Sunday, June 21, 2009


Today Neda became became a part
Of the sorrow of our heart
She died on an Iranian Street
Life so young, her face so sweet
On her lips died a plea
Let my people be free
Her fathter whispering Neda don't be afraid
Allah has placed his hand on your head
Now Neda lies in the street dead
her blood flowing so red
her face will never leave our head

Her fathter whispering Neda don't be afraid
Allah has placed his hand on your head

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Iran, Iraq and Cairo

First America shocked the world and itself by electing an African as President. Now millions of Iranian citizens, in a 48 hour period, obliterated the stereotype of a Middle-Eastern country filled with jihadists.

This simplistic image of a country that has historically incorporated western ideals was propagated by neo-cons to justify their unilateral pursuit of the war in Iraq. And it is apparent, from the unfolding events in Iraq, that a majority of Iranians did not despise America; they just hate the Bush administration.

Over the last several days, the world has witnesses a digital mosaic of peaceful people marching silently, but demanding that their voices be heard. Iranian citizens are tweeting and texting, risking life and limb to keep the ember of Democracy lit in Iran.

The Iranians have reminded the world that most people want self-determination in some form of a Democratic system. It is amazing how often in the face of repression, these fires burn, and even more astounding, is how often the world appears caught off guard when it happens.

In Iran, a bearded, unsophisticated, political troglodyte, military and radical clerics, are trying desperately to hold onto the 1979 revolution. They are facing a determined citizenry, driven by young Iranians fighting, not with weapons but with online social networks. This revolution is not being televised, it is being tweeted.

In many ways what’s happening in Iran is an affirmation of George Bush’s belief that Democracy can flourish in the Middle-East, if given a chance. It would be naive not to acknowledge that Iranians watching millions of Iraqis lining up to vote did not have an impact on how they view the transfer of political power. It does not matter whether the elections were flawed and rife with corruption; there is something about the birth of Democracy –even in a primitive form- that is compelling.

Unfortunately for Iraq and the United States, Bush did not understand that Democracy cannot be imposed from the outside by a superpower. Freedom does not start with shock and awe. It starts with one man or woman looking in a mirror and saying: "Today I am going to be free." When a critical mass of these individuals coalesce around an event or personality, you have revolution. Freedom is born inside the individual and not in a war room in the basement of the White House.

It is also naïve to not believe that Barack Obama's speech in Cairo altered the political debate in the Middle East. When Obama spoke in Cairo, he was not seen as the leader of the United States or even the West. He was, and is the most influential political figure in the Muslim world.

Barack Obama is an African. He walks like an African, talk likes an African and, most important for the rest of the world, he thinks like an African. To Muslims, he is one of them. I am not talking about the conspiratorial right-wing fantasy that he is a Muslim parading as a Christian. Nor am I saying Obama is pro-Palestinian or, for that matter, pro anything. Obama has this mythical quality of being a human slate that different groups can project their stories.

Consequently, Muslims see Obama as an honest broker, because he has lived his life as an African who has immersed himself in its history and culture. When he speaks of Palestinian pain, it is authentic because he carries that same hurt inside. We Africans, whether we are oppressed in the suburbs of Paris, the slums of Brazil, the white beaches of the Caribbean or the ghettos of California, all carry within us the damage of displacement. For all of us living in the Diaspora, history has carved a hole in our hearts that can never be filled. Meshell Ndegocello described it as "crying like a baby that has been snatched away."

Many Muslims see Obama's rise, from humble beginnings, to leader of the greatest power in the world, as a vision of hope. I am not talking about a corny political slogan. True hope is often born out of suffering. It is optimism in the face of overwhelming despair.

David Brooks and others criticized Obama because, in directing the Palestinians away from violence, he invoked the struggle of black Americans. Brooks implied that the Palestinian problem did not have the moral equivalency of the civil rights struggle. First of all, how the hell does he know, having never walked in either shoes? But what Obama was saying is that the world will stand with you in a peaceful non-violent struggle. The opposition leaders in Iran have been Ghandi-like in ensuring that the mass marches across the country be peaceful and silent.

In Iran, it does not matter whether the ruling clerics and military snuff out the demonstrations and force Democracy underground; their downfall has already been sealed. What America restated to the world in 2008 is that Democracy, at its darkest hour, has the ability to transform itself. It just may be that Democracy is the first great pandemic of the 21st century. You see Democracy, like twitter is viral.