Monday, December 28, 2009

Ashura Protests and the Vicious Response

There has been more violence in Iran. Protesters and opposition members have been gathering on the streets for Ashura. Some of them were killed for it. (c/o Sully.) One of the people killed was Ali Mousavi, nephew of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, (quite probably) elected president of Iran.

And it looks like killing them was a big mistake:

Mr. Moussavi’s 43-year-old nephew Ali Moussavi was among 10 people reported killed during the protests, which came on religious holiday during which violence of any kind is normally forbidden, worsening the tensions in the conflict.

If the 10 deaths are confirmed, it would be the highest toll since the summer, when huge crowds took to the streets to protest what they said was rampant fraud in the presidential election won by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Protests and clashes were reported not only in Tehran, but in the cities of Isfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Arak, Tabriz, Najafabad, Babol, Ardebil and Orumieh. Foreign journalists have been banned from covering the protests, and the reports could not be independently verified.

The police used tear gas to disperse mourners who had gathered outside the Tehran hospital where Ali Moussavi’s body was being held, the Nowrooz Web site reported. A prominent opposition figure said that he was shot to death by assassins on Sunday, and that the authorities took his body to prevent a funeral ceremony.

A 27 year-old journalist who was reporting on the street clashes Sunday was also reported missing. Redha al-Basha has not been heard from, said a spokesman for Dubai TV, the channel he was working for. Mr. Basha was last seen surrounded by security forces in Tehran, witnesses said.

The decision by the authorities to use deadly force on the Ashura holiday, during which there is normally a prohibition on violence, infuriated many Iranians, and some said the violence appeared to galvanize more traditional religious people who had not previously been part of the protests.

The opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi was among those who lashed out at the authorities on Monday.

“What has happened to this religious system that it orders the killing of innocent people during the holy day of Ashura?” Mr. Karroubi said in a statement, according to the Jaras Web site.

The day commemorates the death of a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Hussein, whose followers formed the Shiite sect. The memory of Imam Hussein is so potent among Shiites that killing for any reason is strictly forbidden on Ashura, and Iranian leaders have always tried to avoid violence or even state executions during a two-month period surrounding the holiday, even during wartime.

This is absolutely astonishing. Ashura is a terribly serious day in Iran; the death of Ali Hussein is the vital difference between Shia and Sunni Islam. The mourning of the third Imam is so solemn that even music is frowned upon, let alone killing. To suppress protesters with brutal violence is bad enough; to execute a political assassination is almost unthinkable. Iran is a theocracy! they derive their right to govern from Shia Islam! If you undermine its most important traditions, it can't sustain itself.

At most it could endure as a dictatorship; but having ousted one dictator in order to install this Islamic government, I honestly doubt that Iranians would endure another for very long.

There is another issue. Andrew Sullivan (who has been all over this) has a list of arrested figures:

Ebrahim Yazdi (former Foreign Minister)
Emad-e’Din Baghi (Human Rights Activist)
Morteza Hadji (Minister of educaion during Khatami era)
Leila Tavassoli, daughter of Mohammad Tavassoli
Seyed Hosein Mousavi Tabrizi (Head of the clerical Association of Teachers and Researchers of Qom)
Alireza Beheshti Shirazi (Editor in Chief of Mousavi’s online journal Kalameh Sabz)
Ghorban Behzadian Nejad (Mousavi consultant)
Mohamad Bagherian (Mousavi consultant)
Rasouli (deputy of President Khatami’s Baran Foundation)
Forouzandeh (Manager of Mousavi’s office)
Mohammad Sadegh Rabbani (retired university professor who used to be the general prosecutor 20 years ago, arrested yesterday 27 December)
Mohammad Moin (son of former Presidential candidate Mostafa Moin, the former Minister of Science and higher education, arrested 27 December)
Heshmatollah Tabarzadi (Student Activist)
Haleh Sahabi (Women’s Rights activist)
Again, this damages their core credibility. Human rights violations aren't even the major issue; they are an issue, of course, but the country is a theocracy. It cannot even pretend to be a democracy. That ship sailed after the "election".

No, the major issue is that they exploited one of Shia Islam's most holy days for political ends. Killing, kidnapping, suppression, oppression, violence... all of these are bad enough, but to do them on a holy day that is (however you feel about the division in Islam) about standing up to all of these things is just insane.

For lack of a better word, it's perverse.

If you want to read more from Sully, start here and move forward along the entries. For another take on the affront to Islam that the Ashura suppression represents, check out Meir Javendanfar at Tehran Bureau. Meir predicts an anti-Khameini intifada; I'm not sure I disagree.

(Sully footnote: He is absolutely deluded about Obama's record in 2009. But that's not surprising; his Iran coverage has been consistently better than is American coverage. Much like how Krugman is quite correct about the "zeros", but his piece on how LieberCare is kinda like single payer was just dumb.)

Edit: Cripes, I hadn't even thought about the fact that Ali Mousavi is an Seyyid; a direct descendant of Ali Hussein.

To put that in perspective for western audiences: imagine if the whole Dan Brown thing had been right, and that Jesus really had had descendants. Now imagine if everybody knew about it, and one of those descendants was just assassinated. On Easter.

This is worse than that.

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