by Naeem Mohaiemen + Mary Walling Blackburn
It begins with energy. Many coordinated moments. Everyone believes (again) they will make history. The last slow motions of a woman, jittering as the blood seeps out, and the camera insists on staying and recording. A lonely blog claims that the hijabi whose photo is circulating is a different Neda. This Neda is still. Alive. Is it true... months later I’m still seeing that “mistake” on placards.
As demonstrators stay on the streets, the world is synchronized (briefly). In Dhaka, there is graffiti action on the Iranian Cultural Center. Miraculously there are no guards, the only witness a sleepy night watchman. Tempers flare quickly at a rally on Dhaka University campus. Chavez’s endorsement of the election results works like black magic, leftists tie themselves into knots to defend the impossible.
An optimistic editorial: the revolution will bypass your filters. Later, all this seems too much hope as the state stifles voices, one by one. No more shouting from night dark rooftops. Now the Revolutionary Guard emerges with more power, the Basij at the sharp edge. I’m thinking of the banlieu riots, that helped propel to power the same man who called those rioters “racaille”.
In 1978, Michel Foucault was seduced by an Ayatollah’s steely determination to discipline and punish. In contrast, Gilles Peress was not won over. He calmly photographed, and collated. Later he excavated the telex: urgent messages from the Paris news agency, with ever more requests. Please more photos of...black chador, women, communists. Please. More. Now. The philosopher predicted the birth of ideas, the photographer saw things, carried out in the name of revolution.
2009. We meet at last, the two of us, in New York. More rallies, trying to muster up energy, for us and others. But we worry—the scene is set, a flag to bolster spirits, but things feel like a shadow play, never quite ending. Every gathering with a foretold script. The security barriers mark a neutered zone for dissent.
Finally though, there is this one day in Brooklyn. The air is traversed (by bridge) and the marchers walk from one bank to another. It isn't a miracle but it is beautiful. x number of women and men for x hours holding a green banner. No fist, no barbed wire, no peace symbol. Distance rescues it from exhausted protest imagery.
From another bridge, the camera records the march. A mile of air and water covered by the zoom lens. How near do we want to be? Some are breaking apart because they are not closer. Some are breaking apart because they are in the quake’s center. All are texting each other...phone to phone, as if there were no ocean between. SMS messages run alongside, with them. They are buoyed by love from home; anchored to essential routines— where to eat lunch and where to hang out. They are against a dictatorship and they are very, very normal. These messages are the interior of a movement, made sonic. Text moving from hand to eye to hand to eye through air and water.
Remember, there's still the solo cameraman on the other bridge. From the outside, it’s a lonesome kind of protest. We talk, for a few moments. He is feeling slightly forlorn. There are no texts in Farsi feeding through his phone, because he is not from Iran. Maybe, I advise, you can borrow some later, from a neighbor.
How is everyone now...F. in Amir Abad...A. in Chaleh Meydan... the dates of his videos are posted, so count backward. Listen to him perform Eternal Vow from Crouching Tiger. On November 13th, he posted Star-Crossed. He plays it alone in his room. On electric keyboard. Everything is moving through him, whether he likes it or not.
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