The Genuine "Brilliant Gem"

Photo by Ryan Beiler.

by Bret Kincaid

Several years ago, while still early in my policy teaching gig on Capitol Hill, I insisted that my fellow American Studies Program faculty hang quality photos of persons affected by and effecting foreign and domestic policy. I was concerned that the academic study of policy could easily distract our college students from the real subject of policy: persons made in the image of God. Fortunately, we discovered Ryan Beiler from Sojourners, ( a young man whose artful use of the camera clarified the beauty, dignity, and meaning of individuals and mass demonstrations engaged in trying to make a difference in the world.

I was reminded of his inspiring work when I learned of Neda.

A young Iranian female among the thousands of protestors, Neda was shot dead by the Iranian security forces as she and her father participated peacefully in a Tehran demonstration on Saturday. Her image is now pasted all over the internet, having involuntarily become the face of the "Tweeter Revolution"(see Monitter for the thousands of tweets coming out of Iran) in Iran. I watched in horror the video images from a cell phone of a person who captured her dying as her father screamed and wailed as he tried desperately to save her.

In light of the death of Neda, as well as the deaths of many others whose deaths weren't captured and sent through Facebook, Tweeter, or YouTube, it is easy to sympathize with US Republican leaders, like Senator Lindsey Graham, who have begun criticizing President Obama's cautious response to the June 12th Iranian presidential election results and ensuing protests. Obama has condemned the violence, but has not disputed the election results because, as he said in an interview broadcast on CBS on Monday, ( "The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States." The administration is worried that calling the Iranian election a "fraud," as French President Sarkozy has done, would allow the Iranian leadership to use the public accusation as evidence that the protesters are being directed by the West and thereby delegitimize the protesters and perhaps put more of their lives in peril.

Regardless of which tactic is best, it is important to keep in mind that most of the Iranian people are not protesting against the Iranian regime. They are not calling for regime change. The regime is led by at least two broad factions, one often called conservatives and the other often referred to as reformers. Even President Ahmadinejad's main election opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi—a founder of the Iranian revolutionary regime and former government official—supports the theocratic institutions that oversee the ostensibly democratic institutions, such as the parliament (Majlis) and the elections. Still, Ahmadinejad's supporters are more comfortable with the status quo while Mousavi's supporters, inside and outside the government, want to stamp out corruption and institute more personal liberties, among other political and civil rights.

Like the regime, Iranian society is deeply divided, which makes me suspect that Ahmadinejad probably won the election though his win was much narrower than official reports claim. The June 12th election was no "brilliant gem" as the Iranian foreign minister averred.

And yet it is unlikely that if Mousavi became the Iranian president, Iran would discontinue its pursuit of nuclear weapons, not because the Iranian people are belligerent, but because they feel insecure, partly because they are geographically sandwiched between the nuclear powers of Israel, Pakistan, and China. It is clearly a politically complicated and dicey situation whether Obama takes a cautiously "soft" or hard-line approach toward the current Iranian government. He wants to have credibility with whomever leads the next Iranian government.

Meanwhile, this is the time Christians should consider dropping to their knees to pray for the people of Iran. The Revolutionary Guard has threatened harsher crackdowns even as it violently dispersed the many who gathered for Neda's memorial service on Monday. Let us pray for her family and friends and for the many other victims of government brutality. Finally, let us ask God to help Western leaders, including our own, to respond in ways that make justice and peace real in Iran today.

Bret Kincaid is associate professor of political science at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA.

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