Right from wrong - Neda Soltan’s message from the grave

Neda was among the millions of Iranians of all walks of life who had taken to the streets of Iran to protest the regime representative’s false claims of victory.

Neda Soltan (photo credit: TWITTER)
Neda Soltan
(photo credit: TWITTER)
On June 20, 2009, a young woman named Neda Soltan was gunned down in Tehran during a mass demonstration sparked by the rigged results of the presidential election that had taken place a week earlier. Though opposition candidate Hussein Mir Mosavi had beaten incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the ballot box, the latter declared himself the winner and hailed his reign as that of the “people’s will.”
Neda was among the millions of Iranians of all walks of life who had taken to the streets of Iran to protest the regime representative’s false claims of victory. Though the recently engaged 26-year-old aspiring musician and singer was not a political activist, she possessed a rebellious streak that led her to shed her chador in defiance of the ayatollah-imposed Islamic dress code.
Even in high school, Neda had sought to be free of the shackles of her sex in the repressive society in which she was born and raised. And the theft of the election was too much for her to tolerate. Gathering a small group of friends, she set out to join the crowds chanting anti-regime epithets. Braving the clouds of tear gas used by the police to disperse the otherwise peaceful display of civil dissatisfaction, she and her buddies stopped to observe the bedlam and get their bearings before proceeding. Their participation in the protest was short-lived, however.
Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, Neda fell to the ground. Hit by a bullet from the rifle of a rooftop sniper – a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) militia dispatched to quell the event – Neda lay bleeding on the hot summer pavement. Efforts to revive her by cohorts and strangers, among them a doctor, were in vain. Within two minutes, the woman whose face would emerge as the international symbol of what was dubbed the “Green Revolution” was dead.
Immediately, cellphone photos of the freedom-seeking female lying on her back with her eyes open and blood trickling from her nose and mouth began circulating on the Internet. Graphic videos of the killing also went viral, largely with the help of computer geeks across the United States who took it upon themselves to assist the Iranian opposition by circumventing the jamming of web access. TV networks all over the world then picked up the story and highlighted it.
In a flash, “We are all Neda” became the protesters’ slogan, accompanying the screenshot of the dying beauty, whose last words were: “I’m burning; I’m burning.”
For a few weeks it appeared that the Islamic Republic was suffering the kind of blow that those averse to the use of military force against Iran’s nuclear facilities had hoped for and envisioned: internal combustion.
But it was not to be.
Ahmadinejad knew a danger sign when he saw one. Not only was he himself among the revolutionaries who ousted the shah of Iran in 1978 in favor of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini; he had taken an active role in the 1979 seizure of the US Embassy and the holding of its staff hostage for 444 days.
So he was well aware of the power of public fervor where regime-change was concerned. Which is why his puppet masters made sure to stomp out the budding of previous mass demonstrations – in 1999, following the closure of the reformist newspaper, Salaam, and in 2003, spurred by the high cost of college tuition.
Ahmadinejad was aware, thus, that he could not afford to have a “martyr” such as Neda becoming the symbol of the counterrevolution. To nip the threat in the bud, he forbade Neda’s family from giving her a proper burial or even memorial service, and took her fiancé into custody for a good beating – one that sent him fleeing the country to Canada.
Ahmadinejad also enlisted the state-run media to blacken Neda’s reputation and refute the facts of her murder, alternating between reports that she wasn’t really dead and that “Western spies” were responsible for her murder.
ON JUNE 29, nine days after Neda’s cruel end, Iran’s Guardian Council conducted a “vote recount” at the behest of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – who had declared Ahmadinejad’s victory a “divine assessment” – and concluded, of course, that the election results were sound.
Shouts of “death to the dictator” from balconies throughout Iran ensued. Though the chanting was in Farsi, placards denouncing Ahmadinejad all were written in English – a clear signal of the protesters’ plea for outside sympathy and aid.
Unfortunately for the trapped and subjugated Iranian people, however, the administration in Washington was now headed by Barack Obama. Obama had entered the White House a mere few months earlier with the aim of reversing the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush, especially those relating to the Middle East in general and the Iranian threat in particular.
Believing that the path to ridding Iran of its nuclear and hegemonic ambitions would be through goodwill gestures to the mullahs, Obama not only abandoned the Bush-coined term “axis of evil” to define state sponsors of terrorism – with Iran at the top of the list – but referred to the militia-monitored election process there as a “robust debate.”
He then continued to stress that America was going to engage in diplomacy with the Islamic Republic, regardless of who was at the helm.
Well, the proud “leader from behind” certainly kept his word on that one. As the regime in Tehran jailed, tortured and mowed down enough demonstrators to make the others recoil in fear – and Neda’s image faded from global consciousness – Obama got busy with his P5+1 counterparts in China, France, Britain, Russia and Germany orchestrating and pushing for the bogus nuclear deal with Iran that was reached in July 2015.
Just over a year later, US President Donald Trump entered the White House and vowed, as he had during his campaign, to rip up the deal. This he did in May 2018, while increasing sanctions on the regime in Tehran and backing Israeli military attacks on Iranian proxies operating in Syria and Gaza.
Western supporters of the nuclear deal disingenuously accused Trump of antagonizing the regime and “starving” the poor Iranian people. The latter had begun at the end of 2017 to protest their dire economic plight, actually blaming the regime for funding terrorism abroad at the expense of the population at home. These demonstrations, naturally, were quashed with a vengeance.
New protests erupted in 2019, over a hike in fuel prices. This time around, Iranians rioted and demanded the overthrow of the Hassan Rouhani-led government and even of his boss, Supreme Leader Khamenei. Basij militias again used violence against the disgruntled populace.
But now the Iranians had greater cause to feel emboldened. Not only was Trump indicating that he was on their side against their evil rulers, but he green-lighted the January 3 killing of mass murderer and terror-master Qasem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC Quds Force, then launched airstrikes on Iranian military targets in response to “retaliatory” missiles fired at US bases.
Ironically, however, it was the accidental IRGC missile attack on Canada-bound Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 – and the death of the 176 passengers and crew on board – which unleashed the Iranian people’s greatest firestorm of fury yet.
Not only did demonstrators scream for the toppling of the regime, but hordes of students refused to step on the huge American and Israeli flags placed on the road for trampling: the regime’s tried and true way of garnering support by stirring up outrage at the “great Satan” and the “small Satan.”
Even more incredible was the fact that anyone who did walk on the flags was greeted by loud heckles of “Shame on you,” and catcalls of “Our enemy is Iran, not America.”
As if this weren’t extraordinary enough, several journalists employed by state-sponsored media outlets resigned from their jobs, with one broadcaster apologizing on social media for “having lied to you on Iranian TV for 13 years.”
Whether this amazing momentum will lead to regime change remains uncertain at the moment. Neda Soltan’s death also appeared to bode ill for the ayatollahs, and that was more than a decade ago. One reason for cautious optimism in this case is that Trump, not Obama, is occupying the Oval Office.
May Neda’s memory be resurrected as a reminder of why this crucial distinction makes all the difference.