The Shifting Reality of a Generation
Remember those tragic days when in the aftermath of the allegedly fraudulent presidential elections (June 2009) the streets of Tehran were filled with protestors, oppression and blood? Remember how proud—and yet sad—we all were as the world was watching Iranian youth making history? I remember how I was weeping for Neda, Sohrab and all those beautiful Iranians who lost their lives and freedom as the consequence of demanding rule of law and justice. Simultaneously, I was feeling extremely proud as the entire world was praising Iranians, their peaceful efforts for change and their vision for a better Iran.
Some time has passed, the oppression remained, the brave souls that are either sleeping underneath their gravestones or suffocating in the worsening claustrophobia of prisons in Iran all remain, the quest for change remains and so does the courage of a nation. What has not remained, however, is the world’s attention on Iranian youth and their peaceful street protests.
The world is now busy with the Arab world as a new era—with all its excitement and fragility—has, arguably, unfolded. History has happened in the Arab world; a region where a few ever thought could explode with the screaming voices of freedom. Those Arab dictators who seemed as permanent as the pyramids of ancient Egypt evaporated in a matter of days. And the world’s attention, rightfully, shifted to Tahrir Square instead of the 7-Tir Square or all those other squares in Iran where people had gathered in summer 2009 and beyond. All of a sudden the entire world was astonished by the magic of the Tunisian vendor whose act of suicide became the beginning of an era for not only his country but the entire region, the powerful battle and priceless tears of Wael Ghonim and his Revolution 2.0, the Yemeni, Syrian, Saudi protestors, the Libyan rebels and Gaddafi’s pathetic comments.
We, Iranians, too, watched the Arab world standup for a better future with admiration and hope for their victory. We felt united with them in their battle. They, sometimes, told the media that they look up to Iranian youth who, in some ways, started such a peaceful movement in the region. We took their compliments with pride and celebrated their victory like it was ours.
As such, the story of Arab revolutions hurriedly went from one chapter to another. Now, we are at a chapter where the world is perhaps over the initial shock and awe. Now, western countries and others are contemplating over the future of the Arab world and discuss the prospects of religious—but not theocratic—democratic Arab governments. Some mention Turkey and Indonesia as examples for future Arab democracies where religion is arguably respected but not the main ruler of the country. Many critics say that, thankfully, the Iranian model of the Islamic Republic is not popular among those Arabs whose protests and activism brought this new era into existence. Others worry that, in practice, hardliner Islamic governments might be the eventual result of the new Arab governments. In the meantime, the Iranian government has taken the opportunity to congratulate the Arab world for having overthrown secular tyrannies and has welcomed them to the new stage where Islamic principles are going to rule over the affairs of the region.
And we, those Iranians who wish to see a better future for our beloved country, have been watching the world turn to the Arab world with bittersweet feelings. We understand that given the historic events that have happened in that part of the world, it is only natural for the world to shift its attention to the Arab world. Nevertheless, we cannot help but to worry about our own country and its future. Even though the Arab world might be singing happy songs in celebrating its victory, not much has changed in Iran neither does it seem to change any time soon. We worry that, yet again, Iran has become the means to an end in the midst of geopolitical affairs. We worry that our Neda, Sohrab and all those who suffered/are suffering in the prisons of Iran because of their public quest for change are going to be erased from the pages of western newspapers and magazines. We worry that the world is going to forget about our quest for freedom. We worry that we are left behind in this wave of Revolution 2.0; the very Revolution 2.0 that we ignited in summer 2009.
As an Iranian youth living abroad, I find myself preoccupied with many questions everyday: What should we do to at least keep the discussions and concerns about Iran’s future alive in the international community? What should we, as Iranians abroad, do to demonstrate our support for those in Iran while respecting their strategies and decisions as to how the movement is going to evolve? What should we learn from the Arab world and their strategies? Should we compare ourselves with them or should we continue with our historic “Persians are different” slogans? Should we frown upon the world for gradually disregarding Iran’s democratic movement or should we remain patient and help the world understand our quests?
Last week, I had the chance to have coffee in downtown Amsterdam with an amazing older lady who used to be in a high position at the UN for over two decades. I asked her, “What do you think we should do as Iranians? You know, it has been so bittersweet to watch the Arabs succeed in the past few months. What would you do if you were, say, me?” She smiled calmly and said, “My daughter, you have to remain patient and not lose hope. More importantly, realize that this is not your battle. This is the battle of all your friends who are still in Iran. You are only here to support them. And as for the Arab world, follow the events in those countries as if they are happening in your country. Read, listen, analyze and learn. They learned from Iranians. Now, it’s Iranians' turn to let the Arab world inspire them.”
I think, I agree with her. Let us not be angry with the world. Let us also leave aside our historic bitter feelings about the Arab world and let us feel united with all those Arab youth who were staring at their TV screens and watching our beautiful Neda die so tragically for the sake of a better Iran. They cried with us when her face was covered with blood and death took over her youthful body. They were inspired by Neda’s courage, beauty, innocence, persistence and vision for the future of Iran. Let us be inspired by them.