Neda: the face of a new Iranian revolution

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The image above is of an Iranian woman, bleeding on a Tehran street. It was taken from a video making the rounds on the Internet. I first saw the image on the front page of yesterday's Wall Street Journal (and it's in the Post-Gazette today). With its blurry, nightmarish quality, like a still from a David Lynch movie, it is as haunting as any image I've seen in an American newspaper.

The woman, identified as Neda Agha Soltan in some Western news accounts, was shot in the heart on Saturday during a protest march. The two men are attending to her wound by pressing down on her chest, trying to stanch the bleeding with their hands.

According to the Wikipedia page already erected in Neda's honor, one of the men trying to save her life is her father. On the video, a man said to be her father reportedly shouts in Persian: "Neda, don't be afraid. Neda, don't be afraid. Neda, stay with me. Neda stay with me." She died right there on the street.

The image of Neda's crumpled body is as indelible as any iconic photo taken during a revolution in the last 100 years. For Iranians, it will be as compelling as the pictures of police dogs and fire hoses turned on peaceful civil-rights workers in the American South in the 1950s or the image of the woman crying over the body of a student shot by National Guard soldiers at Kent State during protests against the Vietnam war.

What haunts me in this photo, even through the grainy video image, are Neda's dark pupils, which have migrated to the far right corners of her eyes. Like so many Iranian women, she has an uncommonly beautiful face, but the advantages of favorable bone structure don't mean anything to the angel of death hovering like a carrion bird over those risking their lives on the streets of Tehran.

With her eyes glassily fixed on the next world, Neda has become a symbol of a proud people's defiance of 21st-century tyranny that prances around in 13th-century religious garb. In pronouncing last week's election free of vote-rigging on a massive scale, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei did more to delegitimize Iran's theocratic regime than anything the protesters could have managed. People know a fraud when they see it. There is a palpable sense of revulsion in the presence of so many state-sponsored lies.

The fact that Neda's death is now a matter of record on social networks like Facebook and YouTube is a revolution in itself. The Iranian people are using tools like Twitter and cell phones to televise their revolution.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, the regime is responding to the erosion of its authority by using technology developed by the West to monitor dissent, identify protest leaders and track their whereabouts for arrest. The authorities may even be able to get the upper hand for a time, but it won't last. The ayatollahs' days are surely numbered now that so much fury has been unleashed on Iran's streets.

I used to make fun of people who used Twitter and the other social networks. But the implosion of Iran has forced me to re-evaluate my prejudice. With the Western press pushed out of that country, the civic journalism of Iranian men and women is our only witness to the unraveling of a regime as illegitimate as the despised Shah's. Thanks to YouTube, the revolution is being televised even as we speak.

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, apologizing for slavery. The House of Representatives passed a similar resolution last year, but it lacked the "no reparations" clause contained in the Senate version.

Since democracy means never having to say you're sorry until way past the statute of limitations -- (c'mon, folks, we get it. We really do!) -- last week's demonstration of collective sorrow felt more than a little anticlimactic.

Since it was proclaimed in a nearly empty Senate chamber, hardly anyone noticed the-once-in-a-144-year-gesture. It wouldn't surprise me if C-SPAN cut away a couple of times during the resolution's passage for rare commercial breaks.

The apology resolution passed on June 18, one day before "Juneteenth" -- "Emancipation Day" on the calendar of African-American obligations going back so far that most of us can't remember what it means.

Juneteenth was the day in 1865 when news of slavery's end finally reached the good folks in Galveston, Texas, who hadn't gotten word about the Emancipation Proclamation until three years after Lincoln delivered it.

Too bad Twitter wasn't around when we really needed it.

Tony Norman can be reached at or 412-263-1631. First Published June 23, 2009 4:00 AM


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