TEHRAN: DISPATCH # 11

My friend, filmmaker B, whom I am not allowed to call Texan, is in Iran right now. Sending out dispatches via email. After the photo is an excerpt from dispatch # 11. The personal weight and texture of an email augments the realness of the situation, at least for me.

It is so easy to change your Twitter icon to green and read newsfeeds… the hard thing is anything else, information into action.

Returning to New York’s poverty and hi-rent capitalism was particularly strange after spending so much time this past tour in Scandinavia and the Netherlands. (Staying in a now-legal squat in Amsterdam, playing at some festivals with arts funding and kids paid to curate and produce them.) Northern Europe has its share of problems, yes, but also strong social nets for its citizens (health care, education..). The challenge is not to remain informed about large-scale upheaval abroad (although that is part of it), but to find things to push towards and fight for, here, on one’s block, neighborhood, city. Distance is comforting. Intimacy is the hard part.

Maybe I’m just saying I’ve got too many broke, talented friends in NYC who are just barely hanging on, and that I want this city to resemble us, our city, more than it does now.

IMG 1831

from Bani:

It is hard to know exactly what is happening in the top ranks, and what political phase the country is moving into. It is a time to be thinking, interacting, and planning. There is no real strategy nor an idea of what shape this action should take. It is refreshing to be constructing a movement with people and working towards something collectively without leaders around or political parties, but at the same time, there is no hope of having enough force to confront the regime without some structural help or some internal battles being fought at the top levels – that is unless we want this to become a bloody battle once again. But with the thousands killed during the revolution and the purges that took place afterwards on everyone’s minds, this is not what people want to move towards. Not now at least.

The resilience and the determination to change things peacefully is remarkable for me. It has made me think about a lot, and to watch how people work together to maintain silence during the demonstrations is beautiful. At yesterday’s quiet march, people held signs with sentences, slogans, photographs of the violence of the past days, and the names of those who have been killed. There was a feeling of mourning in the air, but also of tension. We all know that things are serious, and our great numbers in the streets are our only protection. This will continue until we achieve the minor request of announcement of election fraud, or until people tire and move towards other methods. There is the possibility that those imprisoned remain there, that Moussavi is done away with by some means (exile, house arrest, etc), and that Ahmadinejad remains the illegitimate president of an unlawful dictatorship. If this happens, the next four years would mean major organizing in the underground and a new stage in Iranian political activism. One thing is sure: people are no longer going to accept the self-censorship or fear that has been imposed upon them. It is already easier to speak to people on the street and in shops without wondering if they work for the secret service, or if they will tell the police. Our collective trauma from SAVAK times, and mainly from the Islamic form of ideology and socio-political cleansing that has taken place for the last 30 years, persists today. Yesterday was a reminder of that.

In addition to this psychological war that the regime wages upon us by cutting our connection to the outside world, and to each other, there are a number of ways that we are threatened. I cannot go into detail now, but starting yesterday morning, our house received phone calls every 15 minutes from an unknown number. The caller ID showed a number with many zeros at the end, which from our experience means that the secret service or police are trying to get in touch. We did not answer, and luckily I had taken all my videotapes and other things to another house, but there is a still a feeling of insecurity. Like many others in the city, our house had become a sort of unofficial ‘newsroom’ with people coming in and out, working, making phone calls, emailing, and sleeping in different spots around the house. We decided to calm things, now that Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and blogging have made it possible to announce our resistance to the world. But this is precisely what we are worried about, that the psychological games of the regime and the disappearances and arrests will begin again, at an even harsher intensity.

Last night Bassijis were roaming the neighborhood, going into some homes to gather satellite dishes. We got rid of a lot of things, hiding others. This is what will begin happening; and paranoia will set in again. We can already feel it. Now we have word that some of the reformists and other political figures are saying that they should put an end to the direct opposition to the Supreme Leader. This is disheartening for us. Right now, there is definitely a threat to the tight grip that Khamenei maintains over the people, and within the hierarchical structure of the Republic; a threat as well to the pillars of the 1979 revolution. As of today, we have reports of 500 people arrested: political leaders, students, activists, journalists, and others who have been suspected of dissent. The latest news is that the French Embassy in Tehran has been attacked. Fifteen members of our Documentary Filmmakers Association have been arrested in the streets since Saturday, despite having official permits to film in the streets. Many of them were beaten by plainclothes police or Bassijis, and their homes have been raided. There is a harsh crackdown. I am debating on leaving soon, before it becomes impossible to do so. We are strategizing, trying to be pragmatic, and intelligent. It is a hard situation to judge.

9 thoughts on “TEHRAN: DISPATCH # 11”

  1. jesus. hard to imagine. posting this far and wide. good to know some people are fighting for change even when others are accepting blind desecration of the constitution.

  2. your opening comments are deeply insightful and articulate. intimacy is hard. changing the world that affects us everyday takes courage. thanks for your blog, i enjoy the light with the heavy, a little food for my brains.

  3. A very insightful up-to-the-minute post – one of the best I’ve read in the past 24 hours. I would contend that NYC also has legal squats and a large loft arts scene. Despite our many mutual broke friends, there are many others we know still making above-average salaries here. It’s also definitely one of the most activist left-leaning cities in the country. To accuse New Yorkers of complacency amid a wave of gentrification, a terrorist attack and a recession isn’t fair. There has been a very resilient community of New Yorkers who have made this city a vibrant place in the past decade. As far as social nets, at least we voted for Obama…

  4. “best post of the past 24 hours” – man, that’s high praise! 🙂

    but i wasnt accusing NYers of complacency… more of a questioning call to focus on local action, whereever one happens to be.

    & your point is v. true – NYC still has a nice left lean

  5. A very thoughtful post, seemingly free of unnecessary additives or an agenda other than that of the common man with legitimate concerns for his friends, family, neighbours, countrymen and woman.

  6. The personal dimension of this is so important. No one wants to get beat up or jailed. Super reality. I really hope that Iran can get out from under the current regime and inch towards something new.

  7. >>It is so easy to change your Twitter icon to green and read newsfeeds… the hard thing is anything else, information into action.

    This sentence is something I have been looping in my head for a while. Yesterday I was talking to my partner, and trying to understand what the broader influence if any these actions have. I don’t think that they do, or at least I can’t explain how they do, but I am desperate to do something. But as a citizen in Canada, how can I grow intimate with a country and people that I don’t know…how can I have compassion that isn’t superficial? Where does this compassion lead? because I’m not interested in helping so I can feel better, or because I feel “bad” for them, but because I want this to stop. Yet, I am unwilling to risk any part of my life for it.

    I’m torn… thank you for giving me this space to say it.

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