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Tehran Letter: 'It Is A Gut Feeling That All Of Us Have'

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters rallied outside Tehran University during Friday Prayers on July 17.
Tens of thousands of opposition supporters rallied outside Tehran University during Friday Prayers on July 17.
11 a.m., July 17, 2009, Revolution Avenue in front of Tehran University

It's dusty and hot -- 42 degrees Celsius in the shade -- and we're surrounded by riot police. Thousands of brave men and women wearing green clothing -- wristbands, headbands, shirts, pins, and banners -- greet the angry and fully armed officers while waiting for the Friday Prayers sermon to begin.

After 40 days of silence, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, who has reluctantly become the last barrier to complete chaos and bloodshed, began his speech with a reference to the guidelines that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave to Imam Ali (first Shi'a leader and the 4th khalif) on how to run and rule society.

He cleverly sculpted his speech as a warning to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a strong warning that the “Islamic republic is both Islamic and a republic and one cannot use one value to downplay the other," and that the values of the republic are under threat.

Then, instead of targeting the leader directly, in order to avoid further conflict he focused his attacks on the Guardians Council.

When the young protesters raised their voices, Rafsanjani asked them not to incite more hatred by shouting radical slogans and said, “I am saying the same thing, I just say it better.”

People chanted, “Rafsanjani, your silence means death. Speak up.”

Tears In Their Eyes

An army of plainclothes militia and riot police attacked the people outside the university with tear gas and clubs. The wind blew the tear gas into the university, and the people who had gone there to actually pray (in contrast to the protesters who had gone there to support opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi and Mr. Rafsanjani) started praying with tears in their eyes.

Try to think about these profanities as a passing breeze in the depths of the heat. Just let them tingle your senses but not upset them.
During the turmoil, under the dusty skies, the relentless heat, the ferocious beatings, and the clouds of tear gas, healthy and educated conversations flared up.

A young university student next to me started the conversation, in between screams of “God is great" and “Russia, shame on you, leave our country."

“It is not Islam versus Islam. It is not Shiism versus Sunnism. It is not modernism versus traditionalism. In fact, although it is based on tradition, culture, Shiism, Islam, and Iranian pre- and post-Islam ideologies, it is not limited by any of them individually but all of them collectively. It is Rumi, Saadi, Ferdowsi, Zarathushtra (peace be upon him), Muhammad (peace be upon him), Cyrus the Great, and Omar Khayyam combined.

"It is an Iranian civil rights movement. It is a gut feeling that all of us have in Iran. It is a need to establish, mold, purify, imply, uphold, and protect what we call as 'citizen's rights,' which is similar to the American Bill of Rights.”

'Just Listen'

There was news about the participation of Mr. Musavi in the Friday Prayers, as he had promised, and that led to cheers from the crowd. The cheers subsided as police intensified their actions, using a lot of profanity while attacking people. This behavior was normal for many of us, but it took some of our religious and conservative comrades by surprise. One of the elders who tried to calm our religious friends said:

“We should and can understand that this movement is not an ideological movement but a civil one. So in fact it is neither against nor for any particular ideology. Just listen. The guy behind the Friday Prayer loudspeaker has been promoting the slogan 'Death to America' (which they have been saying for the last 30 years), but you saw that people responded with 'Death to Russia.'

"Then, when the loudspeaker chanted 'Death to Britain,' people responded with 'Death to China.' In fact, people do not wish death upon anyone, but they see Russia and China (and particularly their foreign policies) as standing between them and their civil liberties and citizen’s rights.

"In addition, when you see people from all walks of life participate in such a huge mass movement and see traditionalists and modernists (he was pointing to us while speaking) walk and chant hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder, you can understand that we are not fighting for our personal or religious ideologies, but for our civil rights.

"So as soon as the people in the Revolutionary Guards, secret police, and the militia understand and feel that it is not their religion that is being threatened by the people and that citizen' rights have been, are, and will be an indispensable part of their identity, they will question their superiors' order to attack the people and hurt their own countrymen and then there is a high probability that they also will join the people.

"Try to think about these profanities as a passing breeze in the depths of the heat. Just let them tingle your senses but not upset them. Let them remind you that not everyone understands what is going on.”

Karrubi Attacked

As usual, there was a complete cell-phone blackout and state TV did not have live coverage of Friday Prayers, so we could not hear most of the speech, even on the small FM radios that we had with us. But words traveled fast, and we heard that Ayatollah Rafsanjani had said that Iran is in crisis and that many people have doubts about the June 12 presidential election "and we have to work to remove their doubts." He also said the media should not face "limitations."

Then we heard the unfortunate news that another reformist presidential candidate, Mehdi Karrubi, had been attacked by plainclothes militia. One of my friends, who is a dedicated Karrubi fan, said in a very angry tone:

“Why is there so much violence? Why do these people treat us as enemy combatants? Evin prison is now full, and they are using more and more secret Revolutionary Guards’ prisons around the city. Mr. Karrubi is a religious man. Why are these people this way?”

As we were heading to our hideouts in small alleyways to the northwest of Revolution Square, I replied: “They feel threatened. That is their initial reaction. The second thing is the high degree of propaganda that is being pumped into the media not only by the government of Iran and IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) but even by the Western media.

"Just imagine the daily doses of information that everyone receives that point to a 'clash of civilizations' and of 'Western demonizing of Islam and Eastern values and ideologies' and daily threats of the bombing of Iran by Israel -- what would a simple religious person feel? When there is fear, there is fertile ground for extremism, there is a fertile ground for ideological paranoia. And when you are a paranoid extremist, any movement, even a peaceful citizen movement by your brothers and sisters, could be perceived as an act of aggression against all of your beliefs and identity.

"At this juncture, a simple, uneducated person who is being paid by the government would not have the analytical means to differentiate between an Israeli fighter plane and his neighbor’s green wristband."

Then we heard that Mr. Rafsanjani had also asked for all those detained in the postelection protests to be freed from prison without precondition.

After we reached my car and as we were heading out, I started playing "One Of The Few,"a tune from Pink Floyd’s "Final Cut" album, and translated some of the lyrics for my friends:

"When you're one of the few to land on your feet
"What do you do to make ends meet?
"Make them mad, make them sad, make them add two and two.
"Make them me, make them you, make them do what you want them to.
"Make them laugh, make them cry, make them lie down and die."

Ahmad is a pseudonym for a journalist in the Iranian capital, Tehran, who contributed this piece to RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

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