Remember Iran 1st-Hand: Moving Beyond the Shroud --- How The Green Movement Became a Beacon for Change
Three years ago the world changed.
Before 12 June 2009, we still lived on a globe where the people of Iran were put in a bubble, alienated from others. Or perhaps it was the other way around: the rest of the world lived in a sort of bubble, alienated from Iran. That rings truer to me.
I am sure many Iranians can relate, regardless of age, sex, or political persuasion. We are not understood by the world. We are not yet truly known. But 12 June 2009 was the beginning of the end of this.
In 1976, when I was three years old, my parents and I went to the US, where my father studied for his Masters degree. When he finished, we returned to Iran at the height of the 1979 Revolution.
It took all of three months for my parents to realize that the new Iran that was forming, with its Islamist revolutionary committees and firebrand clerics espousing a value system that denigrated women, was not for them. Perhaps having a six-year-old son had something to do with their decision to leave as well. I have never asked, but it was prescient of them. Had we stayed, I may have had to fight in the Iran-Iraq War.
By early 1980, we had emigrated to our new home in Canada after spending six months in Sweden while we waited for our file to be processed. That was a lot of culture shock: I knew that a horrible rending had taken place, a tearing apart of not just my family, but the revolutions aftermath had caused many Iranians to leave Iran, thereby acting like a spike thrust into the heart of the extended "Iranian family".
I also understood, given how the mere mention of "Iran" made people react in our new country, that I had best not reveal my origin to just anyone. Being Iranian was “bad”. An ethnic name prompted kids to ridicule and pick fights. Some teachers were spiteful and mean, mocking me in front of the other students.
So, even as I lived in a country that prided itself for its multiculturalism, the cold reality was that I was hated by some. My only crime? Having been born in Iran.
I did everything I could to fit in, and I did okay. Not all Canadians were racist; after all, Canada had accepted my family and given us an opportunity to live a normal life, away from war and theocracy.
But my world view had been shaped. As I grew older, I sought to understand why Iranians were so hated in the West. The more I learned, the more I realized that there was something very wrong with the narrative that was being pushed constantly by the mainstream media.
Why was it that whenever Iran was brought up, it was always in the context of war, death, and Islam? Why was the image that was being presented of Iranians only that of mean-spirited mullahs, bearded, sour-faced old men and religious zealots chanting “Death to America”, and women shrouded in black chadors carrying assault rifles?/p>
That was not the Iranian people I knew.
This was not my father, my mother, my aunts and uncles and cousins, my Iranian friends.
Iran is a multicultural nation and has been since its inception 2 1/2 millennia ago. Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Turks, Turkmen, Arabs, Baluchis, Kurds, Georgians, and Persians are all a part of the tapestry. Islam, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Judaism, with one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, are among the faiths.
And so I found Iran the ultimate contradiction and the diametric opposite of what most in the West thought of it.
What the clerics of Iran have done to the country is analogous to what they have done to the individual Iranian woman. The Islamic Republic is shrouded, cloaked to the outside world. What you see is not what you get --- the chador hides both inner and outer beauty from society.
The cloak that Iran wears and that the world sees is that of a virulently radical, fundamentalist Islamist regime, hell-bent on confrontation with the west. It is the image that some in that regime want to project. It is the image that those who wish to start a war against that regime wish to perpetuate.
Can a true image, an Iranian essence, be distilled? I am not sure, but I do know this much: following the rigged election of 12 June 2009, when Iranians stood proudly and proclaimed that they did not choose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when they asked, “Where is my vote?”, that monolithic, dark image of Iran was shattered.
For the first time in 30 years, the world caught a glimpse behind the shroud. For a brief moment, we snapped out of the trance of day-to-day lives, stunned into acknowledging the Iranian people and to get to know them a little. No matter how one interprets the events that became known as the Iran Green Uprising, it is impossible to deny that Iranians are fiercely proud and deserving of respect.
The collective chant that rang on television screens and through the cyber-sphere still echoes today. It rings even if some have forgotten it, perhaps because it is difficult to let go of long-ingrained caricatures and illusions. Iranians in the millions proudly marched side by side, putting their lives at risk, so they could be seen. They did so to be recognised as human beings, deserving of the same dignity and respect as those outside Iran. They wanted to be hopeful about their futures, to be a part of the world, not isolated from it.
They rendered the notion of bombing Iran sheer lunacy, even if there is no shortage of lunatics who still press for a military confrontation. And the change that they brought after 12 June 2009 was an inspiration to the oppressed around the world to use the same methods to express their grievances.
We saw revolutions and uprisings from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen to Bahrain. We saw the same techniques adopted in protests in Europe and North America.
My own involvement was primarily on Twitter and on my news blog, Iran News Now. I did the best I could to cover the events, fed by videos and pictures from Iranians on the ground --- the brave ones who put their lives at stake to get the word out by using mobiles to get the images. I became one in a chain of people to spread the word.
My activity in those days is a blur. I just remember not sleeping for three days straight, while I tried to get the attention of the mainstream media to developments. It took them what felt like an eternity to cover events, but some of them came around, taking risks by airing footage that they could not confirm but trusting that we were telling them was legitimate.
I broke out of the trance when I realised that on 15 June, the day of the million-person, peaceful protest, Iran News Now was leading the updates on Twitter, where the story was breaking. The New York Times wrote on 17 June:
A Twitter account called IranNewsNow sent a message to CNN’s Twitter account that read, “don’t listen to what iran gov says u can or can’t do! You can report the pics/vids coming from Twitter!”
It was at that point that I realised that each of us can now be an agent of change.
The events of the Iran Uprising of 2009 were profound, but an uprising in itself is far from new. What is new is that the world is more connected than ever before, so we all can be involved.
The recognition that I, a manager within the IT department of a university, could play a small part in the Green Movement fostered my desire to bring that sense of empowerment to as many people as possible.
As the world has changed, it is up to us to make sure that this change is towards a better life for all. That for me is the example of the Iranian people who stood up for dignity in June 2009, the precedent that pierced the shroud of 33 years of misrepresentation, forever acting as a beacon for those of us who watched but came to participate.