Sunday, December 27, 2009

Democracy is Messy

There's no way around it. The birth of our own democracy was not a staid, orderly affair as depicted by artists commissioned to paint the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in the 1770's. It is messy, necessarily lubricated with the blood of democratic partisans and committed citizens that selflessly rise up against a tyranny.

Iran is most certainly no exception. Exactly six and a half months after the tainted elections that briefly turned Tehran into the most dangerous city on earth, clashes between Iranian civilians and government military and paramilitary forces are resulting in more deaths. We're hearing reports from the ground that the Iranian military are firing into crowds and tear gas is also being used (Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish has some horrific tear gas videos).

In the Muslim world, this is the mourning period known as Ashoura. In a way, it's appropriate that this latest wave of deaths at the hands of the corrupt and heavy-handed dictatorship of Iran would coincide with Ashoura, a holiday in which Shi'ite Muslims mourn the death of a revered Shi'ite saint who fell in battle.

The video that you see above was allegedly taken today. You can plainly see people falling and streets of central Tehran are in a state of chaos. There are unconfirmed reports on Iranian reformist websites (such as the usually-reliable Irannewstoday) that Mir Hossein Mousavi's nephew was killed in the protests today. In one of the videos on that page, you'll see Iranian protesters carrying the body of a teenaged boy allegedly killed earlier today.

The video just above was shot days ago when Grand Ayatollah Katami was holding a memorial honoring the recently-deceased Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. Keep in mind this memorial was held in the former home of the Ayatollah Khomenei. The people busting through the door are who are charitably referred to in the media as "plainclothes security forces." (More notoriously known as the basiji. At 1:34, you can see a young man getting slapped or punched by one of these thugs.)

Grand Ayatollah Montazeri had long had my admiration and respect. Almost from the earliest days of the revolutionary government, the once heir-apparent had criticized Khomenei for hanging tens of thousands of enemies and self-perceived enemies and as recently as this past summer said "no one in their right mind" would believe the election results. The 87 year-old cleric had been excommunicated, the inevitable response of despotic regimes embarrassed by the truth spoken by those they can't get away with assassinating.

Montazeri's death had unwittingly touched off a firestorm that eventually ignited the renewed street violence in central Tehran that we're indifferently reading about as we eat the last crumbs of our Christmas fruitcakes. With six months of hindsight, it is clear that it was Montazeri, and not Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was the real heart and soul of the budding revolution. It begins to explain why more and more older Iranians, many of them actually religious conservatives, are marching shoulder to shoulder with the younger urban Iranians who made headlines around the world last summer.

Some of the best pictures taken earlier today of the Iranian protests can be found on Iranian photographer/artist Arash Ashoorinia's website (it's been heavily tweeted on Twitter, so please be patient as it may take several attempts to load).

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