The Iranians certainly know how to stage a protest. They donned green bandannas à la anarchists, flew flags on the backs of motorcycles and pumped peace signs instead of fists outside the U.N Chariots of fire download. yesterday afternoon. I have attended my fair share of demonstrations both as reporter and rebel, but never have I seen such a righteous, united and eloquent display of dissent towards, quite frankly, anything. And to think, such courtesy is wasted on a man as oafish as Ahmadinejad.
(Slideshow after the jump.)
People carried posters depicting the bloody atrocities committed under Ahmadinejad’s command. My line of sight always included something green and a photo of Neda‘s face. Chants of “Democracy for Iran,” alternated between English and Farsi. Expatriate Iranians traveled from as far as Tokyo to participate in this protest. A human rights group from Toronto cycled over four days to participate in this protest. People who took the streets in Iran in the immediate aftermath of the June election followed Ahmadinejad to New York to participate in this protest. Parents let their kids skip school to participate in this protest. A movement by Iranians, for Iranians — it set quite the example for their floundering government.
Though the media built up the idea of a Green Revolution over the summer, the Iranians I spoke to said they prefer the term Green Movement. Many Iranian dissidents voiced their opposition to the theocracy when I interviewed them privately, but said the spirit of the protest “is about rights, not regime type.”
The Iranian government will engage in six-party talks next week that include a US representative. Protesters were at pains to emphasize that any deal has to address the threat posed by the Iranian government to the Iranian people as well as the international community. “Human rights should not be a Trojan Horse for some other geopolitical aim,” as a rally organizer aptly put it. Almost all the protesters I spoke to agree with Ahmadinejad about nuclear energy being a right of the Iranian people if used for peaceful purposes. “Of course it is,” said an Iranian émigré currently teaching in Japan, “But if we do not trust Ahmadinejad with gasoline, how can the rest of the world trust him about nuclear enrichment?”
The rally began around noon outside the Iran mission to the U.N. at 40th St. and 3rd Avenue. I overheard a policeman who held up a barricade say that he believes the Iranians are gathering for a good cause. Police presence, by the way, was understandably immense. By 4pm, most of the demonstrators had migrated to the U.N. plaza at 47th St. and 2nd Avenue, where admittedly there were more radical groups advocating extreme demands. The Communist red set up a sinister contrast to the green banners and T-shirts. I spoke to a couple of the ringleaders holding megaphones, but I couldn’t detect anything intelligible in their overwrought Marxist monologues. “Those kids aren’t representative of all Iranian people,” one guy snapped at me. I’m not sure it’s a sign of support, but he sure was green with envy.
Perhaps the Green Movement’s tone is best articulated by the rally’s opening speech. Sheida Jafari read out a tongue-and-cheek invitation by the group Where Is My Vote? to Ahmadinejad, asking him to extend his visit to New York indefinitely.
“You could take a European Studies class at NYU and learn historical facts… hopefully the NYU admissions department will agree to multiply your GRE scores by three, just as the interior ministry did with your votes. We believe that by staying here, you can make a lot of people, including yourself, much happier… we only wish to offer you a quiet exit.”