A nation with a near 90% literacy rate and yet, it is just another murderously corrupt theocracy. The world’s fourth largest oil and gas reserves and yet, it’s economy is in tatters. It has more holy men and places of worship per square kilometer than any other state and yet, bigotry and intolerance are the only things preached there. It is a land of beautiful men and women, gracious and soft spoken, with flawless beige complexions and bright blue and hazel eyes, brimming with creativity and poetry. Yet, they are forcefully prevented from letting their creativity flourish.
The Iranians are going to the polls as I post this. The last time that happened, it was in the summer of 2009. A popular uprising against the government called the ‘Green Movement’ was brutally suppressed. I remember the watching in horror in 2009, a cellphone video on YouTube, of a beautiful young girl, Neda Agha-Soltan, being shot and killed by the Basij Militia, a paramilitary force of the Iranian Government, created in the same harshly bigoted mold as the Shiv Sainiks of Maharashtra, only infinitely more murderous.
Shot through the heart, the girl acquired a look of incredulity at first and she slowly sank down till she was prone, on her back, eyes wide open, staring up at the sky. Neda’s lips quivered as she tried to speak but instead, blood oozed out in a slow trickle through one side of her mouth. Almost immediately after, more blood pumped out through the corners of her eyes and through her nostrils, in pulses generated by the frenetic beating of her perforated heart. All the while, her music teacher who had accompanied her, held her and hysterically tried to draw the attention of others nearby. Her last words were, ‘I’m burning! I’m burning!”
Neda Agha Sultan as she would have liked to be remembered – a happy girl, beautiful, vivacious, in love with life.
Neda, shot through the heart by a Basij Militia rooftop sniper, June 20th 2009
Before that summer turned to fall, there would be many more such tragic endings to innocent lives, lost in peaceful demonstrations for the most basic of freedoms, such as wearing colorful clothes and letting their lovely hair roll free, downloading music they liked to hear and watching their favorite TV soaps, stuff that we in the west take for granted. There were so many taken away. Shabnam Sohrabi, killed instantaneously when a black paramilitary vehicle ran her down. Kianoosh Asa, shot in the neck by a rooftop sniper belonging to the Basij Militia and left to bleed to death in the middle of the street. Maryam Soudbar Atbatan, beaten on the head with a truncheon during a demonstration in Tehran, a hit that she succumbed to, later at home that night. Ali Hassanpour, shot in the face and killed on Azadi Square, his body was handed over to his family for burial three months later. Hossein Akhtarzand, pushed from the top of a building in Isfahan. Young students and professionals all, their adult lives just beginning.
It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when the pendulum was at the other end of its swing. That was pre-1979, when Iran was an extremely wealthy nation. There was no income tax and gas was free. If there was any poverty line at all, it was way south of its border. Night clubs and bars thronged the streets of Tehran. Music, theater and cinema were at their most creative and the Iranians lived a lifestyle that was akin to a continuously running expressionist orgy.
Unfortunately, the head of the government then was an ineffectual guy who loved dressing up in flashy uniforms with blazing medals and ornate swords. Shah Reza Pahlavi was actually nothing more than a wimpy puppet to his American masters who were the de-facto rulers.
The Shah was installed through the efforts of the CIA’s Kermit Roosevelt Jr., a grandson of the late American President, Teddy Roosevelt, in a Machiavellian coup against the only democratically elected government ever to have ruled Iran, the government of the popular Prime Minister, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh
The US orchestrated this travesty of a coup because Mossadegh had nationalized the Iranian petroleum industry and thereby stopped the wholesale loot by the British of its vast natural gas and oil fields at prices less even than those of peanuts. If you’d like to read some more on that, here’s the link to a blog post I wrote sometime back, called ‘Tehran Spring’:
Just as an aside, when the Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, pulled off something similar to what Mossadegh attempted, ie: wholesale nationalizations, she made sure to first get the backing of Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union who told the US to keep its sticky fingers off India. And by the way, Brezhnev stood behind India one more time, deterring the US from active support of Pakistan during the battle for the liberation of Bangladesh. Interesting…the Soviets never asked for much in return, just friendship. There never was a profit motive.
Be that as it may, Iranians are going to the ‘polls’ once again. Their choices are limited. It is not really a free and democratic election exercise, since only six candidates chosen by the ruling Guardian Council are allowed to run for President, the final vetting of the six being done by the ‘supreme leader’ for life, Ayatollah Khamenei.
The Iranian hoi-polloi, desperate to taste the prosperity that they once enjoyed, are thinking of boycotting the polls altogether this time. This may not be a smart strategic move. The government might just go ahead and fill ballot boxes to show that there was an 80% turnout and the misery will go on for another eight years.
Should the status quo continue and the hardline theocracy remain in power, is there a real threat of invasion? In 2009, given Obama’s innate dislike of the Israelis and the war weariness of the American public, the chances of an invasion were almost nil. But Obama has since proven that he is a ‘George W Bush on steroids’, as one commentator puts it. By continuing to pressure the Iranians on the nuclear issue and isolating them with sanctions and finally threatening to invade, the Americans are actually playing into the mullahs’ hands. The threat of imminent invasion will only make the Iranian public rally around their leadership and close ranks, so says Abolhassan Bani Sadr, the first post-revolution Iranian President, now living in exile in France.
If I knew a prayer, now is the time I’d say it, for the ordinary Iranian people. May this lovely country prosper once again.
I have known Iran closely and even visited it twice, in the 90s. That was after I got married to an Iranian who had made the mistake of being seen bargaining with a vegetable vendor for a large purple eggplant one hot and humid day in April, her ponytail swinging this way and that as she gesticulated to the vendor to reduce her price, with the only two Hindi words she’d learned until then, “Kum karoooo, kum karoooo!” It was the way she drew out her ooooo that got me. That was eons back, in a tiny Maharashtrian town. She was then a student, living alone. These days she says ruefully that when I’d asked her to marry me, her English had been sketchy and she’d nodded, thinking I was asking her if it was Tuesday. She didn’t know then that life with me wasn’t going to be Belgium.