by TARA MAHTAFAR in Tehran
28 Jun 2009 22:42
As the crackdown intensifies in Iran, the opposition is developing creative ways to fight back using the regime's own logic against it.
Today, June 28, is the death anniversary of the martyr of Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, a prominent Iranian cleric assassinated in a bombing in 1981. His martyrdom is trumpeted annually by the Islamic Republic in a commemoration ceremony open to the public -- and as such, fully licensed.
Since last night, emails began circulating urging protesters to gather at the legal venue for the Beheshti event: Qoba Mosque in north Tehran. The slogan du jour, recommended for placards, was "The Vote is the Measure" -- a famous Khomeini quote referring to the basis from which the Islamic Republic derives legitimacy: the popular vote.
Surely, we reasoned, the Revolutionary Guard would not dare open fire on a mosque.
When we arrived, I had to separate from my three male friends and go alone to the women's section upstairs. The mosque was crowded and hot; a restless buzz filled the air. Young girls in green headscarves and chador-clad women with green wristbands were murmuring Mir Hossein Mousavi's name. He was rumored to be on his way to make a speech here.
The service started at 6 p.m. I perched myself on a ledge on the balcony corner next to the window, overlooking the podium in the men's section below. A muezzin launched into a long prayer, followed with a eulogy in praise of Beheshti. It was getting hotter by the moment as more people pressed in. A woman next to me whispered, "Is Mousavi really coming?" I smiled reassuringly at her, though by now -- an hour had passed -- I began to suspect the shadowy opposition leader was a no-show.
The muezzin droned on. I was getting fed up and ready to leave. Thankfully, just then it came -- a roar of cheering from outside. Standing up on tiptoe, I looked through the arabesque grates by my side: what an overpowering sight! People, hands raised in the 'V' sign, as far as the eye could see in both directions down the street, chanting pro-Mousavi slogans. The chorus spread like lightening, and indoors erupted as well with fervid chanting.
Mousavi was barred from coming, mosque officials told the crowd. Go home, they warned -- the security forces are on their way!
But people, confident in their numbers (upward of four thousand), began instead marching up the street, heading for Shariati Avenue, a main Tehran artery.
For about ten minutes we marched in peace. Late sunlight fell through the leafy canopy of maple trees overhead. There was a sense of happiness in being back out on the street, of seeing mass public solidarity again.
Not unsurprisingly, the peace was short-lived. We heard shots, followed by screams. Initially the crowd tried to stand its ground, linking arms and chanting, "No fear, we're all together!" -- but the Basij guards came down on us fast and hard. More gunshots, and in the space of a few seconds, the crowd began running the other way in panic. Pushed on all sides, I fell, and for the first time, understood what "being trampled underfoot" meant. Someone pulled me back up, and we ducked into the gate of some kind soul who had opened her home as sanctuary.
The sequence is one we are getting used to: Gather, disperse; march, run away; chant, get hurt; hide, tremble with others and share your common rage. The crowd didn't seem tired of the game though. Good thing to know: The game is not over yet.
Photo: Mural of Ayatollah Beheshti, who was the secretary-general of the Islamic Republic Party, and the head of the Islamic Republic's judicial system. He was assassinated along with more than 70 members of the Islamic Republic party on June 28, 1981.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau