I’ve been thinking a lot about Neda today, since watching For Neda, the doc I linked to in my last post. I’m still trying to work out how to relate to and conceptualise what happened. I don’t think that’s a process that I’ll reach a clear conclusion with any time soon, if ever.
My first and strongest reaction is, of course, a deep-seated sense of sorrow and of horror. And of shame, at my own intrusion into such a.. senseless is the wrong word for this act. Because it wasn’t senseless. On the part of the Iranian government, killing its citizens was (and continues to be) a calculated act. On the part of the Basiji who killed her- well, it must have made sense at the time.
I want to know more about these Basij, these government militia. I want to know more about who they are, about why they are part of the militia. About how they became who they are now. Who taught them. What their lives are like. If it is fear that makes them beat and kill or if it is just a hunger for power? Where in society are they from- are they from all social classes or just some? This is what I want to know. This is what I want to understand. I can empathise so easily with those who mourn Neda, but in order to help to end this, I think we need to understand those who kill, and would kill, those like her.
There’s a quote from that doc. I can’t remember it exactly, but it involves some Basiji women who confronted Neda in the days before she died, saying that it was dangerous for her to be outside because she was beautiful, and ‘they’ hate beauty. That they cannot control themselves around it, and they need to control themselves or else they will be wicked, so they must destroy it.
I want to know how people learn to hate that much. I want to learn how to empathise with that hatred, to understand it, deep in its most basic motivations and impulses. Not to forgive, mind you. To understand, because you can’t fight against a thing you cannot comprehend.
I don’t think it’s about religion, although it is, of course, always about religion. However, it’s so, so easy to point and say “this is religion” or “this is Islam”, when discussing what appear to be fanatical, irrational motivations. These people believe one irrational thing, so why not another, and another, and another?
To say so, however, is to be lazy and simplistic. To hijack religion to explain the acts of extremists is to throw up your hands, to not have to bother thinking about any implications of other, more uncomfortable elements of a more complex explanation. While it is impossible to deny the religious motivations of the Basij- they are serving the Islamic Republic, after all- it would be unfair and inaccurate to deny that many, including Neda herself, practiced and lived a spirituality and religion entirely different, sharing only a name. The religion of the Islamic Republic, here, can be seen as a cover for power, for fear of the Other, for motivations I am too ignorant and too distant to begin to guess at. The religion that they use, however, can only be diminished by understanding those facets, the context within which it occurs. Simply brushing aside heinous acts by blaming the religion of their perpetrators is not only unfair, it is blatantly inaccurate.
I’m a European, middle-class, college educated, urban, white cis woman. I don’t know what you are, but since this is the internet, it’s likely that you and I share at least one or two of those characteristics- although you’re probably American, not European. What I’m about to say has been said before, many times, but it stands saying again. The death of a young, attractive, cosmopolitan woman- wearing a baseball cap, no less- is going to resonate with people like you and me. Demographically speaking, she ticks all the boxes.
I don’t say this to be flippant. I definitely don’t say this in order to wave away the tragedy and disgrace of her death. I just say it in order that I might remember that the deaths of people who are not young, people who are not beautiful, people who are not cosmopolitan, who dress in unfamiliar ways and whose lives and dreams are not so similar to mine? Those deaths are tragic, they are disgraceful every bit as much.
I don’t know what to say or to think about this. I still don’t. I circle it, theorising around the edges, never getting closer to the centre.