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Neda: More Than Her Death

Jun 24 2009
Behind the stark symbol of her videotaped death is one vibrant life snuffed out and a family in mourning.

An e-mail sent to me from a friend in Iran was posted on the Facebook wall of German chancellor Angela Merkel after I tweeted a link to the e-mail, which I had, with permission, posted on my blog. Got that?

The following day, Merkel (or more likely her subordinate) posted a statement of support for the Iranians protesting the disputed election results that threaten to keep Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power, and the police's crackdown on their protests. Obviously Merkel was responding to world events and not to a single e-mail. But really, who could have envisioned this?

The image that swiftly leapt time zones and that has thus far come to symbolize the protesters' cause in Iran is that of 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan, a beautiful young woman whose death was videotaped and uploaded to Facebook by an expatriate friend of the video-taper residing in the Netherlands.

The video is heartbreaking and graphic. I don't want to see it again. On Twitter yesterday morning, someone questioned the morality of using it as an icon. I wanted to tweet back: It is obscene. We don't even know her name. What must her mother feel?

But there is a paradox when a loved one dies. We want the whole world to stop and take notice - and we simultaneously want it to leave us alone. I wondered what this woman's family would want, and what their culture prescribes.

On Monday the Los Angeles Times shed a bit of light on this aspect of the story: "To those who knew and loved Agha-Soltan," it reported, "she was far more than an icon. She was a daughter, sister and friend, a music and travel lover, a beautiful young woman in the prime of her life. 'She was a person full of joy,' said her music teacher and close friend Hamid Panahi … 'She was a beam of light.' "

Neda was not her death. She was a person whose promising young life was snuffed out, allegedly by her oppressors. This, we understand, is what gives the symbol its power. Such is the Iranian government's fear of it that security forces have "urged" the family (and others like them) not to publicly mourn or speak of their loss. "Some insisted on speaking out anyway," the Times reported, "hoping to make sure the world would not forget her."

So now we know. Her loved ones do not want her forgotten. Also, they are "outraged by the authorities' order not to eulogize her, to loudly sing her praises and mourn her loss. But they were too afraid and distraught to speak out."

Anne Applebaum, discounting the primacy of both the "Obama effect" and the Internet as factors in the revolt, attributes it to the long-term work of civil rights and women's groups. She says it is no accident that Ahmadinejad's two main challengers promised to repeal discriminatory laws or that Mousavi's wife was so prominent a figure in his campaign. Writing in Slate, Applebaum opined, "Regimes that repress the civil and human rights of half their population are inherently unstable. Sooner or later, there has to be a backlash."

From: June 2009

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Neda: More Than Her Death