Wednesday, September 16, 2009

CLOSE-UP: The slap heard around the cyberworld: fact and fiction around a viral video

Much of the information coming out of Iran is in the form of footage uploaded to the Internet without the benefit of much description or explanation. Each installment in the Close-up series will provide an in-depth analysis of a single video.  
As the dust settles on the furor provoked by dramatic footage first touted as that of a dead protester's father being slapped by an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officer, it appears that the video illustrates a no-less-interesting case of internecine friction within the regime camp.

The video's wide circulation began on Monday and soon turned into an Internet sensation. In two days, just one YouTube channel registered over 76,000 views. The ensuing commentary came thick and heavy amid a wave of anger and revulsion. The rumors soon followed: the man was the father of a martyred protester, the officer was a Basij commander, authorities had refused to return the body unless the father pledged not to pursue the matter...

For the sake of disclosure, this blogger also joined the ranks of the pitchfork-and-torch mob and quickly described the video in a tweet on Monday as 'Father of a dead protester takes IRGC officer to task.' But upon reviewing several reports and carefully translating the full exchange, the facts appear to be inconsistent with the initial claims.

First, the individuals in the video. The man with his back to the camera describes himself as the father of a deceased young man and a 40%-disabled veteran of the Iran-Iraq war with 28 and a half years of service within the IRGC. This would almost certainly make him at least a mid-level IRGC officer and the fact that he addresses the IRGC officer using the word tow, the more informal second-person pronoun, instead of shoma may confirm that he is fairly senior. (NB The French equivalent would be the difference between tu and vous). The quality of the footage is poor, however the IRGC officer sitting to the cleric's left is almost certainly General Abdollah Araghi, Greater Tehran's IRGC chief and commander of the Mohammad Rasoulollah (Mohammed, Prophet of God) Brigade. Not only does the father refer to him as Mr. Araghi, but a comparison to one of Araghi's rare photos seems to bear this out. The cleric, again notwithstanding the poor quality of the video, appears to be Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's former representative within the IRGC. The footage can be compared to the photo to the right.

Several news sources confirm that the man's son was killed, but give a different account of the details. The man's son, a Basiji, was killed in an altercation with another individual living in a residential complex of buildings where a large number of IRGC officers and their families reside. The killer was a seyed, a direct male descendant of the Prophet Mohammad. He was supported by the IRGC which tried to obtain the father's consent to not execute the killer, but the father refused and the individual was hanged. Araghi subsequently mustered the IRGC and Basij's resources to organize a funeral service for the killer in the residential complex. The father not only complained about this misuse of resources, but said that he had been threatened by elements linked to the IRGC.

While these allegations have not been confirmed, they are consistent with the exchange that takes place in the video:

You've organized a funeral service for the killer in the same residential complex in which this innocent Basiji was murdered. Go ahead and organize a funeral service for the father of the killer too. Why did you use the sepah's (IRGC's) resources for the service of a murderer? They threatened me. I was harassed by rabble and louts. I announce here that if I'm killed, Mr. Araghi is responsible (he points to the IRGC officer). My life is in danger. I'm a 40% disabled janbaz (veteran of the Iran-Iraq War). I've served 28 and a half years in the sepah. But these people have supported a killer, that's my complaint. Why should the Revolutionary Guards defend a murderer and insult me. He insulted me.

IRGC officer:
We'll attend the service and you can go and complain. Do whatever you can.

You see. He says he'll go to a murderer's service. Ultimately, there is a God--

IRGC officer:
He's a descendant of the Prophet--

This descendant of the Prophet is a murderer. A murderer is null and void--

IRGC officer:
If you were a man, you would have consented--

Why should I have consented. If your child had been killed, would you have consented? What a foolish expectation! I was a man and had him executed. It was God's verdict!

IRGC officer:
Why are you shouting?

Why are you saying 'If you were a man'?

IRGC officer:
I'm saying what more do you want? He's been executed--

You're the one who isn't a man!

(IRGC officer slaps the father)

This video does not seem to show a dead protester's father being slapped by an IRGC officer. While the regime continues to commit horrendous crimes, any rumor-mongering and dissemination of untruths can only discredit the veracity of true cases of human rights violations in Iran.

Video roundup

Footage posted in the past 24 hours...

  • A young woman in a bus in Mashhad reads a statement in favor of democracy and asks fellow passengers to participate in this Friday's demonstration. 'Come, so they can see how we lift up the Nedas and Sohrabs of this land with our green hands. Come, to experience the beauty of unity. Come, so we may say, If Iran does not exist, neither do I... On Friday September 18, I ask all fathers, mothers, and anyone who feels a sense of responsibility -- if you could just please distribute these (she hands out fliers) -- we eagerly hope to see you on Friday September 18, at 9:30 in the morning.'

  • U2 continues to support the green movement with a special rendition of 'Sunday, Bloody Sunday.' 'For freedom on the streets of Iran,' Bono called out to the spectators at the Chicago concert, Saturday, September 12. 'Don't give up!' he cried out at one point in the song. Next stop, Toronto, tonight.

  • Since this is the first video roundup on this blog, I coundn't resist concluding with one of my favorites. In this bizarre and hilarious episode, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is being interviewed live about his new cabinet. Don't adjust the sound, the gurgling noise comes from a fountain inexplicably placed between the journalist and Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad: 'Now we come to the Health Ministry and Mrs. Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi (NB who is replacing Mr. Kamran Bagheri Lankarani). Everyone knows that Dr. Lankarani is one of the country's great managers. He was really successful in his post and worked hard. I have a special personal affinity for him. He's a pure and likable person. I once said, He's like a peach. You want to eat him, this young pious man.'