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Leaving Tehran

24 Jun 2009 12:3314 Comments

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

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I am so moved by all the events in Iran and feel that yes, finally I have gained a new picture of what Iran is. I very much feel with all of you, and am deeply worried about not hearing tweets from one of the people I have been following.

What is the world to do? Iran, and the quest of freedom to the people certainly have the attention they need now.

To all in Iran, thank you for sharing, please stay safe, my thoughts are with you.

P.S.: What can be done to help?

Beate / June 25, 2009 12:04 AM

You did an incredible job and deserve recognition for your accomplishments. It takes socially concious and responsible people like you effect change and I would say you did more than your part.

I applaud you and wish the best for your future. I believe you will nave no problem finding work if you continue to report as you did.

With best regards,


Blake Parker / June 25, 2009 12:09 AM

I am glad you are safe.

Your article is so true for me, at least. I am just one person with no clout but look at Iranians totally different now. I cry daily at the torture they are enduring. I cry for Neda and all the others. I feel so helpless and angry at their government. I can only pray for their safety and freedom; the kind of freedom THEY want, not what others define as freedom.

Please consider telling your story to news outlets whenever possible. Any first hand accounts can help the rest of the world see the true tyrany that is occurring in Iran.

Colleen / June 25, 2009 12:13 AM

Thank you for all your work and best of luck. We're listening.


olen holm / June 25, 2009 12:15 AM

You are right to say that the world will forget if the protests fade; most people have short attention spans these days, but not all.

You are wrong to say that outsiders see Iran "shrouded in deep religiosity and mistrust." I never saw that. Even in 1979, when I was still in grade school, that is not what I saw. I saw people just like me, plus one jerk and a few lackeys. I saw what it would be like to fight for a new country, and then to get what I wished for in the worst possible way. On my television, I saw an Iranian kid who looked about my age get knocked down in the street, and I wondered for years who he was and what happened to him. I saw that you can't pick where or when you are born, any more than you can pick your relatives.

I have never forgotten Iran. I will never do that. I'm a little older now, so I have to admit it has been many years since I was in the 7th grade, but I'm not too old to wish that all the Iranians could live as freely and happily as I do. I still wish they could all just come over and play at my house:)

-an American, with a slightly longer attention span

April / June 25, 2009 2:11 AM

just got of the internet talking to Iran they're making a lot of problems taking in pasports MY COUSINS FRIEND WANTED TO GO BACK TO THE US ,NOT LETTING HER LEAVE

maria tofangsaz / June 25, 2009 5:41 AM

You say, "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"

EVERY single thing that you can do to make the world aware and remain aware of what is happening to the Iranian people is useful. You have seen it firsthand, unlike most of us. Tell your stories, keep this alive until the majority of those Iranians have what is their right to have.....FREEDOM from an oppressive government!

Alison Gardiner / June 25, 2009 5:49 AM

Thank you so much for your incredible courage during this history-making event. Your courage is surpassed only by your compassion for the people of Iran and for this, I bow in your honor. I pray that the precious lives lost and the unconscionable suffering and oppression of the masses were not in vain but instead are the spark that finally ignites the unstoppable movement to change the system of government once and for all so all of the wonderful people in Iran can finally freely express themselves fully and attain their fullest potential. This is my sincere wish!

Best wishes to you in your career, your personal life, and of course, your personal safety.


Tom Langley / June 25, 2009 6:08 AM

I agree too much with you.

But how can the Iranian people develop a sense of direction for their movement if political debate has been banned for almost 30 years? How can, for example, people meet together in assembly or even in the web and discuss something like: "do we still want velayat e faqih? If yes, how can we reform it? If no, what do we want instead?" How can they DISCUSS anything if there is no space for discussion at all, at any level? I think that it is understandable that the Iranian people are looking for a leader to guide them out of the dictatorship, not because they are not able to think with their own mind and decide, but because they simply are banned from doing it. In the west, we have political parties, we have meetings, we have rallies, we have activists, NGOs, we have free political debate, we can read the free web and watch the free TVs. In Iran, after 30 years of repression, when for the first time they showed 4 live and uncensored election debates on TV the people got so excited (although many convene that there was little to be excited about Moussavi) that they went rallying and partying in the streets in millions, and when after 30 years they tried to rally to show their protests, it all ended in a spiral of blood and more censorship.

In my opinion the problem is that in Iran, the situation has been so repressed for the past 30 years, people of both sides are so exacerbated, that there is very few space for debate. People are ready to CONFRONT each others, to the point of being killed to show their discontent in the face of the "enemy", to show "I am not afraid of you", but unfortunately they are not ready to think together about a political platform to reform things in a political way.

They say: "it is impossible to reform this dictatorship, you must topple it" and in fact people are chanting "death to dictator", not "we want..."; meaning that they are much more focused on the destructive part of revolting against the repression than the constructing part of "the day after". That is unfortunately the same mistake that was made after the Islamic revolution, and though many young people revolting these days frankly hate the Islamic theocracy and all the Islamic revolution rhetoric, unfortunately they have been so imbued by that same rhetoric of revolution and martyrdom, that they reproduce its same dynamics in this new revolt.

With that, I am not criticizing the youth who are risking their life on the streets and in the roofs of Tehran. Their courage and bravery and love of freedom is a model and example for all the "free" world (how many of us in the "free" world would dare to risk their life if our freedom was taken? - simply put, we prefer to risk with the life of others, see the examples in Afghanistan and Iraq..)

But, at this stage of things, I think that Iranians need charismatic leaders to guide them in the revolt, especially Islamic reformists such as Moussavi, his wife, Ebadi, etc.

Sorry if the comment was so long, but your article was very inspiring.

alis_cuchak / June 25, 2009 6:09 AM

Go tell the world, I tell everybody everything I can every day... because not all people take the time to finde these reports, sound bits and video clips. That doesn't mean they are tired of it or don't want to know. Everyone I talk to are apalled, when they here the latest news from Iran.

So please use every chance you get to spread the word.

Charlotte / June 25, 2009 2:11 PM

Thank you for all your work during this time. I'm glad you've remained safe

Ari / June 26, 2009 11:50 AM

Like everyone else i was horrified,appalled, so angry,i just wanted to go over their and help. Now i think the protestors are being tortured as we speak.Horrors are happening as we sip our tea and stretch our legs out! Please people do not stop! Do something! Email people,dont let them just forget! Pray!keep doing twitter! someone has to have some ideas what to do next

Betty Porter / June 26, 2009 8:59 PM

Thank you so much for the valuable work you've done and please, please, keep on telling your story to the world, it is more useful than you can imagine. It's time to bring freedom to Iran and every one of us (inside and outside of Iran, iranians and non-iranians) are responsible to keep on making our voices heard, demanding freedom for Iran och showing that the cruelty of the islamic republic is NOT ok. So please, say YES to "those various news programs" asking you to "appear on their shows to offer sound bites on a situation that is impossible to encapsulate into a few seconds". It's more useful than you can imagine.

Mahsa M Khoshoi / June 28, 2009 1:46 PM

One interpretation might be that the protests were a form of resurgent Persian nationalism seeking to throw off 1,250 years of Islamic cultural subjugation

Richard Kadas / July 1, 2009 6:51 PM