As promised I continue to try and update with blogs coming out of Tehran. This is a powerful first person account from my friend Arash Aryan, a 40 year old poet who sent his writing in bits and pieces through intermittent internet access. It is reproduced entirely on the Daily Beast here.
Fridays in any Muslim country are special and in about 24 hours the first Friday prayers in Tehran since last weeks "election" will take place.
I have been on the phone as much as possible. Frequent clicks tell my friends and me on the other end that we are being monitored. They say they are past caring. I wonder.
The new reports are that Ayatollah Khamenei will be leading the Friday sermon at Tehran University. The Friday prayers at the University stadium have gone on for a long while and a stream of religious leaders alternate in their sermons (khutbas). The haloed grounds of the University have symbolic value as well and a lot of the hurt runs deep. In 1979 the Shah's goons fired into crowds of student protestors from the gates of the University. In July 1999 student protestors were killed on those grounds as they confronted the state militias. In recent days the horrific pictures that have emerged from vandalized rooms and dead students have only added to the place of the University in a legacy of pain and protest. More than a hundred faculty members have resigned in protest of the recent attacks on campus.
It is into this pain that the Ayatollah battling for his survival steps in on Friday to address what may be a very large crowd. Usually more than 5,000 show up. My friends tell me many who are looking at Mousavi as the big hope for democracy will stay away and take to the streets instead. In any case the Calvin Klein underwear wearing fashionable North Tehran hotties don't pray, do they? But by now we all know that these protests are not about just the elite.
Others are hoping that there will be a protest. Arash who writes in the report I refer to above, points out to me that in the original schedule the Friday sermon would have been delivered by Iran's richest man Ayatollah Akbar Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani who is no friend of Ahmadinejad chairs the powerful Assembly of Experts, lost to Ahmadinejad in 2005 and is clearly supporting Mir Hossein Mousavi. The replacement of the Khutba speaker is interesting and not without meaning.
Meanwhile in the US, accented American Iranians continue to push for their different, often-competing (and confusing) agendas. My friend Negin who blogged yesterday points out that they have no idea about what is really happening and have complicated and problematic agendas. Many showed up at protests here in the US yesterday. Some got screen time on cable news including Shoreh Agdashloo, the mediocre actress brought up to air and express her sudden profound expertise on Larry King. The same Mr. King who will spend tonight with the Jonas brothers. I guess they have to go with whomever they can find in Tehrangeles. Meanwhile, the endless parade of white male Iran pundits, from all shades of political thought, including the neo-cons calling for a "revolution," continues.
I will (and urge you to) stay away from all of these pundits, as much as possible and keep on trying to get more voices from in there.
I remember something a friend in Iran told me when she visited here briefly after waiting for a year to get a US visa (she is now in Tehran). "Parvez, I just don't trust these Iranians here with American accents. How on earth would they know anything? Didn't they grow up in this "first world"?"
This is what Firoozeh Khatibi, an independent Iranian journalist in Tehrangeles (she works for the dissident Radio Farda and also VOA Persian and she does not have an American accent!) said to me and also in a comment on my previous piece :
The main stream broadcasting factories were sweeping the streets of Los Angeles for guests to talk about current events of Iran in the past couple of days. As a Result, some opportunists and airheads who have not a clue as what is really going on in Iran in these historic times filled the Larry King show! King should at least have experts do some real research before he piles up people who could never possibly represent Iran or Iranian people on his tabloid-like news show. Could Azita Shirazi, an insurance sales person or Shohreh Aghdashlou, a late bloomer in Hollywood fast lane, be the voice of people like Negin in Iran?
The cacophony of voices here in the United States rises and the confusion continues. Hidden amongst those in Iran who just simply want their votes counted are agendas that range from seeing the whole Islamic regime crumble to those who would like the US to be a co-sponsor of the public outpouring. And irony of ironies -- the very site I just wrote for, The Daily Beast, decides to run a long and "exclusive" interview with Farah Diba Pahlavi, the deposed "Empress" of Iran, wife of the corrupt Reza Shah who moved from caviar and riches in Tehran to pretty much more of the same in Paris, where she now lives in luxury. I am sure Mrs. Pahlavi would love to jump on the next plane to Tehran and help re-install her husbands despotic and corrupt regime.
On the phone, another friend tells me that seeing a green handkerchief in the hand of the Firdausi statue at the square named after him in Tehran, brought tears to her eyes, as much as the nightly chanting of the Allahoakbars (God is great!) from the rooftops. Those very chants reverberated on the streets in 1979 and were a clarion call for the return of the Marja-e-taqlid, Ayatollah Khomeini. Firdausi, of course (for those who dont know) wrote the Shahnama, 60,000 couplets of a history of Persia, that even I as a child in India read.
As we are talking about Firdausi the phone dies ominously. But then after six re-dials I get her back! She is angry and his words just fall out like a torrent. She wonders why Abbas Kiarostami, that most celebrated and feted of Iranian filmmakers is silent, as he films in Italy. Why does he not have the same zeal that Mohsen Makhmalbaf did when he spoke to members of the EU parliament a few days ago to not recognize the "results" of the election. Makhmalbaf she tells me, is as of four days ago the spokesperson for Mousavi's campaign in Europe. Her last words: Basij are knocking from door to door in her mothers apartment building. They are there to collect satellite dishes.
The phone dies again. We all wait (her there/me here), as the pundits are driven from one television studio to another.