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."

Although Agha-Soltan is said to have been apolitical and loyal to "her country's Islamic roots and traditional values," she wanted her vote to count. Perhaps she believed in incremental change.

Beliefnet founder Steve Waldman thinks her martyrdom wields power not primarily because she was female, but because she was a non-aggressor. Earlier this week, he wrote, "By drawing the government into violent - and public - misbehavior, the [nonviolent] protesters drew the state into a downward spiral in which the leaders progressively eroded their own authority through their own actions."

Yesterday, Waldman added this: "I understand - and agree with - the decision to show Neda's moment of expiration. That video is the greatest weapon freedom fighters have, especially if they're inclined to use nonviolence as their strategy. But I also mourn for a new boundary being broken."

I mourn primarily for Neda and her family; for their loss and for the potential exploitation of their daughter's death. I both celebrate and fear new boundaries being broken and take soberly the co-mingled expressions of outrage, grief and fear I hear coming out of Iran.

Because a day will come when this story passes from the headlines and when the Iranian people will be living a different political reality. Nobody yet knows what that will be. I cannot imagine it will matter all that much to the parents of dead children. That their sons and daughters were martyrs to a good cause will be consolation, not vindication (even with the historic centrality of martyrdom in Iranian politics and religion). Their dreams of freedom, if they had any, would have been dreams for them.

With each e-mail my friend sends, I reply with what information I can gather and with affirmations of support, but also with warnings and advice. Things I learned through trivial battles for good causes that nonetheless cost more than they were worth. I urge this bright, funny young person to be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove in regard to both friends and enemies. People, I say, have a habit of self-preservation when things get dangerous.

We who support the cause of freedom need to take heed as well and not be those kinds of people.