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Neda: Voice of Freedom

By Maryam Fakhar, Virginia

Girl shouting in Tehran. Courtesy of Womens' Freedom Forum

Exactly 28 years after the June 20 (1981) massacre of peaceful protesters against the Iranian clerical regime, dark smoke billowed over the country again when a young woman named Neda Agha Soltan was gunned down on the streets of Tehran. Neda was peacefully demonstrating against the outcome of the Iranian elections and was seen by the regime as challenging the sacrosanct authority of the supreme leader.

In monolithic religious thought, those who die in the struggle for justice shall always bear witness. Indeed, with her untimely death Neda (Neda means "voice" in Persian) has come to symbolize those who have sacrificed their lives for freedom in Iran. Perhaps unwittingly, she has also cemented June 20 as a defining day in the history of the Iranian people's resistance against religious dictatorship.

Neda, a university student who was majoring in Islamic philosophy was shot in the chest by a government sniper - June 20 (2009). Her death - viewed throughout the world in a grainy video shows the last two minutes of her life as her music teacher knelt over her saying, "Don't be afraid, don't be afraid,..., Neda dear, don't be afraid."

What is indeed ironic is that the world has not noted that June 20 seems to hold a particular significance in Iran. Many believe that the Islamic Republic, as we know it today, began on June 20, 1981 when clerical rule was in full swing - suffocating freedom of any kind under the weight of a dictatorship cloaked in religion.

When the Iranian people took to the streets in 1981, they were unequivocally rejecting the newly installed theocratic government. On that faithful day, more than half a million Iranians converged on the capital's main thoroughfares, chanting slogans against the regime and demanding political freedoms. In that public display of peaceful dissent, the vast network of Iran's main opposition group led by the People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) managed to galvanize people against an increasingly violent regime.

Then, too, government's response shocked Iranians. Under orders from the supreme leader, then Ayatollah Khomeini, security forces moved in to crush the march. The newly instituted Revolutionary Guards and Basiji forces used guns, knives, clubs, cutters, and acid. Women were particularly brutalized. Many had their faces slashed or burnt by acid.

Photographs, eyewitness accounts, and media reports bore witness to the violence carried out and foretold the bloody massacre that soon followed. Across the country, thousands were executed. The regime closed down newspapers and openly thwarted the all opposition.

At many intersections in Tehran as well as in cities across Iran, security forces used tear gas and opened fire on peaceful demonstrators. The next day, summary trials began and firing squads were formed. As countless dead bodies mounted, many without identification, the regime used newspaper announcements and published pictures of the slain to send a message to others as well as to inform unsuspecting family members of what had happened to their loved ones.

"In monolithic religious thought, those who die in the struggle for justice shall always bear witness." -Maryam Fakhar

Eerily analogous to the present day uprising, the supreme leader has realized that without an all-out suppression of political dissent through violence and imprisonment, the nationwide demonstration would bring him down. Yet, despite government brutality and violence there has been an escalation of post-election protests in Iran that reaffirm that change is coming. Indeed, the regime's illegitimacy, political decay, as well as the widening gap between the people and the ruling theocracy is no longer lost on any Iranian.

Western democracies must now take note. The Iranian people are yearning for freedom and democracy, not staged elections, phony candidates, or nuclear bombs. Simply stated, the current uprising is the culmination of three decades of struggle against the clerical rule.

Clearly Iran's leaders are ill-prepared to accommodate these democratic ambitions, especially the demographically and culturally significant roles that Iranian women are demanding. Over the past 30 years, clerics have institutionalized misogyny and sexual discrimination in every aspect of Iranian society. Most recently, they sanctioned a Western style portrayal of young women in fabricated campaign rallies but also authorized unspeakable violence against them afterward.

Yet, the highly educated and involved youth in Iran are visibly transcending this theocracy and they are demanding that the world condemn the regime for its bloody and ultra-suppressive ways. They want the democracies of the West to stop all political, diplomatic and economic relations with the Iranian regime until the U.N can supervise a new election. Additionally, they want the UN Security Council to hold government officials accountable for the deaths as well as the brutal violence against the peaceful protesters.

While few predicted this uprising there is little doubt of the regime's fate. The cyber-revolution has empowered a new generation of Iranian youths. Unlike the protests that took place in 1981, these peaceful demonstrations have exposed the ultra-oppressive tactics of the medieval-styled Iranian regime.

System-wide change in Iran is inevitable, despite the predictably high human cost that is being paid with increased bloodshed across the country. Although the demonic authoritarian rulers in Iran will attempt to portray strength, change is unavoidable.

With their blood 28 years ago, the youth in Iran denounced religious tyranny and planted the seeds of freedom. Today, the end of the clerical regime - an isolated, militarized, and uni-polarized religious fascism - is in sight.

The international community must quickly come to terms with this important dynamic. No longer can any nation justify appeasing Iran, or legitimizing its barbaric leaders. History and the slain will bear witness that all who do, shall forever be condemned by the Iranian people.

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