“Dear God help me die standing”
As the wave of protest resurfaces in Iran, the desperate regime is setting Ninja thugs on the crowds and murdered activists are being claimed as state martyrs. Nasrin Alavi reports
No sooner had Iranian protesters taken to the streets on Monday than cyber-activists began flooding cyberspace with footage of misty teargas-filled scenes of struggle (in this one the crowd is chanting "Mubarak, Ben Ali, now it’s the turn of Seyad Ali [Khamanei]”) against security forces made up of plainclothes officers, Basij, police and even the notorious masked "Ninja Basij" (whose deployment was mentioned in a wikileaks cable).
That day left hundreds behind bars and two students, Mohammad Mokhtari (22) and Saneh Zhaleh (25) dead.Yet not only have both been hailed as Shahid (martyrs) by the state media, Zhaleh was given a funeral where he was honoured as a member of the Basij who had died fighting “seditionists” (see "Saneh Jaleh and the battle for a slain protestersmemory"). These claims were denied by his brother who was then arrested, following a telephone interview with Voice of America when he repeated this denial. Meanwhile Saneh's friends and lecturers at Tehran Art University – many of which were also arrested during the day of his “fake funeral” – published numerous online accounts of a young artist, with modest provincial roots and dreams of becoming a filmmaker like his hero Bahman Ghobadi.
As I Google Saneh’s name in Farsi it comes up continually with the Islamic prefix Shahid. This he shares with all other fatalities of the protests. Thus we have the bitter irony of a new generation’s civil rights movement facing up to tyrannical violence with democratic nonviolence only to find that it’s own heroes are claimed by the very tyrannical regime they died opposing.
Even for an Iranian like myself it takes some getting used to that those fighting an Islamic state have chosen the Islamic battle cry “Allah-o-Akbar” ("God is great") that is heard in every street rally and was heard from the rooftops of the Tehran dormitories the night Zhaleh was killed. But this reminds us that the "green" protest movement represents a genuine coalition – including both secular activists, journalists and artists alongside devout Muslims who resent the way their religion is debased by a corrupt government. One prominent figure of protest is himself a cleric. Such a broad base may prove the movement's greatest strength.
Student groups have called for a week of national mourning. Tahkim Vahdat, Iran’s oldest student union, said in a statement that the “tyrants and their collaborators have merely hung the bloodied gowns of our martyrs of freedom on their flagpoles of disgrace”.
While as another blogger puts it “[As Iranians] always say an egg thief will steal your camel too, we now have to say that the vote thief will steal your Shahid too."
Mohammad Mokhtari – the other Shahid being claimed by the state – is fast becoming an icon of the new generation of protest. His Facebook page is filled with the paraphernalia of Iranian youth, who tend to be both politically aware and modern and, in other respects traditional. They are discontented yet hopeful. But you would search his Facebook page in vain for any sign of ideological zealotry revolutionary hero-worship; there is no sign of Khomeini or Che. The closest thing to ideological inspirations are his football heroes David Beckham and Lionel Messi.
Page after page of Iranian cyberspace is now filled with Muhammed's photo (above). The text, taken from a note he had written on Facebook, says: “Dear God help me die standing, for I despise a life sitting humiliated.”