Heed “the call!”, Neda Agha Soltan, dubbed the 'Angel of Freedom'
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The pictures flood us. They flood us with pride, poignancy and pathos. A people struggling to be free. The images come from around the world. From citizens of Tehran confronting the terror of theocratic tyrants, to students marching in the streets of Paris to Montrealers — some using walkers — standing up and being counted. The palpable reality of mankind’s transcendent yearning for redemptive change.
They flood us too with memory and witness. Budapest 1956. Prague 1968. Gdansk 1980. Wenceslas Square 1989. Tiananmen Square 1989. Berlin 1989. Kiev 2004. Tehran 2009. Everybody just wants to be free. Velvet revolutions and Prague springs. Some succeed, some fail. But what is so inspiring — particularly to a North America grown apathetic to the slow undoing of personal liberty — is that there are people ready to die for freedom. To spend one day as a lion — the symbol of pre-Mullah Iran — than a lifetime as a lamb.
But there is a series of images that overwhelm even the brutality of all the others. Of police batons cracking heads; of Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ water cannons spouting boiling water searing skin and eyes and lips. The image of a beautiful young Iranian woman dropping to her knees, her face frozen in shock as she feels the impact of a bullet. The next of her lying on the street being tended to by passersby, one screaming “Don’t be afraid!” The third of her dying, eyes rolled back and blood spouting from her mouth and nose. Neda Agha Soltan, dubbed the “Angel of Freedom” as her image sped around the world through the efforts of citizen journalists and their cameraphones, was not even a demonstrator. That made her death even more tragic. Drove home the point even more of the indiscriminate terror even against innocents of the Mullahs’ regime.
Ironically her name, Neda, means “the call”. Yes, we must all heed the call.
“Democracy is the best revenge,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari quoted his assassinated mother Benazir Bhutto as saying. That could be the credo for those in the streets of Tehran. They fight for us all.
They fight for sanity. They represent hope. What happens in Iran over the next while will determine much. A free Iran will radically change everything from the borders of Pakistan to the Israeli seacoast. What is happening in Tehran matters.
It matters because as members of the family of the free we are reminded again that the survival and success of liberty comes at a high price and is by no means assured. It matters because despite some fleeting happy encounters with progress the history of mankind is riddled with spectacular and frequent failures. It matters because if we do not resolve to turn back the darkness those failures will haunt us forever. In the dead of night we will feel those failures like thin, humid rivulets of sweat crawling over us. Mankind’s failures to beat back tyranny has cost us dearly. Perhaps we should be haunted.
Haunted by the mounds of ashes that once were one and a half million smiling children playing in the streets of “civilized” Europe. Haunted by the bloated bodies floating in the Yangtze of Mao’s China. Haunted by the corpses frozen in the wastes of Stalin’s Gulag. Haunted by the betrayal of the free people of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Haunted by the killing fields of Cambodia. Haunted by the bodies rotting in the jungles of Rwanda and in the fetid fields of the Balkans. And haunted today by the memory of the devastated of Darfur, victims of the 21st century’s first genocide.
The consequence of failure will be dire. We cannot afford to have the hope in Tehran snuffed out. It is a beacon for enslaved millions living under the oppressive regimes of the Islamist middle rim of this small planet. French poet Paul Valéry once wrote that «La liberté est l’épreuve la plus dure que nous pouvons infliger sur un gens. Savoir comment être libre n’est pas donné à tous les hommes et toutes les nations également. »
Committing ourselves, and teaching others, how to be free is the greatest testament and witness we can propound for the bold and the brave in the streets of Tehran.