Twittering Liberty…and Hope – UPDATED

Emily Dickinson wrote:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words
And never stops at all…

How appropriate then, that the communications tool most responsible for keeping hope alive in shattered Iran is “a thing” called “Twitter,” and that the 140-character dispatches being sent and received by people in desperate straits are called “tweets.”

People are “tweeting” for their lives, and their messages are bold, frightened, determined and unbelievably moving. Students are sending out: “They are trapped in the dorms,” and “I cannot remain; I must participate.” They head off, unsure whether they are headed to a peaceful rally or a massacre, and they are not heard from for 18 hours; and people around the world -strangers- pray and wonder.

Then, miraculously, they are back, tweeting news, stories of destruction, injury, damage, hope; they are passing messages. Word comes that the totalitarian regime is trying to find these people, and so millions of “tweeps” (twittering people) change their time and location settings to Tehran, to create some cover. From the West, words of encouragement and, terribly, links to “concise instructions on treating gunshot wounds,” for those who fear they may need it.

The messages keep coming, and coming…

:::RT (Retweet) from Iran: Rasht and Ahwaz in real trouble, many dying and not being reported:::

:::RT from an Iran: “I realize now i do not fear death. I fear my daughter will not be free when i die:::

:::Confirmed: Ayatollah Montazeri questions #iranelection Results, Supports Peaceful Protests, Condemns Violence. :::

:::“140 chars is a novel when you’re being shot at.”:::

Andrew Sullivan has been doing great work, and here displays pictures and tweets. Do check it out.

This is a little like sitting at a ham radio, listening to broadcasts from behind the Iron Curtain, transmitting back what heartening words you can. But it is quiet. You can feel the pulse. It is a human force for freedom that is pressing, pressing against restraints; fully aware of the danger, it yearns, pressing forward, still. It is a terrible beauty.

Naghshe Jahan Sq / Esfehan / IRAN

A Mature, Elegant Protest: A peaceful gathering of a couple million people in Iran. Twitter has some folks from Iran managing to get some messages out, and receive messages of support and encouragement.

It occurred to me over the weekend, while the MSM was, to their everlasting shame, not reporting on the Iranian uprising, that Twitter had become the pre-eminent tool for breaking news. Blogs immediately receded into the background and became secondary, and the big-time-professional news organizations were somnambulist non-players (perhaps they were unsure how to frame the thing until orders were received from “wherever”).

Twitter has been beyond impressive. Understanding that people in Iran were out of options and dependant upon them, they even delayed some scheduled downtime for maintenance, in order to keep the information flowing. That was generous of them, encouraging and even a little noble.

Sissy Willis, following Glenn Reynold’s lead, calls it An Army of Twitterers.

Don Surber, unimpressed with President Obama’s rather vague remarks about Iran writes of the phenom:

I am embarrassed that a couple of computer geeks who came up with a social network have more brass than my holier-than-thou president. Words, deeds. Odd that Twitter does deeds while the commander-in-chief does words.

Well, computer geeks may better understand the whole notion of freedom -particularly freedom of speech- than others. The State Department is claiming to have asked Twitter (along with thousands of Tweeters) to do that. I suppose they can claim it. Maybe they did, but that would seem oddly out-of-step with the new “smart” diplomacy of the United States. I am a little puzzled, though, by President Obama’s contention that America has no right to opine on (or ability to direct) any of Iran’s business; he doesn’t seem to feel the same way about Israel, after all.

Do read this very moving anonymous dispatch from Tehran:

What is remarkable about the Mousavi and opposition marches is the orderly disorder. These are not rallies or events in the manner familiar to Americans. There are no official Mousavi volunteers guiding the crowd to the designated rallying points, no college interns filled with coffee and day-old pizza. The movement is self-directed. Mousavi had asked his supporters to march but to march respectfully, to give no excuse for violence. The crowd is abiding. As we pass along the nearly kilometer length of a basiji [paramilitary] base, the cry goes up: Shoar nagoo! Don’t shout slogans! Hands are up held up instead. It is quiet. Here and there a voice, unable to restrain itself, begins to scream “Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!” It is met instantly with hisses and whistles — saket! saket! quiet! quiet! — and the voice falls silent again.

How do we know where to go? When to go? Texting, any kind of messaging, is down, the internet is spotty and cell phones have become unreliable. Still, Tehran has always been a city where information gets passed around easily. For all of the complaints and anxiety that life has become too modern, that people are living alone in great apartment towers instead of with their families in homes, the citizens of this city find ways to know, to be in each other’s business. Conversations come easily even amongst strangers, more so now than ever. Men weave through the crowd, telling us what’s next. “Come tomorrow to Vali Asr at 5! Tomorrow! Spread the word!”

Then the story takes a bad turn. All does not end well. Seeing the camera around my neck, several people rush up to me, frantically urging me to go take pictures, shouting, “They are killing us all!” Behind a wall, in an alleyway set off from the road, a confrontation is taking place between one spike of the crowd and basiji forces, holed up in a base. There is the unsettling pop-pop-pop of gunfire, and a plume of black smoke rises into the sky. A crowd is gathering in the alley and men rush forward to throw rocks while others tell them, “Stop, stop, that’s what they want!”

A police officer, alone, rushes in to help, brought in by part of the crowd. Suddenly he is surrounded, confronted violently by angry protestors [sic]. A great confusion ensues as water bottles and rocks are hurled at the cop. Ten to 15 men form a perimeter around the officer to shield him their hands up begging the crowd to control themselves to let this man pass, he has come to help. During the worst moment, we see the terrified policeman pressed against a courtyard wall. His hat has been knocked off, he shouts that he is here to help. Finally, thankfully, the situation is controlled, the police officer joins in the chanting, and he is allowed to go into the alley to help.

The chant goes up, the same as was used during the 1979 Revolution: “He who kills my brother, will be killed by me!” We hear the wail of an ambulance. A boy, no older than 14, is rushed through the crowd, carried sideways at the head and the legs by three men. Foam is coming out of his mouth and eyes. There is no way of knowing for sure, but there are reports that five to seven people have been shot, have been killed right here in this spot. I see a young man hold up his right hand, it is covered in blood.

The Daily Beast’s Douglas Rushkoff says how Twitter and Technology can defeat Totalitarianism. One hopes.

Pray for the people of Iran; pray for good to triumph. Pray for their safety, their fortitude, their energy, their “thing with feathers,” which is hope:

“…hope is not simply a feeling. Hope says, “awake, O Sleeper, arise from death!” Hope is the builder of bridges, the tamer of winds, the harnesser of ideas and possibilities. A poor man with hope is immeasurably richer than a wealthy man without it, because he carries within him the spark that can alight a thousand tomorrows.”

Pray for the living. Pray for the families of the dead. If you are reading this at night and want to pray for these, I have a podcast of Vespers of the Office for the Dead here. If you are reading this in the morning, those prayers are here.

Some tweets:
:::In Case of Emergency medical care for tear gas, pepper spray –
:::GO BACK DELETE ALL PAST TWEETS that may have Iran usernames . Arrests have been made. Please RT (Re-twee) ENSURE ALL SEE THIS:::
:::GOOGLE EARTH DO NOT UPDATE THE MAPS – it will allow govt to track protesters that are hiding on sidestreets and roofs:::
:::Video: Perhaps the most intense I’ve seen to date. Wish I had more details behind it.
:::thank you for braving the consequences to tell the world about what is happening:::
:::Hamas is Helping Ahmadinejad Quell Revolt in Iran >> Is this confirmed?:::

Check back here, as I will add more news/opinion as I find it, below:

Spengler: If you missed it, a must-read: Hedgehogs and Flamingos in Tehran
Ed Morrissey: Reagan Didn’t Remain Silent on Poland
Protests do not seem to be slowing down or losing steam
Must check-out blog: Where is my vote?
France’s President Sarkozy says the Iran election is a fraud.
Iran Opposition: keeps up the pressure
American Digest: The Furies of Iran
NY Times: Innocent Googling? No such thing in Tehran
LA Times: Mideast hanging on every Text & Tweet from Iran
Idealism: Iranian Uprising Unites American Left and Right
Video of A protest in Houston
Bookworm: Revolutionary thinking
Pence: Calls on POTUS to support Iranian protesters
Earlier post: lots of links
Very Ticked off Vanderleun: writing here, here, and here.
Brutally Honest: also ticked
Twittering: While Iran Burns
Belmont Club: “people so practiced in sophistry”
Nile Gardiner: Wondering about Neville Chamberlain?
Insty: links to pics
NRO Snark: Obama Wins the Iranian Election
A movie: The Stoning of Soraya & Iran’s uprising

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Maggie45

    I said Vespers along with you. Your chanting was beautiful. Thank you.

    Here’s some good info for Twitter users on how to protect the Iranian users:’

  • Robohobo

    Here is the thing. If at the end of all of this in Iran, the Council of Mullahs and the Supreme Mullah, Khameini, are still in place then all of it has been nothing but kabuki theater. Remember that Iran is a theocracy run entirely by the mullahs.

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  • ultraguy

    Our hostess wrote:

    “I am a little puzzled, though, by President Obama’s contention that America has no right to opine on (or ability to direct) any of Iran’s business; he doesn’t seem to feel the same way about Israel, after all.”

    Is it not clear by now which side OBH is on in the much larger spiritual war we’re in? The war manifesting openly in Iran at the moment but bound to pop up elsewhere soon?

    I hope and pray that hope remains alive and that peace returns–in Iran and elsewhere–however Stratfor outlines what is, to my mind, a compelling and much more sobering possibility: that among the non-urban, non-English-speaking, non-telephone-owning (and therefore non-pollable), non-elite in Iran (i.e., the majority) Ahmadinejad won. That’s not to condone the man, or what’s going on, but to raise again the questions around the difficult scenario we’ve seen play out in Gaza and elsewhere: a more-or-less honest election with a clear result that leads to less freedom, and more repression.

    As they note: “Hitler is the classic example of someone who came to power constitutionally, and then proceeded to gut the constitution. Similarly, Ahmadinejad’s victory is a triumph of both democracy and repression.”

  • dellbabe68

    I didn’t think the press could shock me anymore, but I am made speechless by this. I think hearing about ABC anchoring from the White House and their not reporting about Iran (and of course not pressuring Pres. Obama for details or even a coherent thought on it) in a 24 hour span has done it.

    Great post; thank you.

    And I want to say that I rolled my eyes completely at tweeting when it first came out. It is amazing the role it has played in Iran. That non-journalists can report what the press does not in 140 characters (and so no hot air) is so perfectly ironic and deserving.

  • Jane

    I’ve been following the events on Twitter, HuffPost and other sites … This article is timely and right-on!!! Obama is missing his “Tear Down That Wall” moment.

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  • Gayle Miller

    The sad thing about this “Iranian Spring” is that the man they are protesting in favor of – is not all that much different than the man they abhor. And the fact remains that Iran IS a theocracy and the Mullahs rule the roost! Still I hope these protests bear some sweet fruit.

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  • dymphna

    This is not 1980s Poland or 1950s Hungary. This is Iran and the candidates are a choice between arsenic and strychnine. No good will come out of it either way.

  • eaglewingz08

    Pray for Obama and Hillary because only once before in the past sixty years has there been such a reckless President who appears willing to sell out the democratic aspirations of a foreign nation (or nations) in the name of his self righteous and leftwing principles (yes Carter are your ears burning off?)
    This shameful attitude and statements by Pres. Obama were foreshadowed in his interview with Rick Warren during the election campaign last year. Then he stated while we should ‘confront it’, we have too often committed evil while confronting evil, and that we should act with humility while confronting evil. John McCain on the other hand said ‘defeat evil’.:

    see for yourselves. We now have that difference in attitude and world view present in the lives of the people of Iran. Obama votes present, offers mealy mouthed platitudes while people are being shot and die in the cause of freedom. For shame Mr. Obama.

  • Dorothy Jane

    I have been following you and Persiankiwi on Twitter. I am not signed up for Twitter, but I found Persiankiwi on Twitterfall and I found your address and have been reading you as well. This is amazing and surreal, the way this is happening and then each morning the talking heads are still blathering away, almost as if nothing is going on. Thanks for your tweets and this beautiful post…

  • John Ballard

    Pouring a little oil on the water here, my take on events in Iran is less excited. This is an example of how a complicated issue can become oversimplified too quickly.
    Couple of points…

    1. Ahmadinejad may very well represent a mathematical majority of Iranians. In our quest to save the world by advancing the notion of democracy, whether populist or representative, it is important to remember a principle from any good political science 101 course: one downside of democracy is tyranny of the majority. Those who deny this don’t know history.

    2. The candidate animating the opposition is Mir Hussein Moussavi, a former prime minister of Iran who led the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and was the man on horseback when thousands of dissidents were killed in 1988.

    3. I have heard little or no mention of the Basij or Basiji militia, the Iranian version of Hitler Youth who are four-square in support of Ahmadinejad. There are many young people in Iran but the conflict is by no means a generational split. And the Basiji (which predate the overthrow of the Shah) are a breathtakingly blind, manipulated and dangerous lay extension of Iran’s religious extremists.

    I may be a minority of one, but my reading leads me to think what we are witnessing in Iran is a civil conflict than the birthing of a Persian version of modern representative democracy. It cannot be called a civil war… yet. But the potential is there. Should violence break out, the temptation to intervene will be great.

    Links to check…

    The Iranian Obama? Hardly!

    Google basiji corps and read what comes up.

    And anyone who thinks that saber rattling in Washington is in order doesn’t understand much about diplomacy. This is the moment to remain circumspect, stick to the knitting and see what happens next. Anything more, no matter who seeks or urges it, will be interpreted as foreign interference, which by definition it is.

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