Iranian authorities latest attempt to squash dissent backfires yet again

December 21, 2009

TavakkoliThe latest crude and ham-fisted attempt made by the Iranian government to stifle the legitimate expressions of dissent by its citizens–like all other similar attempts–failed spectacularly.

Majid Tavakkoli, a student leader, was arrested after he gave a speech at Amir Kabir University in Tehran marking Student Day on December 7. The next day, in an apparent attempt to discredit him, a photo of Mr. Tavakkoli wearing women’s clothes was published by the Fars News Agency (linked to the government), which claimed that he had been wearing those clothes at the time of his arrest as he was attempting to sneak away. Not only did the hard line authorities not achieve their goal, but Iranians responded as they consistently have over the last several months, with ingenuity. Hundreds of men posted photos of themselves on Facebook and elsewhere on the internet, wearing women’s clothing, often holding a sign saying, “we are Majid,” thereby both underscoring their solidarity with Majid Tavakkoli as well as rejecting the authorities’ implication that since women are “inferior” then masquerading as one is “shameful.”

The multiple acts of solidarity were also a recognition of the courage shown by the thousands of Iranian women who defiantly poured into the streets to participate in demonstrations. Basij paramilitary forces showed no chivalry and deference to these women protesters; many of them were savagely beaten and numbers of those women who were arrested were subjected to torture and sexual assault (the Basij also did not spare small children and the very elderly).

Despite their best efforts to depict the post-election crackdown as necessary to preserve the well-being of the state and society, the hard-line authorities also could not stifle dissenting voices from even the highest ranks of Iran’s top clergy. Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, who sadly passed away on December 20, did not cease to hammer away at the government’s human rights violations; his positions grounded in the deeply felt convictions of his faith, undermined the hard-liners’ portrayal of their brutal post-election response as based on any kind of religious or moral principles.

And the authorities must have thought that the show of brutal force by Basij paramilitaries and riot police would cow the populace into submission. But something interesting happened: even members of the Basij are stepping forth, sickened by what they had been ordered to do to their own people, and asking for forgiveness. The video of a repentant Basiji confessing his crimes has been widely viewed by Iranians.

Like the single-minded robot WALL-E, who was seemingly incapable of comprehending the futility of continuing to pile up masses of trash, it seems as if the Iranian authorities are unable to override their program set on “repress, repress” as they continue to trample the rights of their own citizens, and despite their manifest failure to achieve any desired result. We can only hope that by constantly keeping the pressure on, activists will hasten the day when the authorities eventually realize that the only way they can end the Iranian people’s calls for human rights is to begin to uphold them.