As I have followed coverage of Iran’s swinging political pendulum over the past couple of weeks, I have been thinking about the other moments during which I have felt tremendous optimism and terrible pessimism regarding world events. Ever an observer, I can’t predict or change outcomes. But this doesn’t keep me from hope and fear, doubt and anticipation.
I was a child in a world where many thought the Iron Curtain was impenetrable. Yes, it was simplistic, but for many there was East Germany and the USSR and shoe pounding dictators on one side, and freedom and the USA and people who wanted good things for the world on the other.
Then, during the fall of 1989, the wall came down and the world changed. I had the opportunity to live in Leipzig (former East Germany not too far from Berlin) during the summer of 1994. It was exciting to hear how the movement that preceded the fall of the wall had grown, meeting at the very church where we enjoyed such wonderful organ concerts. However, most of the former DDR residents I met hadn’t necessarily been campaigners for freedom (perhaps most of the campaigners lived in the West by then?). In fact, I grew to realize that they were part of the “them” that I had always opposed to my “us.” But the people I knew were ordinary. Not evil, not seeking world nuclear annihilation, just trying to figure out how to live a happy life under the constraints that they had–as we all do.
Of course, 1989 was also the year of the Tiananmen Square protests in China. Wikipedia says one million people were on the square. I grew up in a small town. A football stadium’s worth of people still impresses me. I can’t imagine what it would be like to stand with a million others calling for freedom. In any case, in China, a million was not enough. The protesters were dispersed–there were injuries and deaths. The desired change didn’t come.
During the past week, there have been times when hundreds of thousands of protesters were on the streets of Iran. I admit that I do not have a nuanced enough view of this area of the world to understand completely what is going on. I do know that as with the world before the wall fell, it is too easy to simplify, to point fingers at good guys and bad guys, good parts of the world and bad. On the other hand, it is true that some guys are good and some are bad. It was a good thing when the wall came down. It was a good thing when East Germany’s secret state police were disbanded and their secrets weren’t secret any more. It was a bad thing when the East German people didn’t have the freedom to travel.
From what I understand, Mir Hussein Moussavi, the opposition candidate who allegedly lost the election, isn’t the pro-American pacifist we dream of, the one who would completely end our nuclear Iran fears. Until recently, he wasn’t part of the opposition, he was part of the establishment.
On the other hand, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Unfortunately, Ahmadinejad has worked hard to put himself in the enemy category. And when I see the people, especially the women, chanting for Moussavi, I want to join them. I want to wear green and stand in the street and chant, Mou-sa-vee, Mou-sa-vee, Mou-sa-vee. I want to be brave and stand up to the Basij, the robocops, and the tear gas. I want to dare them to spill my blood and see whether it makes their grip on power stronger or weaker. Perhaps it is easier to feel these desires in full force from the comfort of my computer chair. I admire those who feel it when they see the riot police out in force.
Moussavi announced this past week that he was ready to become a martyr. I am not sure whether he is worth dying or being beaten and teargassed for, but the freedom that so many of these Iranians desire probably is.
Recently, we saw Valkyrie. I liked it. Is it possible to watch that movie and not desire to be a von Stauffenberg (the German officer plotting to assassinate Hitler) in one’s own life? To have that courage, that integrity, and to be willing to sacrifice everything for what one believes? To have that sort of clarity and confidence that what one believes is worth the sacrifice?
Anyway, back to Tehran. Or more accurately, to my computer, surfing to see the latest in Tehran. Again, an observer. Pessimism and fear. Hope and anticipation. Waiting, watching, hoping.