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“Allahu Akbar!” Poetry from Tehran’s rooftops


(Versión original en castellano aquí)

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I hear the Iranians keep coming out every night to shout “Allahu akbar!” The government may beat them up on the streets. But it can’t stop neither their cry in the dark nor the powerful call of poetry, as important as it is for the Iranian soul.

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Every night, since the rigged elections of 12 June, people come out to yell from the rooftops. Allahu akbar, god is the greatest. You get chicken skin when you are waliking alone in the night, and suddenly you hear that voice very near, above you, letting go that strong call. If it is not very near, it will soon be so. Those who hear it are many and they will come out to their balconies to reply. It is like a wonderful echo growing and multiplying with rythm, it comes near you, surrounds you with big waves, and then goes away, and comes back, goes and comes…

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If you get chicken skin, the Iranian rulers get frightened and worried. Because those who cry Allahu akbar are not religious conservatives, it is not the voice of Khameneist Islam threatening the infidel and the traitor. This mystical and combative cry is at the same time a paradox and a conquest. A paradox because those who cry god is the greatest are those who fight to set a limit to religious restrictions. And a conquest because it is a recovered password, it is the slogan used by the young revolutionaries of 1979 to warn Sha Reza Pahlevi that they were coming to get him, and it is now used to remind the outdated revolutionaries of 2009 that power corrupts and it has destroyed them from their insides, that power is not meant to be exercised forever and they will have to be accountable for what they did with it.

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Hopefully in this very moment, when you read this, you are in a silent and dark place. Otherwise, close your eyes. Now, push the play button. And listen:

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The woman who recorded this video is talking to you. In Farsi.

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There is a message, what does she say?

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It is poetry. The Iranians are a people for whom poetry has a superior place. Religion has taught them to make pilgrimage to the holy places. But they come with the same devotion to worship their poets in their mausolea. In Shiraz, for instance, people wouldn’t ask me whether I had visited the mosques and the madrassas, not even whether I’d been to the ancient city of Persepolis: “Did you go to see Hafez?”, they would question, proud of their great poet. “You can’t leave whithout visiting Hafez’s mausoleum”.

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It is not rare for their conversations to have poetic echoes. When they speak of something grave, almost unconsciously they resort to metaphores and literary formulas. It is part of their self. This anonymous Iranian woman, who is talking to you, is sending a message to the world. And she does it by means of four poems, in different days, always with Tehran’s rooftops voices in the background. Someone uploaded them on YouTube and translated the poetry into English for us. You will see it as subtitles. I did my own Spanish translation, and posted the four together with complementary information of what was happening at the moment, to help the reader to understand what context she is speaking from. A few friends suggested I should do it in English, too. So here it is.

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DEFENSELESS PEOPLE

This is the video you’ve heard already. She recorded it on 16 June, on the eve of the fourth day of protests after the rigged poll. The government had censored or interrupted communications in different moments: text messaging permanently, and other services as internet, cellular telephony and international calls intermitently. The dogs of repression were attacking people on the streets.

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WHERE IS THIS PLACE?

On 19 June, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Supreme Leader, ayatollah Seiyed Ali Khamenei (purported in the Constitution as God’s representative on Earth, a man who’s meant to be a benevolent wise magistrate who takes care of his people), came out to give a sermon in which he validated the rigged election and warned those who whouldn’t accept the outcome that they’d be responsible for the tragedy.

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LISTEN CLOSELY

Once the Supreme Leader betrayed his people, the Basij militias and the police felt free to set out for their prey. On this Saturday, 20 June, I was a close-up witness of the amazing heroism of a few thousand people who tried to walk the four kilometers between Revolution and Freedom squares. I saw them facing the beatings, the offensives of thugs on motorbikes and the tear-gas, and keep going ahead almost, almost to Freedom Square. But the government wouldn´t let them reach it. It had been humiliated, overcome in the street battle by unarmed people, and so it entrenched its forces in the square and there was no way to push them away.

There were fatal victims in this day. In Iran, as in other Islamic countries, TV channels dedicate a lot of time to show Israeli forces with state-of-the-art weaponry repressing Palestinian demonstrations or fighting Hamas militias with their homemade rockets. Many people in Iran say now that the same thing is happening in their country. People come out unarmed and resort to throw rocks when they have no other alternative. The government and its official and semiofficial agents use fire arms. That Saturday, at least ten people died at the hands of the forces “of order”. Among them, a girl whose agony would reach the whole world by YouTube. A militia member passing by on a motorbike shot her in the chest when she was standing on the street, talking over the phone. With all its religous piety, the government said that the dead ones were “terrorists”. How can someone be so brutal to stain the memory of those he abusively killed. What the authorities never felt they had to explain was how come, if they were fighting terrorists, that all the dead belonged to only one of the sides.

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The jails were getting full of inocent people. By means of torture, they would provide the police and the media with fake confessions. God’s representative on Earth had set the devils free.

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LET US NOT FORGET

Sunday, 21 June, was the day of confussion, of anguish, of despair. We woke up in an undeclared state of siège, under rules no one had made clear, which had to be learned by trial and failure. Failure should better be of others, because it would mean a beating and an arrest, and then, who knows: with luck, they’d let you go after a couple days of torture, as a young guy I interviewed. You could also spend weeks or months in prison, be put to trial, and unfairly sentenced. Or you could die, a fact even the government has admitted.

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Nights belonged to terror. The police had lists of people whose doors they would break, and whom they would capture in pijama, in front of their families. They’d go after everykind of people: politically active students and unlucky guys, old governmental ministers and fourth-level officials, journalists, artists, intellectuals, newspaper hawkers, shop attendants, workers, IT engineers… The authorities don’t usually provide details of their repressive activities, but they couldn’t provide them, event if they wanted: repression was so broad and disorganised that I doubt they had control over these mountains of data. So it was in Tehran. How could it be in smaller, far away cities? What about rural areas, where minority ethnic groups had favoured the opposition?

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