Letter from Tehran

A friend who wishes to remain anonymous e-mails from Tehran: It’s been nearly a week of nighttime riots and daytime protests. At night things seem to have quieted down just a bit here, although I should say that I’m not going all over the city looking for a fight after dark. This is mostly due ...

A friend who wishes to remain anonymous e-mails from Tehran:

It’s been nearly a week of nighttime riots and daytime protests. At
night things seem to have quieted down just a bit here, although I
should say that I’m not going all over the city looking for a fight
after dark. This is mostly due to the checkpoints everywhere. The
checkpoints that I’ve seen so far are not run by the police at all –
they’re basij — one of the few militia groups that run around the
country "keeping things (Islamically – the way the IRI likes it)
safe." It’s true that a lot of the young men who get pulled into the
basij do it for the ‘benefits’ like getting into college and finding a
job and maybe even because all their friends are doing it, but times like this seem to really put one’s commitment to the test. A few blocks before the checkpoint traffic is directed over to one lane and you are instructed to drive past a number of men who are oftentimes camouflaged and usually have batons and occasionally a machine gun.

If you’re lucky one of these men will ask you where you’re going and what you’re doing and where you’ve been, and if you’re really lucky, he’ll tell you to pull over, whence you’ll be asked by a fatter man the same questions. If you’re really, really lucky you’ll then have your car searched, while you stand aside and see how long your luck will last.

The past two nights the car I was in made it to stage two, i.e. the second man — older and fatter — who repeats the same questions, but our luck ended there and we were told to go along. I don’t know if it helped that all four of us were on the verge of shitting ourselves from fear and shouting out our excuses, but we weren’t searched.

If you’re having trouble picturing what this is like, imagine this: an
America where the neo-cons are running things and, after an election where they don’t like the results and the ensuing unrest in the country, they call upon the most right-wing, conservative, crazy men to make sure the streets are safe. These men are given uniforms, batons, shields, guns, and authority. Some are told to stay at a certain position; others are told to drive around with their friends on their motorcycles in big, noisy packs. This is fairly similar to what’s going on here – only these guys are way hairier.

If you think this sounds both ridiculous and terrifying, you’re right.

Just to reinforce that last point, let me tell you what happened to a friend of a friend last night. He and his wife were driving home when they came across a checkpoint and were told to pull over. A boy not older than thirteen and dressed in camouflage then came over and asked the man who was driving for his documentations for his car. The man told him to go get someone older because he wasn’t about to have to prove his ownership of the vehicle to a middle-school-aged child. A few minutes later an older basiji came over and asked for the documents, and then asked the man to open the trunk. He found a poster of Mousavi and started giving the driver trouble and asking him why he has this poster. He responded by saying that it was from before the election and, anyway, since when was it a problem to have a poster of a presidential candidate who declared the not-president less than a
week ago? After a short argument and torn poster the man was told to go on his way. Pretty lucky considering what could have happened.

Anyway, tonight, unlike the previous two nights, mobile phones worked past 6:00pm (with the exception of text messaging, of course). There have been two more huge rallies during the day in support of Mousavi in Tehran and Saturday there is supposed to be another one. Tomorrow everyone is to stay in. As for the nighttime street chaos – two nights ago in the western part of the city apparently all hell broke loose and people blew up a few cars and tore up sidewalks to throw at the militias who ran away.

No one seems to know how long this will go on for or what the end
result will be. The optimists think it will lead to definite changes,
while the pessimists are waiting for the government to crackdown hard and start killing. The next few days should be quite telling.

And here’s an earlier dispatch from June 17:

This is a protest. No slogans. No shouting. Be quiet. This was the only noise that I heard yesterday — June 16th — on Valiasr Street in Tehran. The crowd wasn’t as large as the prior day where perhaps a million people gathered between Azadi and Enqelab
Squares, but it was significant. It filled the street for over a couple kilometers and brought traffic and business to a total standstill; thousands of people and not a single scream or one person shouting slogans. Those are to be saved for the rooftop, at night from 10:30 — 12:00.

I don’t know what media there is saying, but there is a marked
difference between these protests and what goes on at night. The
burning of tires, clashes with the Basijis, and general destruction
that has taken place isn’t what these people are going for.

Everyone that I spoke with condemned that and most of them questioned who the real perpetrators of it have been. Even the official televised news denies that the people who have broken bank windows and burned cars are real supporters of Mousavi. Of course, this is immediately before they tell everyone that Obama and the presidents of most European countries support the rioters, who are enemies of the state.

Don’t listen to anything that that tells you that the green movement here wants to get rid of the Islamic part of the Islamic Republic of Iran. From what I can tell, people want reforms and change – not upheaval. They don’t buy the numbers that the government has fed them from the election and they’re not about to stop and step aside. I don’t know how long this will go on, but I don’t think it’s about to stop soon.

Those who have questioned the legitimacy of this movement seem to conveniently overlook the fact that the state is doing all it can to shut everyone up. Yesterday, in addition to blocking SMS messages – which has been going on since Friday – all mobile phone service in Tehran was cut off until the morning. BBC Persian is completely jammed and even with a filter breaker it’s very difficult to get a decent internet connection. If you’re wondering where the pictures are, this is the reason.

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