I know it didn’t sound like it the other day. That day I could barely be civil. I talked in grunts. Details squeezed out like tough little tantrum-y tears, in between growls and barks.
Perhaps the bad mood is related to the following:
I’ve been tweeting the stuffing out of the #Iranelection story. Just a little over two weeks ago, I happened to be hanging out on a Friday night at the local watering-hole-for-dull-married-with-kids people called Twitter. Vote counts from Iran’s greatly anticipated elections were coming in, and Mousavi supporters were hopeful even as strange results made them puzzled and then upset. Tweets started flying back and forth (pdf), like “Ten million votes counted only two hours after the close of polls? WTF [or its equivalent, in Farsi]??? IT CAN’T BE AHMADINEJAD!!!”
I quickly found a group of Iranians who were tweeting in Farsi and English, and followed. In Iran, the discontent hardened into firm conviction among many that the election was rigged. Events began to gather speed even at Twitter’s already hummingbird-fast metabolism. I went to bed as something unknowable was forming, the angry mutters and background-wallah (noise cooked especially for the ambient sound particular to a location in a film) growing in volume.
The next morning I woke up and it was well into the evening of the next day in Iran. Crowds were gathering in the street. They got bigger. Louder. More insistent.
I tweeted like a crazy woman. I retweeted all the Persians I’d followed and then some. I did the equivalent (on Twitter) of grabbing people by the collar and demanding that they follow and retweet the people I was following and retweeting. The most astonishing reports were flying through the air: protesters were now yelling, hurling rocks at the government henchmen sent to shut them down.
Taking over streets with marches 5 miles long and 500,000 people strong. I tried to tweet as much as I could and still be a decent human being and parent to my child. Weirdly, I felt responsible to these people who I’d casually began following expecting a much less bloody and distressing response to their election results.
People yelling turned to people being hit, cut, beaten with clubs, hauled away, or their computers or other equipment trashed into disuse. Bloody, then outright gruesome still photos and videos began leaking out of Iran. I retweeted it as fast as I could. Often I’d pass on Farsi tweets, hoping that it wasn’t a grocery list being urgently circulated. Trusting that the urgency of the moment meant that it wasn’t.
Here’s one mournful video I’ll always remember:
Both protests and Twitter, the means of “publishing” that dissent, became big stories.
Soon the paranoia and government disinformation campaigns set in. Non-Iranians trying to help get out word of how basijis (paramilitary thugs) were shooting, beating, “disappearing,” and otherwise terrorizing civilians suddenly realized that the porosity of Twitter was precisely what allowed the Iranian government to use its sophisticated monitoring technology to track ISP sources of uploads of provocative pictures and videos documenting the violence. Persian usernames became scarce and ubiquitous; scarce because now we were retweeting them blind, ubiquitous because what’s ever really hidden on the web? Ubiquitous because someone decided that we’d ALL adopt Tehran as our cities of origin and local time as our own.
Also almost immediately, of course, an important mullah made a speech promising a partial recount and otherwise chastising the protesters the government cracked down upon, saying that they’d brought violence upon themselves.
For people who hadn’t been paying attention prior to that first key weekend, the paranoia was greater. I still remembered who was really from Tehran, who was a diasporic Iranian, who was a non-Iranian helpfully masquerading as an Iranian but really from the west. Rumors flew that such-an-such username was really an alias used by the Iranian government as part of a counter-intelligence spying/disinformation campaign.
My memory of who was who was all I had to offer by way of credibility as someone who passed along nearly everything I could get my hands on that originated from my Iranian twitterers. Was that information reliable? Well, given that the Iranian government cut SMS, phone, and satellite service, the opportunities for bloggers & twitterers to get their testimony out were scarce. The Iranian government was said to have used social media to track down users who seemed like “ringleaders” (or perhaps people the Ahmadinejad government had always wanted to silence) to throw them in prison. People were risking arrest, beatings, and being “disappeared” to upload videos and pictures and accounts of what happened. Erring on the side of too much rather than too little seemed to balance the need for any information to make it out of Iran, given the total lack of coverage in the early days of protest, otherwise known as #CNNFAIL.
I’m sure I passed along my fair share of rumors, rumors that originated on the ground in Iran from peoples’ families and friends reaching out to the Persian diaspora. I think some of that confusion is inevitable in a chaotic, fear-filled, fast-changing environment like Iran’s “Green Revolution.” I hope no one was harmed by anything I disseminated; at the same time, I think those in Iran were well aware of the major players in their government and could far more ably sift fact from fiction than I could.
Appallingly, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayotollah Khamanei, came out with a speech affirming the results of the election and certifying Ahmadinejad as the “rightfully” elected president of Iran. Was there ever really another possible outcome to the “recount”? Worse yet, he blamed Mousavi for the protests, and said any violence or deaths that occurred from Basijis (paramilitary forces) keeping the peace were the fault of Mousavi.
It’s all too depresingly familiar for those more accustomed to watching the hopeful uprising of a galvanized people demanding basic human rights, only to be brutally smacked down. I hadn’t ever felt so directly and immediately invested in such an uprising before. (One of the Iranian students I follow has braces, for chrissake.)
It’s hard to bear the truth that torture, endless imprisonment, or outright executions may be happening to dissenters now under cover of a government-authorized news blackout. Some accounts continue to trickle out from Iran, but it’s hard to know where Mousavi and his supporters will steer the reform movement next. Mousavi is perennially rumored to be in prison already or at the very least, threatened by house arrest. His main deputies have no doubt been intimidated into silence or jailed. While there’s much disagreement among Islamic clerics in Iran, many feel the largest and most obvious cracks in the legitimacy of the theocracy are already glaringly apparent to many.
I and many others watch with concern where this fledgling movement will go next. We hoped for Prague, but perhaps got Tiananmen. We can’t be sure yet. Looking at the situation in America, we had Gore v. Bush in ’00, more election mishegoss in ’04, and only in ’08 with Obama’s election did we approach a free and fair election. Until recently, certification of Senator Al Franken as rightfully elected official from Minnesota was still under challenge by that nuisance sore-loser Norm Coleman.
People outside Iran helped as best as they could. Those efforts are still continuing, although my impression is that much has gone deep underground and gotten extremely technical (the cyberwarfare aspect of anonymous posting, DDOS strikes and defenses against governmental attacks of same). I hope, along with many others, that the broad-based protests originating in Iran among many strata of society have permanently undermined the theocratic authority of the current Supreme Leader Khamanei and Ahmadinejad, his secular proxy.