The mullahs confront modernity

A funny (ironic, not ha-ha) thing happened on the way to a rigged election in Iran. The mullahs who rule the country with a religious zeal sometimes reminiscent of medieval times ran smack-dab into thousands of angry women and the wireless world of the 21st century. And so, a 26-year-old philosophy student named Neda, who was not really protesting any election, but simply escaping the heat of a taxi stuck in traffic because of protests in Tehran, is shot dead, her final seconds recorded by a man with a cell phone who e-mails the video to a friend who sends it to news media and online friends with the inevitable result that it winds up on Facebook and YouTube.

With more than 250,000 viewings of her death as of Monday night, Neda Soltan, whose name means “voice,” has become the face of what started as an election protest but has grown into a revolution in Iran. There is a Neda Web site and Neda T-shirts for sale online. A martyr in the making. This, despite the best efforts of the Iranian government to shut down much of the Internet within the country as demonstrations grew larger and government response grew more violent. CNN is covering much of the story thanks to Twitter and a generation of young Iranians who are not only brave, but also, like their counterparts in this country, amazingly savvy when it comes to using the new technology.

It’s not as if the Iranian government doesn’t have its own tech experts, but the sheer depth and breadth of the Web world make it virtually impossible today for any dictators intent on censoring news coming out of their country to be totally successful. The Iranian government has managed to slow down the use of the Web within its borders, but hundreds of videos have slipped out of Iran to the rest of the world.

The world literally is watching and it is witnessing another remarkable clash between the old and new Iran: tens of thousands of women marching and openly voicing their displeasure with the misogynistic rule of the mullahs. Significantly, the wife of Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition candidate whose defeat in the presidential election spurred the protests, campaigned regularly by his side, calling for an end to harsh laws that have kept Iranian women repressed for decades.

In fact, many observers say that it is the presence of so many women in the demonstrations that represents the greatest threat to the future legitimacy of the ruling mullahs. After all, the women are challenging nothing less than divine decree.

The fact that an unarmed woman standing in the street would be shot dead for no reason suggests that some of the rulers in Iran recognize the threat posed by women protesters. It also suggests that the mullahs have already lost their aura of invincibility thanks to the worldwide dissemination of images of the violence.

Yes, they still have an army of young men willing to attack their own countrymen if so ordered. Brutality can silence protest, although often at greater loss later on. For the moment, though, Neda and Twitter are providing Iran’s mullahs, and the rest of the planet, a lesson in courage, ingenuity and the need, even for authoritarian clerics claiming divine authority, to adapt in a constantly changing world.


3 Responses

  1. I’ve often thought that women in that part of the world could be the unstoppable force to civilize Islam. You see, Islam is at a crossroad, one that all religions that survive eventually reach. They need to adapt to meet the needs of current people and be civilized. Behavior back in the dark ages is not acceptable in modern times. A passage to kill by stoning for showing a nose in public is not acceptable in a world civilized with the rule of laws. Honor killing is murder regardless what holy book it is written in. Since men in the Muslim world refuse to modernize it falls to the women, grand mothers, mothers, wives and sisters, aunts, etc to educate the recalcitrant and ignorant. Islam needs to be women-ized and with it bring the motherly love and care that women so easily display. So it falls on them to save Islam from itself and maybe help it survive. In what form it remains to be seen. The alternative is oblivion, one fate that it narrowly avoided in the 1800’s. Maybe it should have been left to die a painless death. The world may have been better for it. Men wearing turbans with stern faces full of hatred directed towards women are scared. Witness the brutality on Neda. One thing is sure. The power of the Mullahs is slipping and it scares them that they can no longer terrorize women and the people to their warped idea of society. Witness the brutality and learn. Wake up Islamic women and take up your calling.

  2. My thoughts & prayers are w/you…….from a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother………

  3. Neda:
    Your slaying has given you a voice heard around the globe. Your beautiful face will forever grace the memories of your countrymen and the world. Some very frightened old men have opened a Pandora box that no amount of force or violence can reseal. Your death has not been in vain, for now you are a daughter of this revolution. You are the ‘divine calling’ needed by the Iranian people. One day they will be free!…….
    An inspired woman, grandmother, and retired teacher

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