Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Disturbing Reports Coming From Iran

Looking for truth in the news media is like buying bootleg cigarettes in New York City. Anyone can find it. You just have to know where to look. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Iran. I shared with millions of concerned Americans the misconception that Mousawi was a candidate favoured by the Iranian yuppies and Ahmadinejad was a working class favourite. In my daily search for new information about the sitution, I found an article by a specialist in Iran whose focus was on rural Iran. His name is Eric Hooglund. I consider myself fortunate to have found his article, in which he lays to rest widespread misconceptions about Iran.

Hooglund starts off with the surprising information that only 35% of Iran's population is rural. This immediately affects vote calculations for the rural areas, which were supposedly Ahmadinejad strongholds. What separated Hooglund from the mass of talking heads speaking about Iran is his fluency in Farsi and his focus is on the rural areas. In his article, he describes speaking with villagers in Bagh e Iman, a village of about 850 families near Shiraz. In the shocking dispatch from the small town, Hooglund validated Ahmadinejad's claim of a two thirds majority. The only problem for Ahmadinejad is that the lopsided plurality was for Mousawi. Hooglund reported as follows in his article.

"Take Bagh-e Iman, for example. It is a village of 850 households in the Zagros Mountains near the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz. According to longtime, close friends who live there, the village is seething with moral outrage because at least two-thirds of all people over 18 years of age believe that the recent presidential election was stolen by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

When news spread on Saturday (June 13) morning that Ahmadinejad had won more than 60 percent of the vote cast the day before, the residents were in shock. The week before the vote had witnessed the most intense campaigning in the village’s history, and it became evident that support for Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s candidacy was overwhelming. Supporters of Ahmadinejad were even booed and mocked when they attempted rallies and had to endure scolding lectures from relatives at family gatherings. “No one would dare vote for that hypocrite,” insisted Mrs. Ehsani, an elected member of the village council.

The president was very unpopular in Bagh-e Iman and in most of the other villages around Shiraz, primarily because of his failure to deliver on the reforms he promised in his successful 2005 presidential campaign. He did have some supporters. Village elders confided, “10 to 15 percent of village men, mostly [those who were] Basijis [militia members] and those who worked for government organizations, along with their families.”

The voting patterns in Bagh e Iman were not a statistical anomaly. The economic concerns of villages in the region as well as their dissatisfaction were regional concerns. A general sense of excitement about the election prevailed as well as a sense that the will of the village would be known when the ballots would be counted. In the past, counting of ballots was transparent. The polls would close at the appointed time and the counting would be a public affair. Last June 12, it became readily apparent to the villagers of Bagh e Iman that something was terribly wrong. Hooglund describes what happened as follows.

"By Saturday evening, the shock and disbelief had given way to anger that slowly turned into palpable moral outrage over what came to be believed as the theft of their election. The proof was right in the village: “Interior Ministry officials came from Shiraz, sealed the ballot boxes, and took then away even before the end of voting at 9 pm,” said Jalal. In all previous elections, a committee comprised of representative from each political faction had counted and certified the results right in the village. The unexpected change in procedures caught village monitors off guard, as it did everywhere else in the country."

Hooglund describes demonstrations in Shiraz in which some participants had come from distant villages. The demonstrations "attracted carloads of supporters from Bagh-e Iman and other villages, including several that were 60 kilometers from Shiraz. "

The information in Hooglund's article has a resonance to it. I wonder how much the reporters know who are not being permitted to leave their studio. How many actually go off the beaten path? How many network reporters know Farsi?

News is coming out of Iran. I pulled up the following letter from a student from from a socialist website. The anonymous writer had been to demonstrations and reported interesting and disturbing developments. In one case, he alleges that Revolutionary Guards were arrested for passing out arms to rebels. He reports as follows.

"University students are still under attack: two students were thrown off the roof of a building today at Tehran University; the director of Shiraz University resigned; at least 50 reformist leaders have been arrested; police still have an order to kill; SMS messaging, and also cell phone communications are shut down; internet is sporadically closed or slowed with parasites; the spokesperson of the Ministry of the Interior was arrested, most likely because he would have let out some unpleasant information.

These events will accumulate, the country, as we know it, is falling apart, and things are happening.

Two bits of information, one funny and one with exciting prospects:

1) State television continued to publish its phone number at the bottom of the screen, and read SMS messages that they apparently received today; although ALL SMS has been shut down since Saturday!! An oversight or just plain stupidity. Doesn't matter, we had a laugh. This gives you a sense of how the country is run with lies.

2) Sixteen members of the Revolutionary Guard were arrested today for trying to give arms to people within the opposition. Three of these men were veterans of the Iran-Iraq war."

15 June: Today, at least 1 million people gathered for a 'silent' march from Revolution Square to Freedom Square. The crowd, which filled the wide avenue, extended further, and at one point it became impossible to move forward. There are no official figures (and those would of course be disputable), but I have never seen a demonstration like this in my life, anywhere!

People walked silently, hands raised. We had been warned to stay indoors, as the police have orders to fire live bullets, and this being Iran, we take that for exactly what it means, but people did not listen.

As night fell, and the crowd dispersed, Bassiji militiamen opened fire on the crowd, killing one (his photo is circulating) and many were injured. The city took flames again, but by this point I had come home. In our neighborhood, there were Bassijis stationed with police at the major square north of the house, pushing people and hitting cars with batons, telling people to go home. Again at 9:30 pm, people made their way to the rooftops to cry out, "Allah Akbar" and "Death to Dictatorship". We heard shots that sounded like tear gas pellets (although they are using some strange nerve gas or other chemical agent, not tear gas) but also live fire.

For those who are willing to look, there are blockbuster allegations out there that must be checked.

1) Our demographic information is way off. The countryside is smaller than we thought, and it is against the government.
2) The protestors want systemic change. and not a tuneup.
3)The demonstration against the government earlier this week had a million participants.
4) Nerve gas might have been used against demonstrators.
5) Revolutionary Guards were caught passing arms to rebels. This means that the government might be fragmenting.

Is anyone checking this out? Has anyone gotten out of their hotel and talked to some of these people? There is a major upheaval going on in Iran right now. As David Duchovny says on X Files, "The Truth is Out There."

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