24 Jun 2009 12:33
By JASON REZAIAN in Dubai | 24 June 2009
[TEHRAN BUREAU] I decided to leave Iran a couple of days ago for several reasons. First of all, it was beginning to feel as though I could be of little use to anyone by being there. Choked off from most telecommunication, barred from reporting and holding both Iranian and American citizenship, my presence in Iran during this crisis had devolved into being little more than one more thing for my friends in Tehran to worry about.
As I drove out of Tehran on Sunday evening to head for the airport I scanned the city for signs of activity. Of course, ragged looking Basij and faceless security forces were visible, but the crowds we'd grown so accustomed to were nowhere in sight. I realized that sadly, when they stop coming out, this story ends and the world will in all likelihood stop paying attention.
During the final days leading up to my departure, many news organizations had emailed or called, asking me to file stories for their publications or to do phone interviews. I had to decline them all, knowing that meant denying information to the rest of the world from a situation where that is a precious commodity. Furthermore, I was unable to take advantage of a very good professional opportunity for myself, and anyone who does this work, or aspires to, would be lying if they said that didn't matter to them.
It was a gamble I had to take. And as it turns out, it seemed I made the right choice: many of my colleagues in Tehran working with foreign media have been arrested or expelled from the country, and I'm now in Dubai, watching the situation as best I can, with the rest of the world, on television with the added layer of having lived much of the events being reported.
So what do I do now? Thus far I've tried to sift through the various news programs asking me to appear on their shows to offer sound bites on a situation that is impossible to encapsulate into a few seconds, but this hardly feels useful.
In doing these appearances however, I've realized that, for the first time in thirty years the world is beginning to look at Iranians through a lens that is not shrouded in deep religiosity and mistrust. Elections have been fixed before; that's not a new story. The element that makes this so different from other similar events in history is that we are watching Iran being re-branded before our eyes, something that much of the country has been so desperately trying to do for at least a decade.
Now that it's finally happening, the global public seems to be transfixed, and I think it's exactly because what they're seeing does not correspond to the Iran that we've fed them for all these years. While many in Iran are doing what they can to show that new face to the world, very few have stopped to think about the long term goals of their movement. And I think that's a mistake.
Iranians in opposition to the Islamic system have had three decades to figure out what it is that they'd do differently if they were in charge, and I think defining and expressing that is the next phase of this process of evolution (or maturation) that is what's actually taking place.
There will be those who continue the tired and empty stance that "anything would be better than this," but until opponents of the failures of the Islamic Republic develop that viable alternative, things will remain where they are: many disenchanted people praying for someone to lead them to the promise land.
When the protests have reduced in size, and the crowds have left the street there will be time to regroup and consider what it is that a new Iran should look like. Without putting in that hard work of constructing a practical vision the critics of this movement will all be proven right and the deaths, the arrests, damage and the great energy spent will have been for naught.
What Iranians fighting so hard to be heard must grasp, and quickly, is that for the first time they actually have the power to define how it is that they will be seen by the rest of the world, rather than having those labels assigned to them by others. As they have demonstrated, with the foreign media all but an afterthought now, is that they can create that reality without us, harnessing the power of that is another matter entirely.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau