Saturday, June 20, 2009

History in the Making in the Streets of Iran

I have a vague recollection of the time 30 years ago when the regime of the Shah of Iran was overthrown, the Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to take charge of that nation, and employees of the United States embassy in Tehran were taken hostage and held for over a year. I can also remember - and I don't know whether it is a legitimate memory or whether it stems from having seen similar footage over the years - the news broadcasts night after night showing tens of thousands of Iranians out in the streets celebrating the new supreme leader and cursing the United States.

Now, three decades letter, history is once again being made in Iran - except this time the tens of thousands of people marching in the streets are protesting their current supreme leader, their president, and the results of what can only be assumed at this point to have been a sham, fixed presidential election. Equally as significant, the Iranian people are now reaching out to the very same Western nations that were being cursed in the late 1970s. Could we be watching the birth of a new democracy, or will the protests which seem to be growing larger each end - God forbid - in the same manner as the protests in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago?

The entire situation is fascinating to me for a variety of reasons. First, the sheer number of reports found on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook is absolutely amazing; just in the past few days, I have started following some very interesting folks on Twitter that are providing near-constant news bursts, video clips and photographs of many of the major events that global news networks have been prevented from covering. I think that citizen reporting provides a much more direct impact and sense of what's going on than any news network here in the U.S. could give us. Second, this is the first time I can recall that a potential revolutionary change is taking place in front of the world; with the 2003 Rose Revolution in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, I don't remember there being nearly this much coverage of the events as they unfolded.

Look at just a small sample of some of the Twitter comments that I'm seeing pop up at a very fast pace:

- FB report: shouts of Allah o Akbar in holy city of Mashhad "explosive" -- loudest it has ever been.

- WHOLE city is shaking with very loud screams from rooftops. Their loud voices calling only for God is filled with fear, hatred, and hope.

- Change has already started. Only part of this change is about winning the elections. The other part will continue.

- Guards tried to stop people by using fire truck & high pressure water, then used tear gas, started to attack and beat people.

Of course, what we're seeing in Iran right now could end up impacting the entire Middle East. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer just ran through a list of points demonstrating how a regime change in Iran could undermine Hamas and Hezbollah and cut off a major supply network for terrorist organizations and activities throughout the region. A new democratic government could change the entire dynamic in the area, the same way the new government in Iraq is giving freer forms of citizen rule a foothold.

No one knows at this point where this will all end. For the time being, we can only watch and wait - and as much as I would like our government to say more about this than the very bland "The world is watching" remark from the President, there is nothing else we can do; even I have to admit that I agree with Obama's comment that anything we do will give other Middle Eastern governments cause to accuse us of meddling in their affairs. That, of course, doesn't matter to many folks here in this country - as I write this, a pro-Iran protest is forming in front of the White House (and Obama is home, so I assume he sees it), and apparently similar protests are forming across the country.

I only wish my daughters were old enough so that they could see this for themselves and learn a bit about how what is happening now could easily change the world in which they are growing up.

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