Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Courage Of Iran's Soccer Players

The images of hundreds of thousands marching in support of Mir Hussein Moussavi before the Iranian election certainly gave one the impression that the contest would be close. That's why the supposed landslide victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by 63 percent to 34 percent seems so absurd–and why a cross section of Iranian society, including some clerics, are asking, "Where is my vote?"

At least when George W. Bush stole the election in 2000, he was more subtle about it. The disenfranchisement of thousands of African-American and Jewish voters in Florida and the collusion of the Supreme Court in holding up Bush's "victory" without further recount was all it took. No need to claim an electoral gap of 29 percent.

Perhaps the most courageous of all of the Iranian protesters are the soccer players who wore green wristbands, symbolic of support for Moussavi, during a game in South Korea. These players, after all, can be immediately identified by the authorities. The rapidly evolving pace of events in Iran always carry the threat of a violent crackdown. Mohammadreza Habibi, senior prosecutor in the province of Isfahan, had a message for demonstrators: “We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution.”

Habibi is representative of the rise of religious fundamentalism, a cultural phenomenon not confined to Islam, that has swept across the world and wreaked so much havoc. Iran's wristband-wearing soccer players act in defiance of those who feel they have a divine mandate to kill (the same impulse felt by Scott Roeder, alleged murderer of George Tiller, the abortion doctor). The story of Ahmad Batebi, imprisoned and tortured for a decade after appearing on the cover of The Economist holding up a bloody shirt during July 1999 protests in Iran, indicates the danger and courage of simple, powerful gestures against authoritarian regimes. Such tremendous courage was exemplified by Iran's soccer players.

No comments: