12 August 2011

The Threat of Violence in Iran: Perception vs. Reality

Recently, last week in fact, I was accused in an argument of advocating violence in Iran because I support the same freedom and human dignity for the people of Iran which citizens in Tunisia and Egypt have achieved, and which those of Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Morocco, Spain, Jordan, Palestine, Algeria, Kurdistan, Shia regions of Saudi Arabia, Libya, and a growing number of countries are currently striving to obtain.

Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami, and other reformist figures inside and outside the Islamic Republic have frequently warned potential demonstrators of the likelihood of massive violence being inflicted against them.  This occurred most intensely in the lead up 22 Bahman, or 11 February, in 2010, the 30th anniversary Revolution Day.  Mousavi even recommended marchers leave off symbols and other identifying markers (specifically mentioning the color green).  In the face of these hysterical warnings of shock and awe, one student planning to attend remarked, “Scare us with silence, but not with death”.

In truth, for all its very real brutality and viciousness, that of the regime and its minions is far less than its neighbors.  During the rising in Tunisia, from the self-immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi on 17 December through the abdication and flight of Ben Ali on 14 January, security forces killed 219 persons.  During the rising in Egypt, from the time protestors first gathered in Tahrir Square on 25 January until Mubarak stepped down as president on 11 February, security forces reportedly killed 840 persons.  Since the ongoing rising in Syria began on 26 January, security forces have killed more than 900 persons (as of August 2011 when this was first written; current UN figures are 5,000 opposition deaths to 2,000 for the regime's forces.  The opposition claims the figure for them and civilians is higher than 10,000.  Refugees numbers in the hundreds of thousands.).

By contrast, since the start of anti-regime protests 13 January 2009, when a 10-year old boy named Mohammad died from gunshot wounds on Ganji Street in Tehran, through the Ahwazi “Day of Rage” on 15 April 2011, confirmed deaths by security forces in Iran total 166 persons by name, with another possible 38 persons whose name are unknown, and if these are included, the number of persons killed reaches 204.

In other words, in nearly two years, fewer persons in Iran have been killed by security forces in relation to protests and demonstrations than in the single month of protests in Tunisia, and just one-fourth the number of those killed by security forces in Egypt during three weeks of the rising there.

Even on the most intense day of protests, Ashura (27 December) 2009, when hundreds of thousands of protestors marched in the streets, in which many violently defended themselves against physical attacks and the regime very nearly fell, only ten (as high as 43 were reported but only 10 confirmed) died at the hands of police and Basiji.

A body count of 166, or 204, is still too high.  A body count of even one person merely claiming their rights and dignity, and calling for democracy, is too high, whether in Iran or in any other country.  But the comparison shows that the regime’s forces are not nearly as bloodthirsty as those of its neighbors.

I am not trying to encourage a false sense of security in anyone in Iran.  If you go out for a protest or demonstration or take part in a strike or any other form of nonviolent struggle for your rights, you will be confronted, and possibly chased, tear-gassed, beaten, arrested, jailed, interrogated, starred, imprisoned, or maybe even killed. 

I have never recommended to any of my friends or anyone else that they go out, and have on occasion suggested instead they should stay home on specific days.  On the other hand, I have also never tried to discourage anyone from going out who is determined to do so with dire warnings of certain mass slaughter.  Because it is not my freedom which is at stake, but that of all of you in Iran.

When Google executive and Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim was asked about the turning point in Egypt’s recent revolution, he said, “We knew we would win when people began to break through the psychological barrier, when they decided that it was better to die for a cause than to live without dignity...We're stronger than those [Mubarak's] guys because they fear for their lives while we're ready to give ours.”

“Scare us with silence, but not with death.”

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