Monday, June 22, 2009

Why Mourning Matters, Continued

Robin Wright makes this point in reference to the tragic killing of Neda:

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 same cycle has already become an undercurrent in Iran's current crisis. The largest demonstration, on Thursday of last week, was called by opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi to commemorate the deaths of protesters three days after they were killed.

Again, because this a cultural and religious expression, it served – and may serve again – an unifying and organizing function for the disparately motivated Iranians who have taken to the street. Its power and efficacy should not be discounted nor overlooked. Indeed, Ayatollah Montazari has already called for another three days of mourning beginning Wednesday.

UPDATE: Karroubi has called for Thursday to be a day of mourning, according to AFP.

1 comment:

bbarrowm said...

A couple of thoughts Neda:

1) It's not clear that Neda has actually served as a focal point for collective action within Iran, and its not certain she will in the future. In the media's headlong rush to anoint the first "Twitter Revolution," it has created a perception of social dynamics that is completely disconnected from what is happening on the ground. The one thing we do know is that social media has been instrumental in transmitting information from inside Iran to people abroad. What is far less certain is that social media plays a role in circulating information within Iran itself. I've heard the figure of 10,000 registered Twitter users in Iran tossed around, with only about 100 of those active. Use of other social media sites like facebook and YouTube, the main vehicles for the dissemination of the Neda video, may be similarly limited, especially outside of Teheran. That brings me to my second and third points.

2) We have an incomplete picture, at best, of the social dynamics within Tehran, and almost no information of what is going on outside of it. Information conveyed by the younger, educated, tech-savvy student and professional populations is likely to overstate the degree of support for the opposition. At this point, there is little reason to believe that social groups outside this community will seize on an event like Neda's death, either because those groups support the incumbent, or because they simply don't have the same access to information that we do.

3) It's likely that this regime is much better at disrupting collective action than was the regime in the 1970s. Various reports indicate the regime has shut down cell phone towers and blocked social media sites, limiting the dissemination of information by Web 2.0. This is probably conjecture, but at least metaphorically, the regime looks like it learned from the post-Soviet colored revolutions. Thus even if mourning cycles provide a focal point for collective action, the regime is capable of disrupting this kind of coordination. Of course, protesters could (and likely will) continue to organize the old fashioned way, which the regime seems to have a handle on as well, given its attempts to disrupt Neda's funeral services.

None of this is to say that Neda could not serve as a martyr and a catalyst for a revolution. However, your commentary should have read, "its POTENTIAL power and efficacy should not be overlooked." Indeed, in the absence of evidence that this potential is being realized, we should not paint too rosy a picture of the prospects of a successful revolution.