Khamenei’s broken mirror

1 Mar 2011

■ Ann De Craemer
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March 1, 2011

A few months after Iran’s 1979 Revolution, the famous Polish journalist and writer Ryszard Kapuściński was sitting alone in his Tehran hotel. ‘My hotel is…locked’, he says a few pages into the marvelous book Shah of Shahs (1985) he was writing at that very moment. ‘The sound of gunfire mingles with the creaking of shutters rolling down and the slamming of gates and doors…I have no one to talk to. I’m sitting alone looking through notes and pictures on the table, listening to taped conversations.’ Kapuściński cannot go out into the streets, but he nevertheless sets to work. He does not describe the fall of the Shah and Khomeini’s return from exile, but tells us how all of this came about. He is trying to make sense of what is going on in those streets he has no access to.

‘Death to Khamenei’ written on a city-bus

Far from having the stature of Kapuściński, I feel related to him on this, once again, paramount day for Iran. I cannot go out into the streets of Tehran; I cannot even be locked in a hotel room, but I am also watching things from a distance, trying to make sense of notes and pictures and conversations, not lying around on my table but coming to me live and direct on my computer screen.

And indeed, how to make sense of it all? How to make sense of what has been going on in Iran since the fraudulous elections of June 2009 that I myself have witnessed? How to make sense of a picture of the bruised body of Mehdi Karroubi? How to make sense of the heartbreaking cries of young men and women shouting ‘Allah Akbar’ from their rooftops in the middle of the night? My brain just cannot make sense of it, because it is impossible to find sense in sheer injustice.

Ayatollah Khamenei however does find sense in injustice. That is where he and most of the other people of this world differ. Injustice is the only thing that makes sense to the Iranian regime. It is the only thing with which they can satisfy their sick brain; it is the only thing that makes them feel powerful and alive when they are looking in the mirror. And when they do so, they can only see their own image and not that of people suffocating in the great prison that Iran has become.

Iranians are sick and tired of trying to make sense of something that has no sense

Anyone who has a sane mind cannot understand their distorted view. All Iranians can do is accept this mirror image of their leaders as a harsh reality that will not change if they do not stand up and break the mirror. That is exactly what thousands of Iranian people are again trying to do today. They want to hear the sound of breaking glass, and who can blame them? They are sick and tired of trying to make sense of something that has no sense. They are sick and tired of how exhausted their brains have become by trying to make sense of a life that is bereft of sense by the mirror images of Khamenei & Co.

With every protest in Iran, our hopes revive, but we have been disappointed many times over the last couple of years. Today however, I feel that the turning point is coming closer. Please, do not call me naive. I can hear the turning point in the voices of my friends in Tehran, who have never sounded so angry and combatant. I could hear it yesterday in the furious reactions after the arrest of opposition leaders Mousavi and Karroubi, the greatest proof so far of how scared the regime has become. If we do try to make some sense, then there is sense in this shameful arrest: it is first and foremost a proof of the power of the people. It is a proof that in his mirror, Khamenei is gradually starting to see the open mouths and clenched fists of the Iranian masses.

In Shah of Shahs, Kapuściński describes a street exchange between two men, a protester standing at the edge of a large crowd, and a policeman. Until now, he reminds us, the policeman would scream at the man to go home; he and the rest of the crowd would turn tail. But then suddenly, things change. ‘The policeman shouts, but the man doesn’t run. He just stands there, looking at the policeman…he doesn’t budge. He glances around and sees the same look on other faces…Nobody runs though the policeman has gone on shouting: at last he stops. There is a moment of silence. We don’t know whether the policeman and the man of on the edge of the crowd already realize what has happened. The man has stopped being afraid – and this is precisely the beginning of the revolution…the policeman turns around and begins to walk heavily back toward his post.’

It is precisely this moment that we are all waiting for. It is this moment that I except we will witness in the streets of Tehran, if not today, then soon, because the Iranian people are bent on hearing the sound of breaking glass. They are hearing the same sound in the Arab world, and they know that they too can do it. Already, Mousavi and Karroubi in their jails are hearing more than silence. They are hearing the sound of breaking glass, and they are seeing the cracks of the regime on the dark walls of their prison, which might very well become the Bastille of today’s protest.

Iran can, we can, and when the policeman turns around, we will be able to feel what Ahmad Shamloo once predicted: I don’t suppose/my heart was ever/warm and red/like this before./I sense that/
in the worst moments of this black, death-feeding repast/
a thousand thousand well-springs of sunlight,/stemming from certitude,/well up in my heart.

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