Sunday, June 21, 2009


Like many others I have been following the text emerging from what has been tagged #IranElection on Twitter. I stare fascinated at the screen as horror and hope are mixed in dizzy ratios with short sharp statements and links to media.

I did the same thing back in January when the last Gaza War raged. It is different this time. The Iran twitter cascade has recourse to a sophistication that the desperate Palestinians and ideological Israelis seemed to miss. Iranians are online and have been for a long time. The use of blogs in the nation is famous. Watching the images from the street demonstrations and battles from Tehran I see young people dressed in designer jeans and tops, all carrying mobile media devices. One video I watched this morning has a group of young people gathered in a chaotic bunch around a supine body of a young man. He appears to be dead, but as some try to open an airway and clumsily maneuver his still head, others thrust mobile cameras into his still and bloody face. I began to feel something I remember from 1989.

When the students gathered in Tienanmen Square in Beijing China in June 1989 (strangely exact 20 years ago) I understand they had little collective idea of what their goal was beyond 'democracy'.

The protests lacked a unified cause or leadership; participants included disillusioned Communist Party members and Trotskyists as well as free market reformers, who were generally against the government's authoritarianism and voiced calls for economic change and democratic reform within the structure of the government. Wikipedia

Nobody is sure how many died in Tienanmen square. We know the 100 000 protesters gathered there faced tanks. That local regiments refused to attack them and they were replaced by soldiers from outlying regions who would do the job. I remember seeing then Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke weep as he read out a report of what had happened, tanks rolling over the bodies of students in the square.

While the catalyst for the present wave of protest in Iran is the alleged (but looking at the track record, likely) rigging of an election, the thousands on the street in Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and so on seem to be mostly young and mostly just fed up with living in a theocratic dictatorship. So far I have seen 'freedom' used in numerous contexts related to #IranElection. These include American folk music of the 1960's folk variety, the words of Che Guevara (the short, pithy phrases found on T-shirts around the world), and even reclaim the streets style tactics including artificial traffic jams that are blocks long. The diverse collection of concerns pointing towards 'freedom' through spontaneous protests that are becoming increasingly blood soaked bind it all together into a mediated frenzy.

It will take a while to determine what is happening in Iran beyond the images that are being re/produced and recycled around the theme/meme of #IranElection. Something that impressed me back in 1989 following Tienanmen was how the students had been basically let down and left to their fate by what little leadership they had (which also suffered greatly as a result of their own actions and limited abilities to bring about change). While Mousavi may be the figurehead for this movement, I am not sure he represents it. As well, his own abilities to do anything are severely restricted by the present political structure of Iran (hence the impetus for change). In the meantime the images of what this movement could be and what it is circulate around the online world. Distinguishing between the two, even for those involved, seems to be a difficult thing. Not being able to distinguish between them can be a very dangerous thing for those running through the streets and campuses of Iran just now.

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