I have been amazed by the remarkable images coming out of Iran. Not on the television or radio, but from Flickr, twitter and other social networking sites. Despite the efforts to abolish, or at least derail, protesters' communication with the outside world, there has been a strong, steady and revealing stream of information out of this closed country. The images are striking and often disturbing; but getting the truth out to the world is more possible than ever before due to this decentralization of media into the hands of the people.
It is a theocracy in Iran, but one that has, traditionally, been a relatively "civilized" place in the midst of the Middle East. A place with universities, a modern capitol city, libraries, cell phone and the Internet. I remember marveling with Iranian friends in high school that our grandmothers watched the same soap opera, "Days of Our Lives." This has been a country that has sent students abroad, and has not been terrified and dictatorial about Western influences being brought inside their borders. Quite a liberal outlook for the region.
But we are now seeing the line in the sand between theocracy and democracy being pushed, and now, as of this morning, just plain stepped over. There is a huge difference between the President stating that people should stay home and avoid protests and the Supreme Leader specifically spelling out the "Do Not Protest" message. It's a little like us Catholics going against The Pope over a political/religious issue (and there are many...another post for another time), if The Pope were heavily armed and ready to disperse our protests with force. There may be some give and take with the President, as he can throw the protesters a bone, but once you go against the Supreme Leader's decision, you are really taking on more than the status quo: this is the guy who has the Islamic Revolutionary Guards under his control. This is the kind of thing that reminds us how truly theocratic and dictatorial Iran truly is. A direct warning yesterday to cease and desist, and pure defiance of that order today. By the thousands.
Reports from Twitter, Flickr and Facebook now talk about the immediate danger that protesters face:
"They're using real bullets."
"Do not go to the hospital - injured protesters are being arrested."
"There is a military tank in Azadi Square."
"My leader is the innocent girl who was shot in cold blood if front of his father for freedom." "Useful Google Map: Embassies Accepting Injured in Iran."
There is fighting in the streets. People beaten and bloodied, men and women alike. Protesters are now chanting "Death to the Ayatollah." That is the first time in thirty years that the Supreme Leader himself is being threatened openly in the streets - there is no going back. The video coming in on YouTube is graphic and disturbing, and the story is growing before my eyes, faster than I can document it in print. The wave of this protest has become revolutionary overnight, and we witness it here in our own country with electronic media.
Violence is breaking out in Iran. But the world is watching, and it's going to be impossible to cover up what's happening by banning foreign media. The Citizen Journalists in Iran will make sure of that. This appears to be just the beginning...stay tuned to YouTube, Twitter and Flickr for further developments.