“News is a necessity in a democracy, for only those who understand the nature of their world can comprehend the perils and hazards facing them and thus survive the struggle. Men who enjoy a free and open encounter with vital ideas and issues, facts and problems of their epoch can best map their future.” Campbell and Wolseley in “How to Report and Write the News.”
“With Neda’s death, the Iran I know finally has a face. The sequence of her death is the sequence of our nation’s struggle in the past 30 years: The democratic future that 1979 was to deliver collapsing, then trails of blood — that of so many executed or assassinated — streaming across its bright promise. The film of Neda’s death is the abbreviated history of contemporary Iran.” — Roya Hakakian in “Commentary: Pray for Neda”
As you watch the protests in Iran on television and read about the importance of Twitter in spreading vital news to those who are otherwise denied access to information, have you formed an opinion about what must be done and developed a policy?
Most often, we are shown only one side of the coin in Iran, and that is of a rogue nation figuratively in bed with North Korea and a long list of other regimes portrayed–and often hunted–like junk yard dogs.
We read of the nuclear threat, of “honor killings,” of rule by divine right, of repression and torture supposedly justified by divine concurrence.
We are busy people, plugged into each others daily lives via Twitter, Facebook, and cell phones, so time and space for Iran on our daily radar scopes is, indeed, quite limited. Perhaps a fleeting glimpse the Ayatollah’s face as we last saw it in a news photograph or a political cartoon, perhaps an image of a nuclear holocaust with stock images out of one of the “Terminator” movies, perhaps an image of protesters marching in the streets.
Understandably, it’s easy for these images to become lost in the great clamor of background noise that is, by the grace of God and circumstance, far away. Even so, you probably have an opinion about it and, perhaps, what our government’s policy ought to be. But your policy, has it reached the drawing board yet?
Some say the U.S. and Israel should, on one pretext or another–whether out of rationalization or a true clear and present danger–attack. Others see this view as absurd.
Lately, some voices suggested that the U.S. should take care in its statements about Iran’s invalidation of the election and its harsh treatment of the protesters lest the Ayotolla find sufficient “evidence” in our statements to “prove” the protests are being orchestrated by Washington.
In her “Commentary: Pray for Neda,” Hakakian writes that during her first cab ride in the U.S., the driver asked her where she was from. When she said she was from Iran, the driver responded “Eeran … Khomeini?” and then moved his hand across his throat in a knife-slitting gesture.
Hakakian concluded that from this that “2,500 years of civilization was reduced to one vile name and the invocation of a throat being slit. It did not take long for me to learn that between the Iran that I knew and the Iran that Americans knew was a discrepancy as vast as the waters that separated us.”
It’s likely, given our lack of daily attention–especially when Iran is overtly quiet–that our opinion of Iran is similar to that of the cab driver.
And, if we are not among those urging our government to attack, what then is our opinion about our government’s alternatives. Is it “hands off”? Is it “out of sight and out of mind”? Is it wait until “they kill each other anyway”?
In the dedication of her memoir “Escape from the Land of No,” Hakakian writes:
“Between 1982 and 1990 an unknown number of Iranian women political prisoners were raped on the eve of their executions by guards who alleged that killing a virgin was a sin in Islam.
This book is dedicated to the memory of those women.”
From an Iran as a rogue nation perspective, it’s easy to see how you might see the guards full-frame in fron of your face and regard them as vile men who should be shot.
However, Neda’s death and the impact the video of her last moments is having throughout the world represents a potential defining moment in my consciousness and, I suspect, your consciousness as well. The video shows us Neda, NOT the man who shot her. You can see, as I can see, the victim at the other end of the repression, at the bullet’s destination and her eyes are like my daughter’s eyes and perhaps your daughter’s eyes.
Those eyes are an invitation and an opportunity to acknowledge with love and compassion the women the guards raped and executed rather than focusing a powerless hatred upon the guards–or upon the Ayatolla and his like-minded clerics and his soldiers.
May I suggest that while the actions of the Iranian repressors are news, they are not the entire story, and that newspaper headlines and television images that focus only on the rulers at the expense of the victims represent dishonest journalism? How many thousand people, victims with eyes as haunting as Neda’s eyes, do you suppose have gone unseen since the Ayatolla came to power?
Like that cab driver, it has been very easy for us to sweep the oppressed beneath the rug with the rogue nation label on it.
What is your Iran policy today?
Can you look into Neda’s eyes and say, “I love you and your brothers and sisters without condition and count you amongst my extended family?” If so, you will no longer feel the powerless hatred that arises from only staring at the Ayatolla’s image and from only despising the actions of the prison guards. Instead you will see that out of compassion and love, your actions will change and you will become part of a groundswell of news that flows around the world focusing on the struggles and needs and humanity of the Iranian people rather than upon the words and deeds and inhumanity of their regime.
Should the protests be silenced and the headlines fade away, you won’t forget Neda’s eyes will you? You will continue to love her, won’t you, and see to it that you are never silent about the news stories that still need to be told. I hope that will be your policy about Iran.
Copyright (c) 2009 by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of “The Sun Singer” and the upcoming “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.” (This post from my Writer’s Notebook)