By David Henderson -
Much of the world has kept track of events in Iran following the questionable outcome of elections there on June 12 via Twitter. With severe restrictions by the regime in Iran on media coverage and apathy by the news media in the West, Twitter has served to redefine how many of us view the concept of media in the Internet era.
Nothing has been more profound, in my opinion, than watching video of a young woman named Neda Soltan die on the streets of Tehran yesterday. She was a student of philosophies at Tehran University. According to reports, she was shot by a police sniper while standing with her father or university professor, watching protesters.The video is haunting, especially her last moment alive when she looked at the camera as if to seek our help. At least that was what I saw in her eyes.
The story of Neda is being heard around the world today, carried first by people, sharing on Twitter and online. We no longer living in an era when some editor or TV producer makes decisions for us but rather we are sharing information and drawing our own conclusions.
My feeling is that the image and memory of Neda will endure as an icon, a reminder that we must not permit innocence and peace to be destroyed by tyranny and corruption.
Just let me share this prayer for Neda and others in Iran today.
By Greg Dobbs -
Maybe Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fixed the election. But we have to ponder another plausible possibility: maybe he didn’t.
Why not? Because maybe he didn’t have to. He runs a repressive and dangerous regime, his police forces have brutally put down their own countrymen, and we’d love to see him ousted. But we might not speak for the majority of the president’s fellow citizens. History is my guide.
The first of many trips that I took to Iran for ABC News to cover the revolution, then the hostage crisis, was more than 30 years ago. With insurgents at his heels, the Shah was hanging on by a thread. The United States stuck with him because he still had some local support, but to virtually every journalist covering the run-up to the revolution, that support was pencil-thin. Generally the Shah’s backers were the rich and the educated. However, most Iranians were neither rich nor educated, and got no benefit from their authoritarian leader’s friendship with the West. Had there been an election in those days, the Shah’s challenger Ayatollah Khomeini wouldn’t have had to fix it. He’d have won hands-down.
In the three decades since, things have changed for the Persian people, some for better and some for worse. The suppressive violence surrounding Iran’s elections notwithstanding, there has been more free speech and open protest in recent years than we used to see under the Shah. What’s more, popular discontent with the country’s president is not primarily because of his radical rhetoric. No, it is mainly because of the economy; he has not figured out how to corral Iran’s rich resources.
The point is, just because we in the West detest somebody in the Third World doesn’t mean everyone within his own borders detests him. Or even most of them. The same Iranians who put Khomeini on a bandwagon and climbed aboard to ride it into the Islamic Republic are the ones who voted for Ahmadinejad. Does he command a majority today? Who knows, and anyway, the answer might now be moot, because the anger today on the streets of Tehran transcends the outcome of the election. But while the protests have been hugely impressive and impressively huge, all they prove is that Mir Hossein Moussavi, the comparative moderate who believes he should have won and we wish had won, has passionate support. Or perhaps more accurately, the notion of reform has passionate support, and Moussavi — like AyatollahKhomeini three decades earlier — is the messenger.
A close parallel is a recall election I covered a few years ago in Venezuela, this time for HDNet Television’s “World Report.” It was Hugo Chavez who was under fire, but the rich and educated weren’t in his camp; they wanted him out. I’ll never forget election day itself: we went to one well-to-do voting precinct in Caracas where the line of citizens waiting in the broiling sun to expel their president stretched for half a mile, which made me think the recall would work. But then we went to a sprawling slum, the kind of place where Chavez had bought support with his populist policies. The line was just as long, maybe longer. Sure enough, when the results were in, Chavez had beaten the recall. The Carter Center was down there too, and whether right or wrong, they confirmed the integrity of the outcome. Chavez’s opponents cried foul, but frankly reminded me of the Manhattan socialite who, after John Kerry’s bruising defeat in 2004 to George W. Bush, infamously said something like, “I just don’t understand it; I don’t know anyone who voted for Bush.”
Having covered stories in more than 80 countries, I have seen American foreign policy at its best and at its worst and at its worst, it assumes that people everywhere want what we want. They don’t. In some parts of the world, they want the kinds of rulers, and sometimes even political systems, that we condemn. The best example of that might be the Gaza Strip, which I’ve also covered for HDNet. The U.S. rightly encouraged free and open Palestinian elections; in Gaza, the terrorist group Hamas won. If that doesn’t teach us something, nothing will. We should shout out for the right of Iranians to demonstrate without consequences. And we should fight for Iran’s elections to be fair, but should not assume that if they are, we will like the outcome.
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