June 20 is the anniversary of the death of Neda Agha-Soltan. She died protesting the stolen presidential election of Iran last year. She was an Iranian Shi’ia Muslim, only 26 years old. Yet, with her spirit and her courage, she exemplified the best of what we call American. HBO is running a documentary this month, “For Neda,” in honor of her life, her death, and her cause of Iranian freedom. On June 20, around the world, organized by a Facebook page in her name, people will be wearing T-shirts declaring, “I am Neda,” as a show of solidarity with the spirit of Neda and the oppressed Iranian people.
The oppression in Iran is at once political and religious, because the government is a theocracy with the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as its supreme leader. The president of Iran is subordinate to the religious council headed by the supreme leader, almost in the same manner that a CEO of a corporation is subordinate to a board of directors. While the people elect the president, the council can remove him, and only council-approved candidates may even run for office. So we should not allow any illusions that Iran has anything close to a real democratic republic. Yet, even this much control was apparently not enough, and the election was blatantly rigged, sparking the massive and unprecedented protests against the regime and even against the supreme leader himself.
The Iranian government is not representative of Shi’ia Islam as a whole; it is formed from a fundamentalist sub-faction, similar to the Taliban and Sunni Wahhabism. It is not, however, connected to these other movements nor to Al Qaeda, which is actually an enemy of Iran. Yet, the resemblance testifies to a convergence of religious thought, which may generally be called Islamic fundamentalism. It is a reactionary response against modern culture and freedom.
Neda said, “this is not my God, the God I worship is a compassionate and loving God.” Her importance in saying these words derives from the fact that she was not at all unique; rather, Neda speaks for millions of moderate and liberal Muslims, who resent the hijacking of their faith. Moderate Muslims are attracted to the beauty of their religion and the joy of their tradition, deriving strength in their daily lives and insight into the meaning of life in general. By contrast, fundamentalism portrays the type of a vengeful dictator as God, emphasizing obedience to petty human authorities in place of developing their own personal relationship with God.
Politics and religion are closely allied always, but to the degradation of both. Politics is by nature secular and self-interested and corrupting, which makes bad religion. Religion is by nature unworldly and impractical, which makes bad politics. If there ever was an argument for the separation of church and state, it is Iran. The young people are losing their faith, because they have discovered that they have lost their freedom.
I am Neda. Neda was martyred for freedom in Iran last year. She was murdered by the Iranian government during a peaceful protest after the stolen Iranian presidential election last year. Already a symbol of freedom, bystanders shouted, “Neda, stay with us!” as she died, shot through the heart. She believed in a merciful Allah, not represented by the Ayatollah’s cruelty. The peaceful protesters were under attack by government forces for hours, yet she returned injured from a medical clinic to support her compatriots, who were being beaten and killed. Her last words were, “Death to the dictator!” Amen. What could be more American?