Unless you tuned out completely over the weekend you've seen the haunting video of a young woman named Neda dying on a Tehran street after being shot in the heart. She is now the immortal face of a revolutionary movement.
Just like the image of a man standing in front of a tank brigade became the lasting image of the Tiananmen Square protests in China, the video of Neda, her eyes growing ever more vacant by the second as her spirit leaves her body and climaxing with blood pouring from her orifices, is destined to become the image that few of us who saw/see it will ever forget. What happens next in the movement is the question. Will Neda's death galvanize the Iranian revolutionaries who've spent the past week protesting against the religious conservatives who control their government and rigged the recent presidential election in their favor, or will Neda's death scare enough of them into submission to allow the government to effectively squash the movement?
Although it is not yet clear who shot "Neda" (a soldier? pro-government militant? an accidental misfiring?), her death may have changed everything. For the cycles of mourning in Shiite Islam actually provide a schedule for political combat - a way to generate or revive momentum. Shiite Muslims mourn their dead on the third, seventh and 40th days after a death, and these commemorations are a pivotal part of Iran's rich history. During the revolution, the pattern of confrontations between the shah's security forces and the revolutionaries often played out in 40-day cycles.
The first clashes in January 1978 produced two deaths that were then commemorated on the 40th day in mass gatherings, which in turn produced new confrontations with security forces - and new deaths. Those deaths then generated another 40-day period of mourning, new clashes, and further deaths. The cycle continued throughout most of the year until the shah's ouster in January 1979.
The revolutionaries exploited the deep passion about martyrdom as well as the timetable of Shiite mourning in whipping up greater opposition to Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. With the deaths of "Neda" and others, they may now find the same phenomena used against them.
On a personal note, I first saw the video of Neda's death on Sunday afternoon at around 2PM. For the remainder of the day and up to this point, I've failed every effort, and there have been many, to get it out of my head. Even when I went to the gym late in the day, a place of solace where I'm usually able to blast music in my ears while exercising and just forget about everything going on in the outside world, I found myself unable to remove Neda from my mind. Now, I realize that this doesn't make me unique as I'm sure that many have felt overcome with the same feelings after seeing the video, but it's significant beyond Iran for many reasons, not the least of which being because I think it causes everyone who's seen the video to contemplate their own lives in their own country, just like it did and continues to do with me. Would we Americans be willing to stand up to our government under the same circumstances? I sort of doubt it.
Regardless, here's the video of Neda's death for benefit of those who haven't seen it. I suppose at this point it goes without saying, but this is extremely graphic, disturbing footage.