June 18, 2009


Iran treads lightly in a culture of martyrs: A Tiananmen-style massacre there would create a new set of heroes for the protest movement. (Borzou Daragahi and Ramin Mostaghim, June 18, 2009, LA Times)

Protesters have tailored their message to make sure no one makes blanket calls against the Islamic Republic. Such rhetoric would not only provoke the authorities, but alienate segments of a budding movement that includes a huge cross-section of the nation: emergency room physicians and pious, working-class women who cover all but their faces in black chadors; factory owners and factory workers; and a wide range of political groups whose agendas converge in opposition to Ahmadinejad.

Posters held aloft Wednesday urged demonstrators to stop their march at a certain point and call out praise for the prophet Muhammad. Then, witnesses said, protesters were instructed to remain silent for 10 minutes in honor of those killed so far in the unrest, disperse and go home.

Big rallies held Tuesday and Wednesday were largely silent, devoid of slogans altogether, except for the occasional salavats -- blessings for the prophet and his descendants -- which served to both refresh the crowd as it walked along in the late spring heat and make older, pious protesters feel welcome as they worked their prayer beads.

"We had one vote and we gave it to Mousavi," said one placard at Wednesday's rally. "We have one life and we'll give it up for freedom."

Both the government and the protesters seem eager to avoid an all-out confrontation. Not only would a Tiananmen Square-style massacre sully officials' claims to popular legitimacy, it would create a whole new set of martyrs who could further galvanize a popular movement. Such killings paved the way for the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Most of the violence has been inflicted by semiofficial militias such as the Basiji or the secretive Ansar-e Hezbollah, which have reportedly been responsible for at least 12 deaths in the last five days.

Perhaps more perilous for authorities is the possibility that some soldiers, security officials and Revolutionary Guardsmen might refuse orders to fire on protesters, creating a dangerous rift within the security apparatuses.

"I would never do it," said Hossein, a 23-year-old member of the security forces who said he and many of his friends at the military base where he serves support the marchers. "Maybe someone would, but I would never fire on any of these people myself."

Thanks to the history of Shi'ism and the rhetoric of the Republic the very act of suppressing the rebellion legitimizes it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 18, 2009 6:18 AM
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