Sabotaging the protesters
It is always irksome when mainstream Western media excitedly call a protest in the Middle East ‘peaceful,’ as though nonviolent civil disobedience is their invention alone and they are incredulous when Iranians or Arabs utilize it. But they have been largely ‘peaceful’ and many of them silent, probably based on Mousavi’s directives. Observers in Tehran put the protest count there today at 500,000.
But this is why solidarity is complex: the (courageous) people displaying their grievances face not only itinerant Basiji thugs but also vanguardism by people in their own ranks who try to sabotage their efforts, whether because violence captivates the camera or because the vanguard groups wish to forcibly control the streets.
No matter how hopeful or hopeless one is about what political effects the protests will have in the coming weeks–and my own barometer slides toward the latter, that the structure of the IRI will prove itself resilient to change–jeopardizing the efforts and lives of protesters through sabotage is happening. It is one physical manifestation of sabotage that is also flying off the handle on the web, such as loads of erroneous (and repeated) claims on Twitter.
Jila B. is a civil rights activist and journalist in Iran. Her perspective is as someone from within the crowd to other like-minded people within the crowd, which is why I like it so much: it’s not one of CNN’s iReports or heated Tweets. (Photo: Tehran, by Anonymous. Persian text by Jila B. originally forward to me by Sima. My translation below).
‘We were sitting in Azadi Square when all of a sudden I heard successive gunshot noises. Immediately after about 20 to 30 young people moved toward all the street corners from the square. They moved toward the crowd and started yelling, “Why are you sitting here? They have killed 7 people up there, let’s go take revenge for our brothers’ blood.”
‘Some people even had bloody cloths in their hands and said, “This is the blood of your brothers.” But these cloths did not look like actual pieces of clothes. Someone yelled, “I saw with my own eyes that the eye of one young man was taken out of its socket and fell on the ground.” On the whole their behavior and statements were strange, it seemed. Then again some people became emotional and started moving briskly toward street corners but others were gesturing, “Get back in the square!”
‘It seemed [the vanguards] could not or did not want to enter the throngs of thousands of people inside Azadi Square. My observations will become interesting to you when you know that Radio Payam constantly reported today that in the banned demonstrations yesterday [Monday] 7 people were killed. It seems that there is a strange insistence in creating the effects of fear and terror, and in the gatherings we should be cautious about not becoming emotionally trapped by those who persistently emphasize violence.
‘The clashes [dargheeree-ha] didn’t take place in the protests, but on Jenaah Street and in front of the Basiji [non-uniformed militiamen] post, where it is unclear why it was necessary. What I mean is that it is better that we don’t distance ourselves from the gathering of people and that we do not place ourselves near the Basij or at their stations. Yes, they have exceeding interest in harsh violence and they wouldn’t mind if we showed violence as well so that they can in return widely suppress the movement in 1360 [refers to suppression 28 years ago].
‘I think we should be vigilant and not let them make us fall into naive emotional traps, and there’s no telling where it comes from. I think being among the crowd is the safest and most secure. The more distance between us and the crowd, the easier we can be targeted by harsh and violent attacks. To those who are joining the protests please make sure you don’t get singled out. Stay with the crowd.’