in Islam’s encyclopedia or Ahmadinejad’s. It was not lawlessness which some erroneously takes for freedom. Not of the kind in which one allows ones self to indulge in bars. It was not one which carries guilt, either, or, for that matter, not one that prevents others from pursuing their happiness. And above all, it was not the kind for which one needs permission. Their freedom was part of their being, something they were born with, a guilt-free freedom, the kind of freedom which allows one to live the life s/he wants to live responsibly, with a clear mind, without force and without any pressure from inside or outside.
I think it was it was this sense of freedom which they shared with our other youth in Iran. Here we were fortunate to see in person the full and live image of what we have seen these last few months, in disbelief, on TV or online, the kind of freedom we observed in the face of all those determined youth who faced brutality with courage, the one we saw sadly in Neda’s last look, in the innocent face of Sohrab, in the courageous departure of Rouholamini, in Kianoush Mehrassa; It is the same we saw in brilliant actions of Iranian women during last thirty years, and our youth during the last two decades, a kind of freedom that is given to us directly by God when He created us, the most beautiful gift from our Creator that we all would make sacrifices to hold on to it as long as we live.
Being a host to these two young athletes, I learned that we Iranians have finally come up with our own definition of freedom, thanks to our young generation who defined it for us. It seems that Iranians have finally departed from the classical-mystic definition of the term, and have defined it in terms of taking the initiative to stay in charge and accept responsibility for their lives, political or otherwise.
For twelve days and half I saw only two, but heard and envisioned millions of young, handsome, healthy, happy, cheerful, responsible, intelligent, well-informed, and clear-headed Iranians going forward without doubt, but carefully; knowingly, but not arrogantly; steadfast and determined, but not aggressive to where they want to live: somewhere in a land of light, freedom and equality. They were going to spread the message of Iranian youth wherever it is appreciated.
We took them to the Brooklyn Bridge to depart, the bridge which brought so much excitement as when a poet-writer, Stephen Crane named one of his collections to the occasion “The Brooklyn Bridge” as a symbol of connection. The choice was as deliberate as our champions were here for a mission: to connect.
We bade farewell to them, but yet we did not. We just said something very vague, something like when one doesn’t know what to say, like mumbling, like whispering. I don’t know if we said “take care” or “comeback soon” or “have a safe trip.” I do not know what we said, but somehow I heard a voice, “Yes, that was it,” though I don’t know who said it, which one of us said it, I think it came from over the bridge as they pedaled away from us, turned back, and waved to us, before disappearing into the traffic of by passers over the bridge. The voice was still heard; it was not one or two , it was like a wave, like a chorus, a huge chorus of some millions of voices. I kept hearing it, it got stronger and stronger: “We are not going away, we are just gathering, we are just getting together, we are growing, we hold hands, and we raise our voices. We stay together, we stay together, we would never say good-bye, never say good-bye, never say good-bye…..”

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

"Islamic Republic, Nothing More, Nothing Less"

“Islamic Republic, not a single word less and not a single word more.”
At two in the morning, I anxiously went to the computer room and clicked on Facebook. Masih Alinejad was online with people in Tehran who were giving a minute by minute report from the “tahlif” ceremony, an Islamic term for inauguration.
At 4:30 I fell sleep after I was certain that Ahmadinejad would be our next president, if not by our vote then just by the measure of the Supreme Leader and his cronies’ chutzpah. Later on, when I woke up, I roamed around to find something comforting. Roozbeh Mirebrahimi had a wonderful article on Gooya News. Balanced and professional as always, he wrote about the slogans and goals of the green movement and Mousavi’s controversial statement in response to the current slogan chanted by people, “Esteqlal, Azadi, Jomhuri Irani”—Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic.

He denounced the slogan and dissociated himself as well his office from it. He very adamantly repeated Khomeini’s statements early in the revolution that “Jomhuri Islami, not a single word less and not a single word more.”

While Mousavi leaves himself open to some criticism, particularly from those abroad, still, he wins some support as well. Roozbeh Mirebrahimi defends him, even finding his conservative view advantageous. He believes that Mousavi, a legitimate child of Khomeini’s revolution, sincerely brings about those promised ideals which had never been achieved and makes a commitment to reviving them as part of his agenda. However, while admitting that slogans evolve as the movement progresses, he leaves aside the necessity of the natural emergence of this particular slogan (Islamic Republic, not a single, etc.) and emphasizes the necessity of unity among the protesters for the sake of attaining their goal, a democratic government and the rule of law. I assume, by combining these two arguments, he is trying to convince us to ignore the phrase “Islamic Republic, not a single, etc.”

The Green movement’s slogan, “Where is our vote” changed to “Mousavi, Mousavi retrieve our votes” when faced with resistance, and then to “Death to dictator” and “My dear martyr, I retrieve the blood you shed, I retrieve your vote” when they were confronted with bullets. Obviously it was the situation which changed the slogans and not the other way around. The changes of icons in our Facebook took place in the same fashion. Early days “Where is my vote” with green background was turned into bloody hands over a green background when the police turned to violence and murdered the people, then changed to a green sign reading “I confess” after the wave of forced confession aroused sympathy and compassion in us. However, the slogan of “Jomhuriye Eslami” being replaced with
Jomhuriye Irani did not resulted from any evolutionary change of events, but is the outcome of an historical process and political maturity. It is not only the change of situation which calls for chanting such a daring slogans, but an awareness of a fundamental question which should have come much sooner.

The rise of the Islamic Republic was so rapid and unexpected that none of us found it suitable to question the fundamental principals or the justification for the institutes established by its founders. Even the referendum took place without people knowing what they were really voting for or why. As I recall, it just gave the people the chance to confirm the Islamic Republic even before the constitution of Islamic Republic was composed. The result was thirty years of chaos, murder, imprisonment, imposition and backwardness. (To be fair, it also meant lots of pretty highways, and universities on every corner, though many of them do not have enough faculty and staff.) One might also, sadly and embarrassingly, add the ignorance and political immaturity of our generation as one of the major contributors. So the Islamic Republic’s founder, Khomeini, was left unchallenged as to what he meant by Islamic Republic and its governance, or the legitimacy of Islamic rules for a country with such a secular history.

To question the legitimacy of a regime or even the foundation of the governmental system is not the domain of elites or scholars. Any responsible citizen has a right to question the legitimacy of its government. They have a right to ask any amount of words they like, Why shouldn’t they ask for nothing more or nothing else but the Islamic Republic? Really, why not? What is so virtuous in an Islamic Regime? Didn’t it kill? Didn’t it rape? Didn’t it torture? Didn’t it cheat? Didn’t it lie? Didn’t it strip people of their dignity? Didn’t it violate people’s basic rights? Didn’t it demolish all civil foundations? Didn’t it abolish whatever was left of something called “law”? Didn’t it ignore the Constitutions? Didn’t it violate all humane norms? And didn’t it do all this according to the laws of the sharia? Really, what else didn’t it do? What else should it do for us to question its legitimacy, or even desirability?

“Real Islam…” is the usual cliché which has been used again and again during the last thirty years to cover up all the abuses. The reformist clerics and laymen have used it equally as if it is another denomination of Islam. But we are still wondering as to its actuality and its virtue. Where was that real Islam to save all these cleric and ayatollahs from free fall? Why could it not stop the pious from walking to hell? What is good about a religious system if its “real version” would become mixed up with its “false version” so easily, even being indistinguishable to the experts? And what guarantees that the one which is called “real” today won’t turn out even more “false” tomorrow? Is human instinct for corruption so strong? Is the seat of power in this earthly life dearest too? If yes, then why bother? Why should we bear such an imposition? Why should we follow those rules which could not save those who are supposed to be immune from fall, those who are the God’s emissaries?

Unfortunately such embarrassing statements, coming from the man who is supposed to be our legitimate president, won’t help the movements at all. Mousavi could have ignored the slogan and just maintain his individual right as to take his distance from it. He should have known that he is not the leader of this movement, but just an elected president. And he should have known that he has no role as to what people in street will chant, the chants are the direct result of people’s “experience” which translates into one word: Democracy, not a word more and not a word less. People did not stumble on this word and did not receive an instruction from anybody, foreign or native, and won’t alter it on anybody’s advice. They have learned that the Islamic regime won’t bring them even close to what they call democracy.

However it is so fortunate that our third generation, moje sevomi ha, know what Mousavi doesn’t. It is so fortunate that they are wiser than we were some thirty years ago. It is so fortunate that they are bolder. It is so fortunate that they are more liberated. It is so fortunate that they have more self-confidence. It is so fortunate that they know for sure what they want. It is so fortunate that they are not willing to settle for anything less than what they want. It is so fortunate that they want democracy. It is so fortunate that during the last thirty years they have learned that Islam won’t bring them democracy. It is so fortunate that they, willingly, would let Mousavi go if Mousavi does not want to follow them. And finally, it is so fortunate that Khatami is a witness to all these, and can tell Mousavi “listen kiddo, these are not those naïve kids of thirty years ago. They are tough. I know what I’m talking about. I trained them. It is true you are the legitimate son of Khomeini’s revolution, but these are the legitimate kids of the Khatami School of Reform and Liberation.”

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