Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

A few words about Neda Agha-Soltan

Posted by sanityinjection on June 23, 2009

It has been only three days since 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan was killed on the streets of Tehran, but in this age of the Internet she has already become known around the world as the martyred symbol of the protest movement in Iran.

And indeed, one would have been hard-pressed to handpick a better symbol. Neda was the New Iranian Woman.  From an average middle-class family and pictured respectably draped in chador, Neda was no rebel against Iranian society; no angry radical but a happy young woman with no great passion for politics. But at an age when her older female relatives might have been married off and having babies, Neda was studying to be a tour operator and taking piano lessons after having attended university to study Islamic philosophy. A photo from her vacation in Turkey shows her dressed in Western clothes, hair uncovered (when in Rome…) The contrast between the two photos of the same woman is the illustration of the tug-of-war operating in Iranian society – seeking modernity and connection with the wider world while trying to retain traditional values:

Neda Agha-SoltanNeda Agha-Soltan

Warned by friends and relatives that attending the street protests was dangerous, Neda reportedly replied: “Don’t worry. It’s just one bullet and its over.” Sadly prescient.

In a way that nothing else could, Neda’s death has exposed the reality of totalitarian oppression that lies beneath the false facade of the “Islamic Republic”. Neda was a threat to no one, except in the sense that by exercising her right to free speech she threatened those who cannot bear to hear the truth about themselves and who fear the voice of the people. Details now emerging suggest that Neda was shot not by the police, but by a Basiji paramilitary operative in plainclothes. The Basijis are a hard-line militia known for brutal attacks on university students and dissenters of any kind – a feared organization of thugs that does the regime’s dirty work outside the law with no accountability and could not exist in a truly free society. They lack only the brown uniforms and beer steins of Hitler’s Sturmabteilung (SA).

Even after Neda’s passing, the regime continues to insult her memory in order to serve the needs of the State:

“Security forces urged her friends and family not to hold memorial services for her at a mosque and asked them not to speak publicly about her, associates of the family said. Authorities even asked the family to take down the black mourning banners in front of their house, aware of the potent symbol she had become. But some insisted on speaking out anyway, hoping to make sure the world would not forget her.”

And the world will not forget. I have no doubt that someday, the spot on which this young woman who wanted to promote tourism was killed, will itself be a tourist attraction for those who would take a moment to remember that freedom is not free, but is only gained at great (and sometimes terrible)price.


3 Responses to “A few words about Neda Agha-Soltan”

  1. I’m deeply affected by the death of Neda on video. On the one hand I feel like a voyeur to a moment most intimate. On the other hand this video may be the most effective means of conveying the black heart of the so-called Islamic Republic of Iran.

    The death of Neda is now film as History, like the Zapruder’s film of the JFK assassination. Its more than just a record of history, it will define history.

  2. Just a clarification regarding the Basij militia: They fall under the authority of the Revolutionary Guard, but essentially they are seen as being controlled by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. So if the Basijis murdered Neda, then Iranians will see the responsibility for that as lying with Khamenei. And that is a big deal because until this recent crisis, even Iranians who protested never attacked the Supreme Leader directly – but in these recent protests, some protesters actually shouted “Death to Khamenei!” This may be of no practical consequence at the moment, but it marks the breaking of a taboo in the hearts and minds of the Iranian people which could be important in the future.

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