The Change Within

Thousands rally to support Mousavi

Thousands attend a rally in Isfahan supporting Mousavi (photo: faramarz)

Today bloggers from around the world are uniting in support of the protesters and human rights in Iran. What’s happening in Iran is despicable and I’m proud to join them today; to see innocent people left beaten and dying on the streets, their free speech and hopes trampled into the ground, is something everyone should condemn.

I had planned to write a poem but I haven’t had enough time to finish it; it’s taken longer than I thought and I don’t want to compromise it, so I will post it later this week. I thought I’d post some more general thoughts about what’s happening in Iran and free speech instead.

Recently there has been a debate raging in Australia about censorship and free speech, particularly online. The government wants to introduce a mandatory internet filter to block child pornography and other harmful content but it has met strong opposition. The problem is that it slows connections and doesn’t work as intended; there are ways around it and it has blocked other content as well, including an abortion site and others which have nothing to do with abuse.

I’m strongly against the filter, not just because I consider it censorship and there is no way to know what’s on it but also because I fear it could be exploited later on. I would much rather have an opt-in filter that parents could use, rather than one which applies to everyone regardless.

But earlier today, while I was watching the scenes from Iran, I thought how lucky I am to live in a country where we can have an honest and open debate at all. So many countries can’t. That’s what we’re seeing with Iran right now.

I can’t imagine living in a country where I could be arrested for touching the hand of a female friend; to not be able to have a real conversation in public or listen to popular music; to have to follow a strict code of dress. Sometimes I think we take what we have for granted and I can understand the protesters’ anger, to have felt so close to those freedoms, only to have them disappear.

The situation in Iran has become much worse since my last post. The crackdown has intensified again, with local members of the British Embassy being detained by security forces and a violent clash with protesters outside the Ghoba Mosque on Sunday resulting in numerous injuries. Mousavi also appears to be distancing himself from the street protests and a partial recount of votes has found no sign of fraud or error, creating more doubts.

It’s becoming much harder to see how the protests can continue from here, facing overwhelming force and waning support. While the opposition seems to be entering a new phase, trying to be cautious and find new ways to protest, without the majority of clerics siding with the protesters it’s unlikely they will be able to succeed.

If change is to come to Iran now I think it will likely have to come from the inside out. It’s now become a matter of changing perceptions and pushing back boundaries, letting ideas spread over time; once the culture begins to change, there’ll be another chance. Even if it’s not until Khamenei dies.

Given how serious the situation has become I’m glad for events like this Bloggers Unite day. I know some people will dismiss it and other events like it as meaningless but I think what’s happening in Iran should be condemned by every person who values freedom and democracy in the world. This and the petitions online give us a way of showing our support.

I don’t expect anything to come from it but if it means that even one person in Iran is encouraged by our support and knows they aren’t alone, then I think it’s worthwhile. We live in an open society but being free also means we know what people have to lose, so I think it’s even more important that we stand up to show our support when it’s needed.

If there’s something we can learn from this, whatever happens, I hope it’s that people realise the world is a much smaller place than they think. Fifteen years ago it seemed like other countries and cultures were so distant but the world is a lot smaller now and as technology continues to spread, our differences fade away; we realise we want the same things — freedom, hope, peace — and that’s what I see on the streets of Tehran. That we are the same; the rest is just politics.

The more I think about it, though, the more I feel that if we truly want peace and change in the world, then we have to look within ourselves first. Even if it’s just to set an example, to show we’re willing to do more than just watch, that we will change our ways as well. By making a difference in our own lives, we can pass it on and help others in the world.

I wonder if people looked honestly at themselves, how many would want to make a change? Would their eyes be open enough to criticise themselves, to see their flaws? I know it’s something I want do more; to be less negative, less selfish, to see the world in a different way. Perhaps through the changes in my life, I can then help someone else.

That’s what I take away from what’s happening in Iran. It’s an opportunity for all of us to look at what’s really important, the things we want to change in the world and in our own lives.

If we do that then, whatever happens, the protesters won’t be forgotten.

To our friends in Iran, please stay safe. We’re thinking of you.

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.
– Saadi

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4 thoughts on “The Change Within

  1. Hi. Thanks for your post. I’m a blogger in Tehran. There are some points you’ve mentioned in this particular article of yours that I’d like to comment on.

    “I can’t imagine living in a country where I could be arrested for touching the hand of a female friend” OK, so I’m guessing you’re a male and that you’ve either been arrested for holding your female friend’s hand in Iran or that you’ve see/heard such a thing happen? I’m sorry, but that simply sounds absurd to me. I’ve lived in this country all my life and never seen such a thing happen.
    “to not be able to have a real conversation in public or listen to popular music” Wow! Now, that’s what you call exaggerating or or being over the top, rather. You see, when you’re writing a post for an event when many people will be reading it, it’s best to make sure you don’t make up facts or state your emotions as facts. Neither of what I just quoted from you are true here.

    “Mousavi also appears to be distancing himself from the street protests and a partial recount of votes has found no sign of fraud or error, creating more doubts.” Mousavi is not distancing himself from anyone. He’s not in a hideout either. He’s simply trying to avoid more bloodshed and acting on a calculated scheme. You can’t expect him to tell his people to start rallying whenever he feels like it!

    You sound like an Iranian who’s never lived in Iran to me. Or perhaps I’m wrong. Do tell me if otherwise is true. Anyways, next time, please read up some more on Iran and make your posts slightly more realistic.

    Thanks for taking part anyways.

  2. I’m sorry, CJ, I didn’t read your personal info before I posted. You’re from Sydney, Austria, I got the answer to my last question.

  3. Barghi – thank you for your comment. I hope you’re staying safe in Tehran. We’re all wishing you the best from outside Iran.

    Just to address your points, I am Australian and I’ve not been to Iran, so while I have studied Iran’s history obviously I don’t know as much about your country as other people do. I don’t claim to. I’m just trying to support democracy as I’ve been moved by what’s happening as well.

    If I got any details wrong then I apologise; it wasn’t intentional. However, I did try to base everything on fact and keep emotion out of it; I’m not the kind of person to just throw statements out there for effect. I think what’s happening in Iran should speak for itself.

    What you’ve noted might be because it’s hard to get information out of Iran and to know what’s accurate; but all of this has been verified by our media, so if it isn’t true, then let me know – I’d like to see your impression of Iran.

    First, about touching the hand of a female friend: I meant a girlfriend, that an unmarried couple seen walking and holding hands could be arrested by the morality police. There have been numerous reports of this, including one where a woman died in custody after being arrested. Perhaps you haven’t seen that but the restrictions are often referred to over here.

    As far as listening to music goes, I don’t know how hard it is to enforce but I have read and heard that some types of music are not allowed to be listened to or performed in public in Iran, particularly popular Western music and other styles considered indecent. They have been banned and many musicians have had to move underground or overseas because of that; it’s been highlighted in a film by Bahman Ghobadi, No One Knows About Persian Cats, and in many articles.

    You also mentioned conversations in public. I consider a real conversation (free speech) to be the ability to talk about anything you want to without recrimination; to be able to criticise the authorities or anyone you wish. We all know people have been arrested for having different opinions in Iran; the crackdown alone shows that legitimate dissent and debate is not tolerated in public, so IMO you cannot have a real and open conversation.

    Finally about Mousavi – I didn’t mean he was backing away from the protests, if that’s how it sounded. I (and others) feel the opposition is moving into a new phase and much of what happens next will be political opposition. By distancing himself I meant that Mousavi is focusing more now on working behind the scenes, which is the next logical step for the movement, given the danger to the protesters and himself. It was what I meant in the next paragraphs, about change needing to happen from the inside out.

    Maybe it wasn’t clear enough in the post but the parts you highlighted really weren’t meant to show what life is like in Iran but what life is like in democracies like mine. Many people can’t imagine losing the freedoms we have – we take our democracy for granted and I wanted to make people realise what’s going on. I think that’s why it’s so important we support you, because we know what you have to lose.

    Anyway, I’ve tried to explain my points a little better. I don’t think I exaggerated or let my emotions get in the way of facts – as a writer I rely heavily on research, and I researched it like all my posts. As it’s meant to show a Western point of view, I think it’s realistic.

    But as I said, I don’t live in Iran so I can’t know what it’s really like. I can only rely on what I’ve heard. So I hope it wasn’t insensitive; I only wanted to help.

    Please stay safe over there. We’re thinking of you.

  4. Hi again, CJ. Sorry for late reply, I’ve been having an extremely busy week so I didn’t have the chance to post a comment earlier.

    Thanks for your kind words. We are fine in Tehran. I come back from mountain-climbing just now, in fact. I went to the demonstrations yesterday; we have an exciting life here =)

    I didn’t mean to be offending you by criticising some of your points either. If I did, I apologise. You are right, what’s happening here should speak for itself. However, during turmoil and instabilities, the media (in particular the foreign media) does rather find a good excuse to sex things up and exaggerate a lot even though a lot of the stuff they’ll feed people is not true.

    About touching the hand of a girlfriend; I am a university student. I did my first year of studies in the UK and to be honest with you, I didn’t see so much romance going on in the lecture halls of my university in the UK than I see here, in the University of Tehran. Couples sit next to one another and hold hands during the breaks and actually go much more beyond that once they leave the university. The so-called morality police here does not stop you in the middle of the street and go, “Oi! Get in the car. You’re holding hands!” No, it doesn’t happen like that. Most of those who do get arrested are either journalists writing anti-government articles, etc. or some sort of activists. So, the police (which gets orders from the government) uses things like “couples holding hands” to justify arrests like that. I have read all the stories you’ve sent me when they came out here as well. I cannot confirm they are true, because most of them came out in personal blogs in Iran and were not confirmed by reliable sources.

    I know that a lot of the music bands here do not get given permission to perform in public, etc. but to tell you the truth, you find a more diverse collection of music records and albums in most Iranians’ houses than you do anywhere else. So, I agree with the music part to an extent.

    Again, I’ll disagree with you about having real conversations in the public. A protest, CJ, is very different to a conversation. I took part in demonstrations in London and the police was always there to stop any form of violence taking place. The police has always been present in protests here as well, perhaps sometimes even initiating violence. However, at other times, wherever I go, people discuss politics and other matters freely. Despite the internet filtering – which I find a complete bit of nonsense – people still read uncensored news and so on. Of course, there shouldn’t be any censoring or such restrictions alike, but it’s not like North Korea where you aren’t even allowed a laptop and you get hanged for practicing your religion in public.

    Finally, I wanted to mention a few things. I have travelled to many parts of the world. I have always had a lot of respect for people of different beliefs, traditions, cultures and so on. What I never liked about some countries though, is the way they tried to impose their personal beliefs on others. If I wear the headscarf, it’s my business. I don’t like people sitting there, staring at me and thinking “oh, she must be so oppressed.” Why should the west think that Iranian women are oppressed because they dress modestly? Many of my friends who don’t show much interest in religion actually keep their modest look when they go abroad as well. Sure, you have no right to force people to dress in a certain way, but I believe that you also don’t have the right to create tension by stirring up things and trying to get people to feel as if they are being oppressed when others aren’t, so they should end up feeling sorry for themselves.

    My boyfriend is a white English man. He had many misunderstandings about Iran when we first met (more than two years ago) as well. I showed him what it really feels like to be an Iranian though and it did really open up his mind to a lot of things he didn’t already (we’ve never been arrested for holding hands in the streets of Tehran by the way). My point is, nothing’s like seeing the truth for yourself and not trusting everything that you hear. Iran is a beautiful country, with great people, great nature, great food and music and literature and art. It’s been misunderstood in the world. I like to – as an Iranian – spread the truth to the outside world, even if it means writing a bunch of articles and commenting on blogs.

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