Thursday, June 18, 2009

Vast silent marches in Tehran

We are witnessing in Iran one of those rare historic moments when a combination of splits within the elite, blunders by the ruling authorities, and an explosion of accumulated popular discontents suddenly shatters the taken-for-granted hegemony and solidity of a regime and allows "the people" to enter directly onto the historical stage.

This can be an awesome and inspiring spectacle--especially, to my taste, when those people are demonstrating in favor of democracy and against the power of the lie. And that's true even for those of us who recognize (a) that in such moments of revolt the politically mobilized "people" are never actually identical to the whole population or the expression of a unanimous popular will, and (b) that all too often these upheavals end in blood, tears, and disillusionment. It's still profoundly awe-inspiring.

How things will turn out in this case remains to be seen. Meanwhile, it's clear that the explosion of protest in Iran provoked (but by no means entirely caused) by the stolen presidential election is not dying down. For the moment, at least, it still looks like a swelling movement of People Power.

Every day this week there have been massive demonstrations and marches, some involving hundreds of thousands of people, in the streets of Tehran--and in many other Iranian cities as well, though information from outside Tehran is more spotty and incomplete. This succession of daily marches (now accompanied by expressions of mourning for the for "martyrs" killed in previous marches) is a pattern reminiscent of the Iranian revolution in 1979. (In fact, some observers have found these parallels eerily evocative.)

This time around, one new and interesting feature is that many of these marches have been deliberately quiet, even silent--no shouting or loud chanting--to avoid giving the police and the paramilitary Basijis an excuse for violence. Reports from many eye-witness observers tell us that the disciplined solemnity of these silent marches makes a powerful impression.

Here are a few striking images from Wednesday, this one via Andrew Sullivan ...

... and this one, via Nico Pitney's constantly-updated "Iran Election" blog at the Huffington Post. "Half way through, paramilitaries approach, and the crowd sits down, seemingly a non-violent act of resistance."

--Jeff Weintraub