November 15

24 of Aban 1401, all video clips of today begin with the date
The strikes begin in earnest
Shops in many neighborhoods, many shopping centers shut down
Most significantly the great bazaar of Tehran
Internet is not down yet so we watch shuttered shops all over the country
Day time things are pretty normal in my neighborhood, central city
Evening I venture out
Turn south toward Valiasr Square
People singly and in groups pouring into Valiasr street
Pairs holding hands
So many wearing masks, thanks to Covid ample supply
Not that it’s effective against tear gas or even for concealing identity
They arm to the teeth we wear N95 masks
Just an attempt at armor, something, anything
Shops now shuttered, dark, deserted
Eerie site but strangely gratifying
People walk decisively, fast, silent
Go uptown, go downtown, different people advise
No sloganeering just walking, tense, silent, not making much eye contact, brisk
But many many people, pouring on both sides of the street
I’m alone, many are alone
Many women alone
I stop to listen to one woman asking about tear gas
We talk and start walking together
We’re at the square and decide to turn around and walk north
Another woman walking alone joins us, then another
People taking sure steps but aimlessly, up and down the street, silent, bumping into each other
Keep moving, my new friends advise, let’s not be sitting ducks
A sudden lick of green laser light sweeps over us
What was that, what to make of it?
We look at each other and keep going
We walk until tired, then sit down in a well lit spot at a half-open outdoor cafe without ordering
Somehow we get talking about our personal lives
There’s four of us, funny enough in our sixties, fifties, forties, thirties
Three divorced one unmarried
All sick of the special unhappiness of women
It’s good to be together though we don’t even know each other’s first names
We turn around and go south again
We lose one friend and pick up another woman walking alone, very young in her twenties
Towards the Square we start getting a dull headache, then our eyes start burning
Tear gas
We turn into Keshavarz blvd
We start coughing
Let’s walk two by two
Crowds of people just walking
Quiet, just walking, and very unhappy
Our little group separates among the crowd and waits up for each other
We are so glad to be together
I’m walking with the twenty-something
We carry cigarettes to ward off tear gas
There’s a puddle of something red on the pavement and two red palm prints
My young friend fingers the red liquid and sniffs it to see if it’s blood
She can’t decide
We walk by clusters of riot police
Crossing the street walking by them they remind me of something
Teenage mutant ninja turtles, I remember
Camo outfits, headbands, swinging weapons, but with chest plates instead of shells on their back
We walk by snickering
Worse than them, we walk by vans of gasht-e ershad
Hadn’t seen these guys for a while
White vans, black-veiled female and male guards sitting inside in darkness
Morality police
We don’t look at them but they watch us:
Four women without headscarf carrying unlit cigarettes
We keep walking, like everyone else, just walking
Our youngest friend says she was apprehended early on back almost two months ago
One night of interrogation and she was let go, her phone confiscated
Same happened to our other friend back in Aban 1398
This is the anniversary of the 98 uprising when hundreds if not over a thousand were killed
I’d like to hear more but we have to keep moving, no time to chat
Turn back toward the Square
More riot police
We sit down and watch them
The difference between them and TMNT’s?
A lot of these guys have pot bellies
Not to fat shame anyone but what kind of riot police is so out of shape?
The ripped ones are perhaps shipped to Baluchistan and Kurdistan, to face off with the kickass warriors of those regions
Or they’re just running out of personnel
Overweight or not these guys are armed with guns and tasers not ninja swords and nunchucks
They’ve borrowed masks and helmets from Shredder
We sit down at the curb, talking to others taking a break from walking
Mostly women
My young friend is chided, you shouldn’t have touched that blood on the sidewalk, you might get AIDS
She gets scared, examines her finger for scratches
Don’t worry it wasn’t blood, it was too red, blood darkens fast
It is a bizarre thing sitting on the curb looking at bustling riot police
They always appear oh so busy with important stuff
Tear gas has worn off, we carefully return our unlit cigarettes to the pack
Random people stop to chat but there’s not much to say
That’s why people walk without talking, what’s there to say that hasn’t been said before?
What’s there that someone knows that we all don’t?
And what we don’t know we all don’t know, we know that
Lots and lots of young women walk by without headscarf, without fear
A picture was recently circulated of a mullah and a women waiting in some line without their respective head gear
One head covering shed in fear and the other in courage, the caption reads
There recently has been a spate of flicking off mullahs’ turbans on the street
Clips of it all over the internet, so funny
And now these wanna be ninja turtles and Halloween shredders
And unending streams of people just walking
We leave the square
I live here, one of our group says at an apartment complex, if you’re ever in trouble around here give my name at the gate and come inside
Who knows if we ever meet again but we spent a reassuring evening together
And oh, by the way, we received so much love from young women walking by
As usual
And I got the best compliment: you’re so ba hal– cool
Azadi azadi a-za-di, we hear in the distance before splitting up
It was nice to part with that word, the last word: Freedom.

November 18

The faithful should not lose heart, reassures the speaker at Friday prayer, they are trying to take away hope
They? You mean the people of the country?
Piety, he declares, strengthens the political system, piety creates *mehr* – loving kindness
I’m reading Mehr News Agency of the Islamic Republic, how funny is that?
But I like this best: Slander against the system is haram in the view of *bozorgan*
Reporting the murder of ten year-old Kian by unknown agents is slander, therefore it is haram
Therefore it is not reported by the loving kindness news agency
And of course “bozorgan”: the elders/the great – who might that be?
The Leader Mr Khamenei? Or rather a whole posse of turbaned unnameables?
Best left vague
So no fingers can be pointed at the elders the great who consider news slander
The whole country is seething in the shooting of the ten year-old in car with his father
Ducking under a shower of bullets nobody knows by whom or why
His mother calls the Islamic Republic the murderer of her son
She addresses the huge crowd at her son’s burial, bold and eloquent
She commits slander but you know what?
She’s not afraid
The elders and the great are
Meanwhile the elders and the great of the international community avoid slander
Unicef, the great defender of the children of the world, is silent
No one can accuse them of slander against the Islamic Republic
People are outraged
A Unicef goodwill ambassador resigns – after mounting pressure
Over sixty children and teenagers killed in less than two months
Not enough for Unicef
Interestingly I worked at Unicef HQ in New York back in the nineties
The memory of the Iran Iraq war was fresh
The Islamic Republic had used children to clear mine fields
A dusty notebook of one of the dead boys was found containing one word: nooshabeh – drink
We did not have the exact number of dead child soldiers but we had that one word
Clearly not enough for Unicef
Therefore dignified silence – or actually stodgy institutional hypocrisy
So I for one am not surprised
Meanwhile, day 3 rained heavily
Day 4 did not bring out people in my neighbourhood either
But lo and behold something quite sobering happened in Khomein: the home/museum of Khomeini was set on fire
The whole country gasped
Slander against the current leader is one thing but against the big guy?
Holy mother of god this is war
The major theology institute in Qom is also set on fire
That’s the mother institute for grooming novice clerics, the bozorgan of the future
It’s not street trash bins that are set on fire any more, serious things are burning now
But on the loving kindness site not even burning trash bins make an appearance
So who’s afraid now?

The billboard wars

I wish I had taken pictures
At Valiasr Square an immense billboard is frequently changed, sometimes daily
The normal response would be to avert your eyes rather than take pictures
You don’t want to stand there holding up your device from fear of mobile phone snatchers anyway
But true to the size of the billboard the aspiration is epic
Literally recently
They used to be heavily Islamic
Crowds of all Iranian ethnicities – all the women assiduously veiled – holding up banners
Arabic phrases, rousing Shiite slogans, devotion to various Imams mostly Hossein and the vanished one Mahdi
The name used to be Mehdi – as lots of men are still called – but a little vowel change elevated the Imam after the revolution
But no matter
Mahdi means messiah
Then when the slogan Woman Life Freedom was introduced to the Iranian psyche the regime responded in kind
Up went the now infamous billboards with pictures of tens of Great Women of Our Land
That one came quickly down
The great women and their offspring were even quicker to voice their disgust
Then started a string of epic ones: the epic of Shahnameh, that is
Now great heroes are depicted with formidable forearms, prominent noses and sculpted beards
In case you missed the resemblance to ancient heroes there are lines from Shahnameh
The epic of ancient kings – oops about the Shah in the title
Lines about heroes of Iran Zamin – can’t refer to the country in more patriotic terms
Co-opting Shahnameh now? And Ferdowsi?
You must be kidding
You must be desperate
You must think people are fools
Under the billboard you have your rows of armored cowards protecting themselves from school girls
You have your lasered and taserds mutants breaking up the audience of street musicians
Epic heroes!
Meanwhile I’ll tell you what’s epic
This kid Shervin wrote a song a while back stringing together hashtags: *Baraye* – For...
Every single time it’s played people weep
Every single line speaks
The words are not just felt they are experienced, they have been lived
Look for it on YouTube with English subtitles
And the regime even tried to co-opt this
For Artin... billboards went up all over the streets
Artin was a little boy shot at Goharshad mosque in Shiraz a month ago
Mr Leader lost no opportunity for a photo-op with the young victim of the terrorist attack:
Taliban did it, they’ll come and get you if we don’t kill people on the street
Silly silly Leader et al
You arrest Shervin and you co-opt his lyrics?
You epic makers you


So who’s afraid now?
I am
We are
You can’t write fear
You want to close the doors and get in bed in fetal position
You want to be safe, just safe, quiet, unseen
You want nothing but to disappear, vanish, nothing else matters
Doors can be broken down and you ripped from your fetal position
Baton blows raining on you
Broken cheek bones broken forearms shielding your face
Dragged to a vehicle and after that darkness
Beyond fear
Crushed to a pulp
You feel it inside your bones?
Your skin crawls, tingles, grows cold?
You bleed inside your head?
You understand
I am so afraid, afraid for everyone
Anything can happen to anyone
Gestapo, KGB, Gulag, Tianamen Square, Guantanamo Bay, Basij, Sepah, Evin
Anything can happen
At any moment
There are those willing to do anything to anyone
Nothing separates you from them
Walls are just paper, ripped with a flick
Windshields powdered with one strike
You think there is safety but there isn’t
It’s all up to those who can do anything to anyone
What is it like to be able to do anything to anyone?
Can you imagine it?
Take a baton to someone’s face?
Take aim at targets seen and unseen, empty round after round?
It’s awful from any angle
It’s all fear and darkness and point of no return