The so-called Green Movement is still hard at work in Iran, trying to overthrow President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime. Did you know that? I didn’t. Until a Guardian piece reminded me that on February 11th protestors once again took to Tehran’s streets to mark the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution. The day passed like many others before it: hundreds of thousands of protestors turned out, prominent leaders were arrested then released, a massive security presence showed its teeth, while Ahmadinejad boasted to a rent-a-crowd about nuclear enrichment, an efficient finger in the face to both domestic and international enemies. And at the end of this day, like many others before it, status quo was maintained. I suppose the protestors went home to regroup.
Of course the world became aware of Iran’s resistance movement last June when ordinary citizens came out in numbers after the disputed Presidential elections. I sat riveted by the news reports, lapping up the palpable sense of possibility, relishing the idea of people power. Then the government clamped down; the news coverage fizzled. And frankly I kind of forgot about Iran. These bullying regimes probably count on international distraction, figuring that if they can just stage manage the big protest days, they can then return to their more quotidian methods of harassment and repression that usually wear down the resistance. Remember Myanmar and its “Saffron Revolution”? Buddhist monks swathed in orange robes facing down the military in a visual clash between good and evil worthy of Hollywood’s imagination. That was almost three years ago now. And still the Burmese people carry on.
We’d all love for change to occur in single dramatic moments captured by single iconic images: the Tiananmen Square protestor in front of the tanks; Rosa Parks sitting at the back of the bus. But those moments actually just punctuate longer, even more difficult struggles for democratic change. It’s often a war of attrition, requiring incredible patience, faith, and bravery on the part of the protestors.
Having lived in Zimbabwe during the early years of Mugabe’s clampdown on political opposition, I feel particularly conscious of what is required to continue to fight a regime bent on maintaining power. (In fact the tactics used by Mugabe’s and Ahmadinejad’s regimes – media manipulation, deploying gangs of young men, labelling protestors stooges of foreign powers– are alarmingly similar. ) And I had the privilege of knowing MDC members who, because they dared to stand in elections or rally followers, were followed, harassed, threatened, beaten, and detained. All under the radar of major media organisations. I know how lonely and frightened they were, yet they never considered bowing down.
And I couldn’t help but wonder if it were my country, would I have their courage to persist? Or would I put my head down and wait for others to rise up and fight on my behalf?
The continued protests in Iran probably won’t make it to my newspaper homepage—not until more widespread violence erupts, at least. But let’s not wait for more people to die on the streets until we take notice. Let’s google Iran’s story; let’s look under the “world” or “international affairs” sections of our newspapers for it. Why? Because this is real change-the-world stuff; real yes-we-can stuff. Not because our following Iran’s story will affect its outcome. But because these brave Iranians deserve our continued attention, not just our fleeting fascination.