Effective passive resistance to dictatorship: Spain and Iran

In Spain, after 1939, when their Basque ethnic identity was viciously repressed by dictator Francisco Franco, following the disastrous Spanish Civil War, Basque patriots had the presence of mind to offer passive resistance by cultivating geraniums on the balconies of their houses and flats. The red and green of the plants (plus an imaginary white) were an easily identifiable silent symbol of the Basque ‘national’ colours. Decades later, after the death of the dictator in 1975, their ethnic ambitions were rewarded with a comforting semi-autonomy. (The lengthy and murderous rebellion of the ETA terrorist organisation was the result of activism by a tiny unsupported minority.) Spanish Catalans (in the broad Barcelona region) were similarly rewarded for their passive resistance to similar ethnic humiliations and repression – by keeping their proscribed Catalan language alive in the home. For more than three decades, Catalans have thrived in a semi-autonomous and very productive region of Spain.

Many decades later, the free world now welcomes an equivalent, though more risky, expression of defiance to dictatorship and tyranny: the spontaneous response of the people of Iran to the recent disputed elections. The following report from TheTimes of London describes the current precarious – and volatile – situation: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6572101.ece

June 25, 2009
‘Wailing of wolves’ in Iran as cries of Allahu akbar ring from roofs
Martin Fletcher
At about 9pm each day Nushin, a young housewife, performs the same curious ritual. She climbs up the stairs to the roof of her Tehran home and begins shouting into the night. Allahu akbar,” she cries, and sometimes “Death to the dictator”.
She is not alone. Across the darkened city, from rooftops and through open windows, thousands of others do the same to form one great chorus of protest — a collective wail of anger against a reviled regime that no amount of riot police and Basiji militia can stop. “It sounds like the wailing of wolves,” said one Tehrani.
And each night, as the street demonstrations are crushed with overwhelming force and the regime cracks down on all other forms of dissent, it grows steadily louder and more insistent, not just in Tehran but in other densely populated cities of the Islamic Republic.
“It’s the way we reassure ourselves that we are still here and we are still together,” says Nushin, a woman who has never dared to rebel before.
“This is what people did before the revolution and I hope it warns the regime about what could happen if it doesn’t change its way.
“And because I’m a religious person the sound resonating in the neighbourhood makes me feel better. Even my little daughter joins me, and I can see how she feels that she is part of something bigger. It is our unique way of civil disobedience and what’s interesting is that it increases every time they do something that makes people angrier.”
Ever resourceful, the opposition has developed other ways of showing dissent short of wearing green or taking to the streets. They honk their horns, and they drive their cars and motorbikes with their headlights on. But the hour of chanting is anonymous, safe and almost impossible for the security forces to stop. Who could arrest someone for shouting their praise of God? Hossein, a young engineer, is another nightly participant. “The first time I did it, it was in protest to the theft of my vote, the insult that the President had made towards us,” he told The Times. But after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, ruled out any compromise in his sermon last Friday, “it has become much more than that. It is the people’s way of saying that they are still together and will stay that way until they reach their goal. It has become a way of getting out our anger when we can’t protest and to keep it going . . . It makes me happy to hear others, it reminds me that I’m not alone.”
In many ways this has been a high-tech rebellion, with the opposition using video clips shot with mobile phones, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and the internet to generate outrage around the world. But the rooftop protests are the precise opposite and a deliberate and resonant throwback to an earlier age.
It is what Iranians did before the revolution of 1979. From their roofs, they would shout Allahu akbar” to support Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei in his battle against the tyranny of the former Shah. That a later generation should now be using the very same weapon against the regime that Khomeini helped to establish is an irony lost on no one.

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