Homage to Tehran

From a colleague’s student: compelling eyewitness account of life and terror in Tehran.

On Monday, UCLA colleague Joshua Dienstag posted on his Facebook page an eyewitness account from Tehran. He writes: “I received this amazing letter on Saturday night (Sun morning there) from a former student. I am reposting it, with permission, having deleted all identifying information. Even when the revolution is televised, there is something compelling about a first-hand written account. Again, I have no reason to doubt its authenticity but of course I can’t know that everything it says is true.”

I am okay, back home now but things are crazy. it’s now 11:30 AM on Sunday morning right now, it’s almost noon and the streets are starting to be filled up again. last night included very loud “Allaho Akbar” chants going on again People are crying out “Mir Hossein” and I heard this one child’s voice the clearest from a building nearby.

Saturday was bloody, they shut down the subways to keep people from entering into the main areas of Tehran. Basiji paramilitary are everywhere like swarms of dirty disgusting bees. I dislike them so much, I have never been a pacifist, but now I can better understand why violence is perpetrated against them. I can understand human nature more.

they lied about the mosque blowing up. Nothing was even blown up. I saw pictures of it on state TV and all that happened was broken windows, no fire, no fire damage, nothing. They claim that the person blew themselves up outside… everybody here highly doubts that. The people know that they are doing this because Mousavi announced a few days ago that he would seek refuge there. The Basiji have been going into apartment buildings over the last few days and going down into the parking structures and vandalizing all the cars… like breaking every single car window in parking structures that house 10 – 70 cars. And they claim that the “hooligan youth” are the ones doing… yeah right, nobody believes them about that either. They are trying to turn the people on the protestors, they are calling them rioters and indivduals who are being influenced by the west, that they have disease and need God…. yeah right, not their God. If there is a God he is not with these people, if anything this is the work of pure corruption and evil. Period.

I am angry, so angry, I am shaking. I want to do more, to do something, but I can’t. I am frightened, but hte most I can do is record what I have seen, to take as many pictures safely because in many ways I feel like a foreigner here. I can’t do something that would get me thrown in jail or dead, because I worry about what that would do to my parents… but here these days it does not take much to get arrested or killed or injured. This is their struggle, they have lived here they have suffered, the people’s minds have been so manipulated. They have made the people so scared of their own ability and power.

they are not even allowing people to bury the dead. Those injured or killed are just being picked up by the basiji and taken away… who knows where, they are just disappearing, they are being taken away and for some reason that’s the most emotional part of all of this. This illegitimate backwards government is afraid of the bodies of these martyrs. The inured are being taken away too to a certain hospital in downtown Tehran and their families are not being allowed to see them, who knows what’s going to happen to them.

They no longer even care about the Islamic part of the Islamic Republic. So many different sheiks and Immams have issued a Fatawah and said that these elections were corrupt. Clerics who are ranked higher than the supreme leader Khamenei. But the government does not care. They want to create a full on theo-fascist regime. They want to get rid of the full on clerics and Islamic regime and just have Ahmadenijad and Khamenei run the country… no more elections even… that’s the talk here.

At night people go on the rooftops and cry out “allaho akbar” (God is great) and they also tell one another where to meet each other the next day because communication gets shut down. It’s beautiful and so yet so painful to hear.

On the streets the woman are at the frontline of everything. Most carry large bags and backpacks, at first I didn’t know why they had these big bags but today i figured it out when I saw young girls and even elderly woman collecting rocks and concrete pieces in their bags and handing it out to the men. Honestly, someone needs to do a story or something on how the woman are engaged in all of this. They are EVERYWHERE and right there alongside the men. Near Azadi (freedom sic! square) today I saw a group of girls my age and I was walking next to one of them with my cousins and we started to talk … anyway, after walking a few blocks one of them said “If I am going to get hurt or die I might as well discard this farse of a joke hijab” and she just removed her head scarf, took her ponytail out and said “you know what’s a shame, I have never walked through these city streets and fully felt the wind moving between my hair.” I beamed, but my heart broke into so many pieces.

People are taking their batteries out of their cell phone and passing their SIM cards to others in case they get arrested, it’s very important to people to record what’s going on… they feel like their story is going to die, because basiji will beat anyone who has their cell phone out pretty much anywhere outside. people try to take photos secretly from their windows or rooftops, but there are reports that basiji are on rooftops and that they have shot people that they catch taking any video or photos. I don’t doubt these stories. I have also heard that some protest leaders have been tracked using their cell phones, so people are taking batteries out of their cell phones too and some are even wrapping their phones in aluminum.

Obama’s recent statments about the world watching has been going over very well. It spread amongst everyone here pretty quickly, although it was recieved later in the evening. Nobody is really going to sleep. there is so much noise outside.

I don’t feel hopeless for these people. I feel a sense of bitterness and anger that I have never felt before towards religion, towards power. Disgust is a better description. I did not know I had it fully in me to dislike something, someone, a structure this way. If anyone saw this, they could not turn away. If you saw how defenseless these people are… they have concrete rocks and oh what they are going up against. how dare they say that the great satan and the little satan from the west are doing this. Nobody is doing this from outside of Tehran, the government is doing this to their OWN people. They are brutalizing their own people, even when some of them try to seek help at hospitals. I’ve heard about how some people are saying the clerics are going to help people that they will come out due to the factions in the regime. It’s all such a lie, they don’t care about the people.

Art pieces have popped up throughout the city. These very abstract stencil drawings that remind me of graffiti by Banksy, do you know who he is

i also saw a poem and i took a picture of it, but our computer is down to 12K so I can’t upload anything and it takes forever for these emails to send. I will upload later. But the poem had quotes by Carl Sagan… something he wrote in “Pale Blue Dot” I am looking at the picture on my camera and it says in my broken translation “The false way we carry ourselves, the way we imagine we are iimportant, the delusion that we have a kind of right or privilege in the universe are challenged by this picture of the pale blue dot. In that photo our planet is a small dot in the great darnkess of the universe. In this obscure vastness there is not a single notion/hint that any help will be come from elsewhere to save us from what we have done to ourselves.”

What more can someone say?

I can’t imagine how artists are moved during these times, I can’t imagine who put that up and when they were able to do it.

Please tell people ONE thing, the people out in the streets are not just rich young folks from Northern Tehran. It’s not the elite and spoiled. It’s not just in Tehran either. It’s EVERYWHERE and i have seen with my own eyes men and woman who are over 70 years old out on the streets. i have seen shop owners join the protests, I have seen people who (by their clothes, which is a big thing in this culture) look more urban and rich and those who look poor and from rural areas. There are many reports of protest in Shiraz, Tabriz, Esfehan, Rasht, Qom, etc. etc. This is not just limited to the “angry rich” as the state media is making out to be here.

I am keeping safe and not venturing too far from home. I will be okay, I wish I could say that for others.

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.