Friday, January 1, 2010

The Divine Calling of Neda

Inside the small home in a middle-class neighborhood east of Tehran, Iran, a family of four has lost their middle child. She is a victim of the internal war between the people of Iran and the oppressive government.

Neda Agha-Soltan, 26-years old, was a student of philosophy and religion at the Azad Islamic University. While she was studying religion, Neda was more spiritual than religious. She was a happy, positive person who loved music, having studied violin and recently piano. Neda had just purchased a piano and was awaiting delivery.

Neda’s disposition was typically composed, even tranquil. She did have a quirky, lively sense of humour. A friend recalled that once, when Neda was visiting her friend's house, she picked up a white Teddy bear, took off her big, purple-studded earrings and put them on the bear. Then she removed a necklace from around the neck of a friend and put it around the bear's neck, taking delight in the bear's transformation.

She liked to travel, having visited Turkey three months ago with a tour group. And she, like most Iranians, was concerned about human rights in an era when the government of Iran seems to be taking away the civil liberties of the inhabitants of that country.

Neda was shot and killed as she stepped from her car with a friend at an anti-government demonstration in Tehran on Saturday, June 20, 2009. She was not there to rally against the government, but was simply taking a break from the heat of her small Peugeot 206 subcompact car with a poorly working air conditioner. She left the car with a family friend, a teacher of music and philosophy, near the demonstration to get some fresh air. Her murder was captured in video from a cell phone held by someone in the crowd.

Under Iran’s strict gun-control laws, private citizens cannot carry firearms. This has led to speculation that government forces were involved in the murder of Neda. She was taken to a nearby hospital and, within a day, she was buried at Behesht Zahra, the city's largest Muslim cemetery, on the outskirts of Tehran. It is extremely unusual for the body of a victim to be released and buried so quickly and this further supports the theory that the government forces were responsible for Neda’s death.

Since Saturday, the Iranian government has sought to minimize the impact of her death and have prohibited all public displays of mourning for Neda. A gathering of about 60 friends and family at a mosque was broken up by members of the Basij pro-government vigilantes blamed for much of the violence against the demonstrators.

While Neda, whose name means Divine Calling in Farsi, was an unlikely candidate to become a martyr, she has emerged as a powerful symbol of opposition to the Iranian government. That a young woman who embraced life in so many ways, was never involved in politics and yet was chosen from a crowd of thousands and shot by a sniper would effect so many is telling. Perhaps it is aptly just that her death will bring about just the opposite effect that her murderers meant to bestow.

A person’s life has been taken – her entire existence reduced to just a few seconds of powerful – if grainy, video. But it is this very video, shown worldwide within minutes to the rest of the world that injects life and context into the trials of the Iranian people by an oppressive government.

Neda's family has not been allowed to post a black banner of mourning outside the family's house. Under Muslim tradition, the seventh and 40th days after someone dies are devoted to mourning and reflection.

Neda's death begs the question of what is the real atrocity in the world. To paraphrase writer, Rachel Lee, "Is it what is happening in the oppressiveness of Iran today? Or is it that many of us, especially those of us who live in the United States, enjoy the luxury of relative peace and stability, ignoring the pain and fear and death that stalks so much of the world? We cannot give into the greed and hate of the world. If we do, everyone loses. And we lose far more than our sensitivities. We lose our souls."

Please do not allow Neda’s life to go unremembered. Do not allow her influence to be diminished. Speak out against oppression in our world by corrupt governments and help to bring peace and prosperity to all.