I see the moment we are witnessing as a civil rights movement rather than a push to topple the regime. If Rosa Parks was the American “mother of the civil rights movement,” the young woman who was killed point blank in the course of a demonstration, Neda Agha-Soltan, might very well emerge as its Iranian granddaughter.
All I can do is watch, listen, and maybe learn something. But it’s no surprise the results of the Iranian election would be deemed certifiable. This week the Guardian Council made it official that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the winner of the Presidential elections.
For now the crackdown on demonstrations, press, and opposition in Iran appears to have successfully imposed a new order, but still leaves open questions or wounds about the future of the Islamic Republic. It’s still a story without an ending. But who’s story is it? How will the story of the last several weeks be told, and in what form or medium? I’m always interested in the artistic responses in these matters.
The National Iranian American Council’s “Insight blog” (a good source for up-to-date information) noted this graphic of the Ayatollah Khomeini on Mousavi’s Facebook page.
Translated – “The measure of a nation is its vote.” Here is an artistic interpretation on the theme of “Remember where you came from.” In this case the 1979 revolution that created the Islamic Republic.
Persianesque.com, a “modern on-line Iranian magazine,” is posting cultural and artistic responses to recent events in Iran.
Earlier posts include a photo montage edited to the song “The Owner of this Land” by Hamed Nikpay. Nikpay was born in Iran and lives in southern California. He incorporates traditional Persian music into his work. On the musician’s URL page for “The Owner of this Land” is the video and this dedication:
“With pride and humility, I dedicate this song to the memory of those who lost their lives, and to the courageous men and women of Iran who have put their lives in the harms way to continue the struggle for democracy with unbreakable resolve and unshakable determination.” – Hamed
I’m going to pass on Wyclef Jean and his YouTube video singing a song he composed for the Iranian people that transitions to Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.” Bon Jovi has stepped up to the plate with a little of the same but invites a popular Iranian artist, Andy Madadian, to join him in singing “Stand By Me” in Persian with Richie Sambora.
And Joan Baez loaded her own video singing the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” recorded in what appears to be her home kitchen. Baez’s voice always has a melodic ring of clarity. She also sings the chorus in Persian/Farsi. Baez’s video is a reminder that the U.S. civil rights movement was not about overthrowing the government, but to bring the government and the country closer to living up to the promise and principles on which the democratic nation was founded.
One band may break out from just a one-video wonder at least on this side of the ocean. The Freedom Glory Project featuring Raam, the lead singer from the Tehran underground band Hypernova.
[Hypernova will perform in Washington, DC July 18 at Rock N Roll Hotel, 1353 H Street, NE.]
At this point it’s unclear if a “We Are the World” campaign will get the reform movement to the mountain top especially if the message is coming from outsiders. Iranian citizens have already willingly put their own bodies on the line for reform.
But if this movement will be televised on YouTube, what does it mean for communities outside Tehran and other major cities that remain unplugged? And the use of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube shouldn’t be misinterpreted as an open invitation to the U.S. to meddle. (Is this the first time I’ve heard the word “meddling” used in official policy terms?)
There’s a sour history between the U.S.A. and Iran going back to 1953 when the U.S. instrumented a coup on their democratically elected president installing the Shah. That led to the 1979 Revolution resulting in the hostage situation at the U.S. Embassy and the creation of the Islamic Republic. Hopefully, recent events have pushed the mute button on “bomb, bomb Iran” Obviously, not so for former UN Ambassador John Bolton clearly humming the melody and signaling Israel to sing the chorus. (See the Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post.) A “Don’t take the bombing personally. It’s your regime we don’t like” sentiment.
Poetry has a long an beautiful history in Iranian and Persian culture. John Lundberg who blogs on Huffington Post highlights poetry emerging from the “Revolution” (those are his words). Among the scribes is candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi’s wife Zahra.
Let the wolves know that in our tribe
If the father dies, his gun will remain
Even if all the men of the tribe are killed
A baby son will remain in the wooden cradle.
Another is Sholeh Wolpe, an Iranian American residing in California wrote a poem for Neda Agha Soltan, the 26-year-old Iranian student whose shooting death during a demonstraton was captured on citizen video and posted on YouTube.
I Am Neda
Leave the Basiji bullet in my heart,
fall to prayer in my blood,
and hush, father
–I am not dead.
More light than mass,
I rise through you,
breathe with your eyes,
stand in your shoes, on the rooftops,
in the streets, march with you
in the cities and villages of our country
shouting through you, with you.
I am Neda–thunder on your tongue.
Ahmadinejad has also taken creative control over Neda’s story vowing to find her “real killer,” according to reports. So far the doctor who came to help her aid is now being recast as an “enemy of the state.” This is like someone buying the movie rights to your life story and changing the characters for dramatic effect. In the first rewrite the script casts doubt on what people actually saw. Where did the bullet enter? Where was the shooter? What was the make of the gun? How did her body move upon impact? Back and to the left. Back and to the left. Now watch the video again. It would make Oliver Stone’s head spin. The final draft or shooting script for Neda’s story will most likely remove any and all traces of martyrdom.
Contradiction becomes its own art form in this story.
If there’s an American poem that might resonate with it’s “If We Must Die,” written in 1919 by the Jamaican-born Harlem Renassance poet Claude McKay (1889 – 1948). McKay composed the poem in response to the race riots in the U.S. where white assailants terrorized black neighborhoods.
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
Could be the voices crying “Allah-o Akbar!” from the rooftops into the night air, has returned as the spoken word of this generation’smoment.
Update: Also, check out Persian Arts Festival News for upcoming events, performances and exhibits on-line and off.