Monday, June 22, 2009

The face of a movement

In the instant-on, all-access age of YouTube, it is difficult to observe a woman in the act of becoming a martyr. See the video below (if it hasn't been subject to a takedown). Do not turn away.

Despite all the ideals and visions necessary to help a social revolution take root and flourish among a people, one thing is unmistakable and necessary: A revolution needs a name, a face to rally around — one iconic image that distills (invariably through the fate of martyrdom) those ideals and visions, transmutes them from the dross and various substances of statements and platforms into the spun gold of a Cause.

For the Iranian people, that fate, that face, that name is Nehda Agha Soltan.

This is what happened to Nehda Soltan on Saturday as the music student stood on Karekar Avenue in Tehran, watching from a distance some of the vehement protests rocking Iran in the wake of a deeply disputed presidential election on June 12.

Nehda Soltan was shot to death by a plainclothes member of the pro-government Basij militia, loyal to the leaders of the Iranian theocracy — and left to die on the street. Amid screams and the energy of panic, her music teacher and others rushes up to administer first aid … but it’s her expression — that final placid gaze of seeing everything and nothing at all — that tells you all that matters.

Caspian Makan, the 37-year-old photojournalist who was Soltan’s boyfriend, told The Associasted Press that he asked her not to go out for fear she would be arrested or shot.

“But she said that our attendance would be worthwhile even if a bullet hits my heart," he said. "Unfortunately, that is how she died, a bullet hit her heart and her lung, and maybe 5 or 6 minutes later, she died.”

A doctor at the scene almost immediately was more diaristically precise in a posting to CNN’s IReport:
A young woman who was standing aside with her father watching the protests was shot by a basij member hiding on the rooftop of a civilian house. He had clear shot at the girl and could not miss her. However, he aimed straight her heart. I am a doctor, so I rushed to try to save her. But the impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim's chest, and she died in less than 2 minutes.
The protests were going on about 1 kilometers away in the main street …

◊ ◊ ◊

The mullahs and clerics that rule a nation of 71 million people (half of whom are younger than the 1979 revolution that brought those mullahs and clerics to power) cannot have anticipated this. Their brute exercise of power has thoroughly overlooked not only the emotions of the Iranian people but also the resonance of the moment, this moment, captured forever in the Iranian psyche.

Like Joseph Welch’s confrontation of Sen. Joseph McCarthy; like the film of civil rights workers beaten crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge; like the Zapruder film of the assassination of John F. Kennedy; like the still images of the aftermath of the slayings at Kent State, the video of Nehda Soltan may be the Enough Moment for the Iranian people: the clarifying instant at which the tide began to shift and swell and move on the populist behalf.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist challenger to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has called for a general strike on Tuesday. The Supreme Council has threatened a further crackdown on protesters. At least 30 have already died. And mosques have been ordered to hold no memorials for Nehda Soltan, and, no doubt, the others slain in the recent violence.

Btu the game’s already changed. The random brutality of the Iranian regime, its ruthless bid for control, is no longer a theoretical thing, not an abstract concept, not a vaguely threatening boogeyman erected by the Republicans. It is real, as real as the lifeless body of an innocent woman on a Tehran street. And the evidence of that brutality isn’t a secret; it’s the agonizing substance of a visual document that has already circled the globe.

No lie can live forever. We may be certain the memory of Nehda Soltan will.
Image credit: Nehda Soltan: Twitpic.

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