June 23, 2009

Connected to the People of Iran

This past week has been absolutely crazy with everything happening in Iran. I don't know how much election aftermath you have followed, but I have found myself increasing drawn into the unfolding drama.

Early on I began following Nico Pitney's updates on Huffington Post. From there I discovered the role that Twitter was playing in people being able to get updates and news out of Iran. Soon after I logged into my Twitter account (which I had barely used) and was bombarded with hundreds of comments (Tweets) coming in every few seconds. What I once believed to be a silly and narcissistic micro blog, had all of a sudden become a tool for people to organize protests, say last words, spread news, and respond to the chaos from afar.

Then came the blog post from a woman in Iran,

"I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I'm listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It's worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I'm two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow's children..."
What amazing courage, inspirational words, and eerie normalcy. As I read her words I found myself increasingly caught up in the Iranian people's struggle for democracy, justice, and life. Then the unthinkable happened--this woman's sister, Neda was killed. After being shot in the chest, her final moments were caught on film. As she dies, blood begins coming out of her nose and mouth, and the people around her scream and shout in lament.

Later over the weekend, Andrew Sullivan wrote a wonderful piece about the role of Twitter in Iran. In his article, Twitter Ripped the Veil Off "the Other" - and We Saw Ourselves, he writes,

The misspelling, the range of punctuation, the immediacy: it was like overhearing snatches of discourse from police radio. Or it was like reading a million little telegram messages being beamed out like an SOS to the world. Within seconds I could transcribe and broadcast them to hundreds of thousands more.
As I did so, it was impossible not to feel connected to the people on the streets, especially the younger generation, with their blogs and tweets and Facebook messages - all instantly familiar to westerners in a way that would have been unthinkable a decade or so ago. This new medium ripped the veil off "the other" and we began to see them as ourselves.
Because information was able to come to us with a human face, this country called Iran shifted from a place many Americans preferred to see bombed, to a country filled with ordinary people risking their lives to make sure their ballots were counted. What an amazing transformation of perspective. I think Sullivan is right, "we began to see them as ourselves." If such a glimpse of our common humanity can be realized between Americans and Iranians, surely it is possible for us to diminish the ways we demonize and dehumanize our enemies.

I pray that as the demonstrations continue and officials debate what to do, that justice will prevail. I also pray that the protesters will do their best to choose non-violence tactics. Thank you Obama for reminding us of Dr. King's words and for weighing in on what is happening.
"Martin Luther King once said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,'" Mr. Obama said in a statement released after security forces in the Iranian capital clashed repeatedly with protesters. "I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian people's belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness."


  1. Hey Karl. I had almost the same reaction to Twitter that you described. It is really amazing how such a simple tool has been used to connect people from all sorts of locations and nationalities.

    I would also agree with Mr. Obama. That we must bear witness to those who are struggling with justice.

  2. Thanks for the comment Blair. A few months ago I had a similar, but different connection to the fighting in Gaza. Having traveled to Israel/Palestine just last summer, the killing felt more personal. Blogs and Twitter also played a role in publicizing what was happening there, but the way it has been used in Iran has been unprecedented and phenomenal. It will be interesting to see how the world continues to be flattened, thus shrinking the distance between us and our neighbors afar.


Be a part of the conversation...