Me, Iran and The Green Movement

 

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Chuck Hamilton 

Many of you may not be aware that the current wave of people standing up to struggle against the forces envincing to enslave them under absolute despotism and establish a system that serves the needs of the many rather than the greed of the few began not in the West, nor in North Africa, nor in the Levant, but in Iran.

Before the rise of the Corbynistas, before the Berniecrats, before the Occupy movements, before the indignados, before the Israeli social justice movement, before the Arab Spring, there was the Green Movement of Iran, which at the time the Arab Spring began was still ongoing, though winding down, even as the people of countries from the western end of the Maghreb to the eastern borders of the Levant began to stir. It was the movement which for a little while gave us the phrase “Going Iranian” to standing up to our oppressors and saying to them, “No more!”.

This is an abbreviated version of something I wrote back in December 2009 at the most intense period of the Green Movement.

At the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, I had been aware of events there on and off for the previous couple of years since I have always been an avid consumer of news. I watched the events of the revolution and its aftermath unfold, then like all Americans found myself riveted to the Hostage Crisis.

During this time, I got my first job, at Ponderosa Steakhouse on Brainerd Road. I was the dishwasher in the restaurant’s scullery, and was partnered with an Iranian college student from the city of Babol in the province of Mazandaran, who was the steak cook; every shift I worked he worked also. Even though most Americans were gleefully singing “Bomb bomb bomb, Bomb bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann”, I went out of my way to reach out to him.

Upon learning he was unable to return home due to the hostage crisis, I got him to teach me a few words of Farsi so that maybe hearing them would make him a little less homesick. Since we were working most of the time, the conversations were limited to just a few words but I always liked to see his face light up.

Of course, there were also the few occasions when he called me up drunk and depressed, speaking rapidly in Farsi. It was somewhat amusing but mostly heartbeaking. The friendship, by the way, was two-way; it was my first job and he went out of his way to make me feel welcome.

After he graduated from the community college in June, he moved away to continue his education and I never saw him again. Seven months later, the hostages were released, and I hoped he got to go home at least for a visit to see his family.

In the years that followed, hearing news about the Iranian Cultural Revolution, the harsh repression of dissent, the crushing of the Left, the imposition of sharia, the Iran-Iraq War, the Iran-Contra Affair, and the student movement of 1999, I often worried about my friend and hoped that he had managed to remain in the States.

I kept up casually with news from Iran in those and later years, the mass murder of the Tudeh, the Mojahedin-e Khalq, and other leftists, the displacement of Ayatollah Montazeri, the rise of Ayatollah Rafsanjani, and other events. But Iran did not really come back into focus for me until the events of 9/11.

Like many, I stayed glued to the TV for weeks. One report that stood out vividly for me was about one million people holding a vigil in Tehran in support of the victims and their families. I felt pride in the citizens of my friend’s homeland.

Then came Bush’s State of the Union address in January, and I was shocked and appalled to hear Iran named as one the the three members of the “axis of evil”. That was the beginning of the belligerent propaganda coming out the neocon White House that helped put the final nails in the coffin of President Khatami’s reform program and bring to office Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad with the illegal assistance of the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij in his first stolen election.

In 2006, I joined the now defunct Yahoo360. After not doing much with it at all, I logged on one day to find a comment left by Sarah, a college student in Iran. With an exchange of comments and mails on the Yahoo360 system, I’d made my first Iranian friend in over 25 years. Through her, more followed, never more than 25 on Yahoo360, all Iranian except two. With my new friends I discussed history, Iranian poetry, even facts about Shia Islam, but never politics. All were reluctant to discuss their daily lives. I could sense, however, their frustration, their isolation, their loneliness. It made me think of the words in the first stanza of Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”–You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much ’til you spend half your life just covering up. A sentiment all the Daniel Blakes of the world can relate to.

In the spring of 2009, most of them began expressing optimism, many being involved with Mir Hossein Moussavi’s campaign for president. I felt a sense of hope for change, a hope which they all expressed. With them I eagerly anticipated the outcome.

Watching the election be stolen on 12 June, I felt depressed and robbed. When media commentators, unaware of the deep levels of discontent across all levels of society in Iran, expressed surprise at the enormous number of demonstrators pouring out into the streets across the country that evening, my reaction was to shrug my shoulders as if to say, “What did you expect?”. Then came the harsh crackdowns on the night of 13 June and it was more like, “Holy shit…those are my friends! Oh my God…”.

For the next several weeks, my TV stayed tuned to CNN as I sat at the computer sending out messages of support to a growing number of connections and frantically searching out all across the internet for news and information. In addition to activities on Yahoo360, I emailed all the information I could to every Iranian contact in my address book. Upon learning that Yahoo360 would go ahead with its planned closure, I repeatedly warned and gave notice to all my friends on the network and told them to spread the word so that everyone could stay in contact with the outside world. The rest of the summer, I followed events all day long on a variety of sources including Youtube and Twitter. Once Yahoo360 shut down, I began posting to Facebook.

Regarding the nuclear issue, as much anti-nuke as I am, I couldn’t care less about it in the situation with Iran. It is a chimera, a façade, a St. Elmo’s Fire, shiny car keys jingled to distract the masses, the masses of every country involved. How about we deal with huge stockpile of nukes possessed by the State of Israel first? I don’t care about Iran for the sake of the U.S., or for the sake of the world; I only care about Iran for the sake of Iran, for the sake of its people.

Seven and a half years ago, I wrote, “Iranians need to know that they are not alone, that the world is paying attention. They need information about what is going on in their own country because they can’t get true information in their totalitarian regime. They need to know that the rest of us humans support them.” That goes for the Iranians then and now, and for the people in every country of the world suffering under plutocrats who look at them as if they are food and the oligarchs who enable their kleptocracy.

Since writing this back in December 2009, by the way, I discovered that my friend Mehdi, now using his first name Daniel, is alive and well, and living in the United States.

Why did I do it? Why was I so involved in the Iranian Green Movement? Because people should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people. I did it because I am a Terran, a citizen of Earth, and Iran is part of my home, and all Iranians are my brothers, sisters, and cousins.

Esteghlal! Azadi! Jomhuri-e Irani! Esteghlal! Azadi! Edalat-e Ejtemae-e! Rooz-e ma khahad amad, omidvaram. Our day will come, inshallah. Keep the faith. Peace out.

 

Sinead O’Connor… my Danny Boy

Neil Scott speaks about the concert he fell in love with a rebellious hero.

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by Neil Scott

This is thescript of the piece Neil did on Sinead for Ungagged, 10/08/17 His piece starts at 23 mins…

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“… Which brings me to what I wanted to speak about.  One of my music heroes.

At the weekend, Sinead O’connor posted a really sad, video to Facebook. It was a cry for help. Her voice and image went out to millions,, and the positive response was inspiring.

People from across the world held out their hands and hoped they could catch the very fragile and desperately ill woman. Happily, it has been reported she is safe and with people who love her.  But this sad event and the anniversary theme of this podcast reminded me of when I saw Sinead, live, in Belfast now nearly thirty years ago.

Not since I had watched the Ramones with their defiant “this is me, SO?” attitudes, smacking the frets with a string orchestra behind them on Top of the Pops in the early eighties had I noticed such societal twisting and bending till it broke. Norms we had been sold tangled, turned and thrown back at us to create new ground. New questions. New ways to see the world.  Counter culture is always usurped and sold back to us, creating new counter cultures.  This time it was a woman – a woman breaking the bonds of the patriarchal male gaze.  A woman demanding people to listen.  A woman demanding people to look, but judge for who she was, not how she was packaged.

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Before her, there had been Blondie. Debbie unabashedly strutting across stages, but unmistakably an all American poster girl, selling clothes and style as well as records. An all american icon, albeit one with attitude.

The Irish were biting back. Political and personal statements of “we are here and we are more than the conservative Irish catholic/protestant at loggerheads about just whose unnatural, boxed up, disciplined ideology is supreme.”

In today’s global kiss arse neo-con context, Bono is called a wanker, but for a Northern Irish boy questioning all he experienced in his unionist town, Sunday Bloody Sunday and waving white flags and singing about dead American Civil Rights leaders was pretty radical. Civil rights were a threat in our bordered, walled, military world.

Teenaged visits to Dublin and partying across the wire in Belfast was my rebellion. I guess part of hers was singing in Belfast’s most bombed hotel.

The shock of Sinead; the appearance, defiance, rebelliousness -truthfulness- was like the buzz around Boy George after his first appearance on TOTP. He bent gender. He looked incredible. He raised questions, and consumerism jumped on board. The homophobic commentary from The Daily Mail and its nasty comrades bounced off his young, confident shell of self. Until it became too much. And until it was packaged and sold.
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Sinead stood, self consciously, beautiful and strong. “This is me. I don’t do “Dana” nor am I Madonna. I am a woman with something to say. Listen or don’t.”

The shaved head. The subtle, if any, makeup. The lack of ra-ra, jewellry or shoulder pads immediately set her apart singing Mandinka without Legs and Co and their nonsense. She bent the Murdoch, BBC, Rothermere, ad-man, fashion world, socialised, schoolboy view of what a woman should be.

But something about her seemed fragile. Glass. Breakable. In need of a friend, as we all are at 21.

Excited by Mandinka, we wanted to go to the Belfast show. There were threats after some would say, unwise words about our war wounded walled province – or was that a local media creation? A sense of “punk” Irish republican hysteria created to sell newspapers? Tickets? And a hastily rearranged venue. The Europa Hotel- protected like almost no other hotel in the world seemed a wise new stage.
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Gareth, in the know, got the tickets. I smuggled my SLR camera into the show. The tickets expressly said in those days, “no cameras,” but I would sidle up to the press corp and slip the camera out of my jacket.

This was well before the days of people watching live events through their phone screens. I used to watch through my camera eyepiece – trying not to waste expensive, valuable, finite film – waiting for the perfect shot. Hiding behind the camera; self conscious; not wanting to look someone so beautiful straight in the eye. I got few good shots that night – I was too mesmerised by this person.

And she took to the microphone, holding it tightly; looking around the small venue (most venues in Northern Ireland at that time were small). Her eyes scanned the crowd, and then, I felt, they rested on me. Or on my lense.

The music was immediate; I couldn’t place it into a box along with my Toyah’s, Debbie’s or Kate’s. This was music with lyrics as important as my Curtis’s, Morrissey’s and Burn’s. This wasn’t punk, but it shouted something.  It challenged everything.

The atmosphere she created was electrifying. This was a woman with something to say, but who was saying it through her music. Even the band – made up of  Smiths members, couldn’t divert our attention from this performer.

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No grandstanding like Bono; no histrionics like The Jesus and Mary Chain.

I remember being disappointed the concert was so short – but this was a young woman with new songs.  I longed to see her later in her career with more to say.  But that was the last time I did.

This was a woman as I experienced women. This was no media creation. This was someone with opinions; with blood, flesh, colour and nervous, darting eyes. No mannequin. No wankers fetish.

This was someone who didn’t demand to be treated like a man – this was a woman who demanded to be treated as a human being. Valued as a human being, and fallible like every other human being I knew. And I was hooked. This woman of truth, but so delicate, so damaged. So aware.

Sinead cried on film; she sang about her lost children. She sang about her lost childhood and the lost generations and scars in her Ireland. She raged at the down presser man. She raged at the tendrils of organised religion. She revealed her inner battles and physical scars. She was hated by the American right and the religiously pompous and patriarchal. Frank Sinatra threatened to “kick her ass” for refusing to play a concert if the US national anthem was played at the start in her protest at US foreign policy.

And she gave Miley Cyrus advice – sound, motherly advice and was ridiculed in a dreadful way by the young woman whose rebellion has been packaged and sold back at her. A young woman sold as a commodity, but all the time, like lots of young people nowadays, told their rebellion is theirs while their money is spent or their bodies and minds are exploited, while corporations tell her do this; buy this- adults don’t like or “get” this. Miley’s rebellion has been packaged up and corporations make a mint. Sinead’s own advice, from her song the Emperor’s New Clothes, is thrown back at her.

“He thinks I just became famous
And that’s what messed me up
But he’s wrong
How could I possibly know what I want
When I was only twenty-one?
And there’s millions of people
To offer advice and say how I should be
But they’re twisted
And they will never be any influence on me…”

Some of Sinead’s songs reduce me to tears. (in privacy of course – this damaged male holds the baggage of role models foisted upon him by capitalist stiff upper colonialist lips and admen and consumerism and hierarchy).

Her song, My Special Child is my Danny boy.

She’s My Patsy Cline.

But unlike Danny, her songs are hopeful, educational and unlike Patsy, she *will* heal.”

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The Great Ungagged Anti-Capitalist Birthday Treat

Available FREE on iTunes, Soundcloud and Podbean

It’s Ungagged’s birthday, and we are so excited to have been going strong for a whole year. We couldn’t do it without the support of our listeners – your downloads, conversation generated from your tweets, facebook comments and comments here, as well as your wonderfully generous donations make Ungagged what it is. It is as much yours as is it ours.

We have a brilliant birthday present for you.  In this pod, introduced by Victoria Pearson, we’ll be hearing from Neil Scott on one of his musical heroes, Steve McAuliffe will be performing his brilliant poem Vampire Limosine, Janine Booth will perform her poem Glaston Tory, and Teresa Durran will perform her poem Natalis.

Sandra Webster will be talking about Hiroshima and her brother, Red Raiph will be talking birthdays, Debra Torrance will be talking about how much can change in a year, and Chuck Hamilton will be talking about his involvement with the Green Movement of Iran.

We’ll also hear from Richie Venton on the 10th anniversary of the onset of the economic crash, George Collins will join us for a chat,  Paul Sheridan talking about people not having confidence in their own abilities, Derek Stewart Macpherson reading us his letter from Australia, and brand new Ungagger Ola from Ola’s Kool Kitchen will be joining us. We’ll also have an IndependenceLive.net interview with SNP MEP Alyn Smith.
With music from The Wakes, Hands of Blue, COAST, Velodrome, Dactylion, Baby Seals, Thee Faction, Joe Solo, Jackal Trades, Roy Møller, Thunder on the Left, Stuart McFarlane, and Ms Mohammed.

 

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