Why I Voted
13 Jun 2009 00:37
I stood in line at 9:45 on a warm, sunny morning at the Al-Rahman Mosque, four blocks from my flat, in order to vote. Behind me there were two well-dressed girls, one about five years old, the other about seven. One held her father's hand. Because of their age, neither had to wear the hijab.
A white-haired man emerged from the mosque to tell his wife who was standing in line in front of me, "There are about fifty people ahead of us."
As we entered the mosque, a guard who was standing at the door, looked down at the girls and said, "You have come to vote, too?"
I was essentially witnessing a nation voting for the first time in 2,500 years.
A few days ago, while I was buying lunch, a restaurant owner told another customer, "The five fingers are all attached to one hand."
From the conversation it was clear that he meant: "All four candidates belong to the same group, approved by the Council of Guardians, all children of the Islamic Republic -- don't be fooled into believing that you have a choice."
Today, I received an e-mail from an American friend who wrote, "You said earlier you would not vote. Has that changed? Are you out in the streets with the young people? I will be looking forward to a story from you."
I had completely forgotten that I had said I would not vote. For today, my primary feeling was that, as an Iranian, it was my first duty to vote.
My reasons for not voting were that (1) I do not accept the foundation of the Islamic Republic; voting would give the system legitimacy; (2) In a system that disqualifies any candidate it does not like, what is the point of voting? (3) When there is massive fraud in the voting process, why vote?
In the 2004 parliamentary elections, after 2000 candidates were disqualified, Mehdi Karrubi, a presidential candidate then and now, one who wears a turban, said "That is unacceptable."
In the 2005 presidential election, I had images of people carrying gunnysacks of rice to rural areas in order to win over people's votes. Stuffing boxes with ballots of non-existent citizens was another image. One province famously had a thousand more votes than the number of eligible voters.
These were my reasons, and many other people's reasons, for not voting. But as the election got closer, especially two weeks before the election, all these reasons vanished.
My friend Reza's reason's had replaced them: "It is as if the country is being driven by a car on a dangerous, winding, mountainous road. If we don't take the wheel from the driver, we are going to drive off the cliff."
Are you going to let the car drive off the cliff, or are you going to take the wheel away from the driver?
Do you want 25 percent inflation (and on the rise), and 12.5 percent unemployment (if you believe the official figure; it's more likely around 30 percent -- most people we know are unemployed?
Do you want someone to stand up at Columbia University and assert, "There are no homosexuals in Iran," or that "Israel will be wiped off the map," and question the reality of the Holocaust and make Iranians ashamed of being Iranian; or would you prefer Mir Hossein Mousavi, who told the president in a television debate, "By using such words, you have lowered Iran's standing in the international community."
Do you want when the inflation is at 25 percent for the president to hold up a graph, whose source he claims to be the Central Bank of Iran, showing inflation at 15 percent; or do you want Mir Hossein Mousavi, who held up another graph the following night, whose source he also claimed to be the Central Bank of Iran, showing inflation to be 25.4 percent?
Do you want the president to lie to you, or do you want Mir Hossein Mousavi to say out loud on television, "How much are you going to lie to the people?"
At this point, the presidential debate moderator reminded Mr. Mousavi that, "We are not to speak of those who are not present." And Mr. Mousavi responded, "I did not mention any names!"
Then he added, "If I am not to speak of the present government and the president, then of whom am I to speak?"
Some people argue that all candidates are cut out of the same cloth; they are all disciples of Ayatollah Khomeini. But the distinctions are so glaring that it leads some of us to say, "I don't care where Mousavi comes from; he is fully supported by former President Khatami, and he seems to be a remarkable improvement over the present state of affairs."
And we are having presidential debates on television? How American! How open and free! Could anyone have showed up on television and called the former shah a liar -- and survived?
Even if we don't accept all of it, this is good practice in democracy.
Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau