18 March, 2005

The Fire in Iran

ISFAHAN — Iranian authorities beat up and tear gassed exuberant young revellers as they breathed new life into a pre-Islamic fire festival with a night of dancing, flirting and fireworks. The Islamic Republic, which has an awkward relationship with its ancient Zoroastrian religion, only gave guarded recognition to the "Chaharshanbe Souri" festival last year.
The Islamic republic does not have "an awkward relationship" with Zoroastrianism. It forbids Zoroastrian practices, including the celebration of the Zoroastrian New Year, Norooz. Forget about "guarded recognition;" there is a ban. The mullahs know something that al-Reuters apparently either doesn’t know, or doesn’t choose to report: that there is a big Zoroastrian revival under way in Iran, another sign of the hollowness of the Islamic republic, and the hostility of the Iranian people to their leaders. And to say that the authorities "beat up and gassed" some "revelers" is quite an understatement, since, on the evening of March 15h, there were very large-scale demonstrations all over Iran, combining the Norooz celebrations with calls for the downfall of the regime itself. Effigies of top mullahs were burned in the streets. But al-Reuters makes it sound like a frat party that just got a bit out of hand:

Hundreds of people poured onto the streets in Tehran and other cities for a rare night of partying. Public revelry is unusual in Iran where the authorities consider it to be at odds with the country's strict moral codes.

The IRNA news agency said police used tear gas in more than four places in Tehran. Vigilantes were also seen beating up a group of boys in the central city of Isfahan.

The Iranian student group headquartered in Texas provides us with a considerably more accurate — if somewhat ungrammatical — picture:
These clashes happened as brutal militiamen attacked Iranians who transformed the already hardly tolerated celebration into protest action and show of "un-Islamic" joy. Most areas of the Capital and cities, such as, Esfahan, Mahabad, Shiraz, Rasht, Kermanshah, Babol, Sannandaj, Dezful, Mashad, Ahwaz, Marivan, Khoram-Abad, Zabol, Baneh, Tabriz, Hamedan and Oroomiah (former Rezai-e) were scenes of sometimes unprecedented street fights between the regime forces and groups of Iranians.

In fact, according to Iranians with whom I have spoken, there were monster demonstrations in eleven provinces and 37 cities, and many thousands — one source said more than 30,000 — people were arrested, some only briefly, others shipped off to the infamous prisons and torture chambers of the regime. The most dramatic events took place in Shiraz, where the demonstrators directed a chant toward Washington: "Bush, you told us to rise up, and so we have. Why don’t you act?"

Which is precisely the right question. The president publicly promised the Iranian people that the United States would support them if they acted to win their own freedom, and the Iranians are now calling on Bush to make good on that promise.

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