Late last month at the end of the holy Islamic holiday of Ramadan, the Iranian government rolled out their 30 year old traditional national holiday called “Al Quds Day”. Filled with hateful anti-Semitic propaganda, the entire day through out Iran is typically dedicated to bashing Israel as well as the United States for their “crimes against the innocent Palestinian people”. Yet this year, the tables were suddenly turned against the Iranian regime when the hundreds of thousands of protestors in the streets did not join in the hate rhetoric against Israel and the U.S. as originally planned.
As a journalist fluent in the Persian language, I witnessed history in the making while watching videos on youtube.com of hundreds of thousands of young Iranian protestors who filled the streets of Tehran on Al Quds Day not to chant “death to Israel and America”, but instead chanting “death to Russia and death to China” during their demonstrations. One may wonder what young Iranians suddenly have against Russia and China when their own government has long been calling for the annihilation of Israel and America? The answer to this perplexing question is very clear— young Iranians have cleverly found a way to express their displeasure with their own government by hijacking the state-run holiday of Al Quds Day! Iranian student opposition members I recently interviewed via telephone informed me that they chanted “death to Russia and death to China” because these two countries have been the only major economic and political forces in the world keeping the teetering repressive Iranian regime in power during the last 15 years. Likewise Russian and Chinese military advisors have provided weapons and training to Iranian government thugs who have cracked down on student protestors recently in the streets. But Al Quds Day was not only used this year by student protestors to speak out against Russia and China, but for the larger purpose of sending the regime in Tehran the larger message that the majority of Iranians living in the country were unhappy with their government. Average Iranians want greater freedoms with a real democratic government that truly represents and addresses their needs.
For a month and half before this year’s Al Quds Day, during Iran’s traditional Friday prayers (also known as Namaz-e-Jomay), where Iranian Shiites have prayed in mass numbers together, the first signs of student opposition groups post-election vocal displeasure with the government began. Traditionally since the start of Iran’s revolution in 1979, a government appointed “propaganda cheerleader” has stood in front of praying crowds and chanted “death to Israel and death to America” and the crowds have always responded back with the same chant. Yet this year when the propaganda cheerleader shouted the same chant, the crowds surprisingly responded with chants of “death to Russia and death to China”. A youtube.com video shot during one Friday prayer secession also showed a large number of both young adult Iranian males and females dressed in Western garb, sitting next to each other during the Friday prayers in the streets and wearing their shoes! All three of these things are not only religiously taboo but in clear violation of Iran’s radical Islamic laws that call for women and men to sit separately during prayers, not to wear Western garb and to remove their shoes before praying. These recent trends by young Iranians are simply incomprehensible to average Iranians over the age of 30 living in Iran. Most older Iranians in Iran have long been kept in check by their repressive government that has chocked personal freedoms in the country and shoved radical Islamic theology down the population’s throat.
Yet now, unlike in past years, it seems as if the Iranian government is slowly loosing its grip of controlling the young masses with their propaganda and violent crackdowns on dissidents. The hundreds of thousands of young protestors in the streets and the millions of young Iranians under the age of 30 in country clearly out number official police or military forces. Plus savvy young Iranians have finally learned to beat the current Iranian regime’s system by manipulating it to their benefit. A clear example of this method of “fighting the system” from within was made clear to me by one student protestor I recently interviewed via telephone from Iran. She told me that when an Iranian Shiite mullah demanded that she remove her shoes during the traditional Friday prayers, she cleverly retorted; “did the late Ayatollah Khomeini not release an edict during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s that soldiers fighting in the front lines did not have to remove their boots for prayers? Well then, if I am following the Ayatollah’s edict, why do you have a problem with me?” This clever approach by young people in Iran reveals that they are exposing the hypocrisy of their own government and have slowly engaged in a non-violent civil disobedience campaign similar to those carried out by Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to fight their oppressive system from within.
Another interesting phenomenon of the Al Quds Day counter-protests by student opposition groups in Iran is that they are voicing their anger with their government’s squandering of billions of petro-dollars to funds terrorist groups like Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. Finally, young Iranians in Iran are waking up and furious at the fact that their regime spends all these funds to help fuel hate, violence and destruction elsewhere in the world when the same funds could more wisely be spent to improve the lives of average folks living in Iran. One youtube.com video I recently watched from Iran showed thousands of young Iranian protestors in Tehran chanting in unison “Not Lebanon! Not Gaza! We will sacrifice our lives only for Iran!” These average Iranians are furious at the fact that their government has spent billions of petro-dollars to help rebuild roads, bridges and other infrastructure of Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon following the 2006 war that that terrorist group had with Israel, when all the while major southwestern cities like Khorramshar in Iran have still not been rebuilt by the regime 21 years after the Iran-Iraq war! It’s no wonder average Iranians today are not participating in Al Quds Day for “Palestinian suffering” when they have double digit unemployment, double digit inflation and lack basic foods available to them at home. The inability to make ends meet has left people in Iran to take extreme measures in order to survive with many women resorting to prostitution in order to feed their families and men to even sell their organs in order to pay their bills! Another Iranian student opposition leader I spoke to recently said; “we realize the true hypocrisy of the Iranian government officials because they claim they are defending an ‘oppressed Palestinian’ people in Gaza when their own thugs oppress and kill fellow Iranians living here in Iran!”
What policy advisors in Washington D.C. and media pundits in the U.S. do not seem to realize is that the “Green Movement” that began with the “reformists” candidates in Iran like Mousavi, Kharoubi and Rafsanjani during the recently July elections has now escalated and transformed within the last two months. Student protestors in Iran are no longer listening to these “reformists” nor following the direction of these party leaders. Protestors have moved on and are quietly forming the beginnings of a more powerful movement for regime change in Iran through civil disobedience. Protestors are waking up to the reality that these “reformists” are just a part of the same apparatus and regime of the hardliners like Khamenei who want to keep the status quo instead of granting greater freedoms to average Iranians. Again, a prime example of this new “Green movement” transformation came during the recent Al Quds Day when thousands of protestors on the streets chanted “Rafsanjani, if you continue to keep silent you are a traitor!” For anyone just a year ago to utter such words in public would be grounds for their immediate execution by hanging for speaking treasonous words. Today the masses are shouting these slogans because they are simply fed up with the way the Iranian government officials have destroyed their lives. Ultimately what has transpired this past Al Quds Day may be the last if not one of the last of its kind in Iran as a new movement for greater democracy and freedom gains momentum in that country.
(This video posted on youtube.com from Iran shows the counter-Al Quds Day protests in the streets of Tehran).
(Another youtube.com video showing counter-Al Quds Day protests in Iran).
(Youtube.com video showing protestors during counter-Al Quds Day protests in the city of Esfahan).