Some of the planning behind the protest movement in Iran is obvious
to the world, especially through electronic media and social
communications. But there’s a deeper level of order embedded in that
culture, and it’s getting very little attention.
Although it is not yet clear who shot “Neda” (a soldier?
pro-government militant? an accidental misfiring?), her death may have
changed everything. For the cycles of mourning in Shiite Islam actually
provide a schedule for political combat — a way to generate or revive
momentum. Shiite Muslims mourn their dead on the third, seventh and
40th days after a death, and these commemorations are a pivotal part of
Iran’s rich history. During the revolution, the pattern of
confrontations between the shah’s security forces and the
revolutionaries often played out in 40-day cycles.
Who outside the Muslim world knows this, or incorporates it into the
larger attempt to understand what is unfolding at this moment in Iran?
Last week, TMatt [GetReligion’s Terry Mattingly] wrote
“it’s about time for people in our big newsrooms to start writing about
the religious tensions that surround President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and
that are helping to fuel those marches in Tehran (and, maybe, elsewhere
in Iran).” This story provides some of that context. We learn that Neda
is already being hailed as a martyr and that martyrdom is central to
politics in the Shiite tradition:
“The first Shiite martyr was Hussein, the prophet Mohammed’s
grandson. He believed it was better to die fighting injustice than to
live with injustice under what he believed was illegitimate rule.
In the seventh century, Hussein and a band of fewer than 100 people,
including women and children, took on the mighty Umayyad dynasty in
Karbala, an ancient city in Mesopotamia now in modern-day Iraq. They
knew they would be massacred… .
Because of Hussein, revolt against tyranny became part of Shiite
tradition. Indeed, protest and martyrdom are widely considered duties
to God. And nowhere is the practice more honored than in Iran, the
world’s largest Shiite country.”
Citizens in the West can’t afford to not know this anymore. The
global village is becoming much more than a cliche all of a sudden.