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A Revolution in Photos

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On February 1, 1968 South Vietnamese police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan put a handgun up to the temple of handcuffed Viet Cong suspect Nguyen VanLem. Loan pulled the trigger, spilling the young man’s blood over a Saigon street. The incident was caught by Eddie Adams, an Associated Press photographer who would later win a Pulitzer for the shot. Execution of Nguyen VanLem

The photo ultimately changed America’s waning support of the war and has lived on as a centerpiece of America’s ultimate opposition to the conflict.

Eddie Adams later said of his famous photograph: “The general killed the Viet Cong. I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world.”

History is written of the 10+ year Vietnam War, but it is inconclusive. Not everyone agrees on just who was fighting for independence. Not everyone agrees on who the aggressor was in the conflict.

The same can be said of what is happening in Iran today.

As we have all likely seen, protests against the Iranian government have been taking place since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the victor in the June 12 election over opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Of course, as long as Iran remains a theocracy with their president shaving no real power besides that of rhetoric, Iran will not be free. So at first, Iran’s election seemed to be another staged event by the mullahs. And maybe it was. But the Iranian people’s reaction to the election is not staged. And photos coming from Tehran may be as important as Adams’ 41-year-old shot of the South Vietnamese general.

A photo of Neda Salehi Agha Soltan may be the most devastating for the Iranian government. Soltan participated in a protest march on Kargar Avenue in Iran on June 20. She was shot and killed, allegedly by Iranian government agents. An amateur video (apparently by a cell phone) of her shooting and death was taken by an as-of-now unknown source (though the video was originally made public by an Iranian expariate in Holland who said it was sent to him a doctor in Tehran who tried to save the girl), and was posted to social networking sites Twitter and Facebook. The video can still be viewed all over the Internet.  Tehran Protestors

The moving image has the possibility of becoming the face of peaceful demonstration eye-to-eye with governmental tyranny in the Middle East, similar to what Adams’ photo became. Unlike the 1968 photo, the 2009 video and still shots from it may actually further the Iranian people’s – and our – cause.

Soltan already has a Wikipedia page. The video has been shown repeatedly on CNN. Comments in response to chilling photos of her death on Twitter have read as follows, via New York Daily News: “They killed Neda, but not her voice.” “Neda is everyone’s sister, everyone’s daughter, everyone’s voice for freedom.” There are thousands more.

Photos of her bloody face are being pasted on protestors’ posters in cities all over the world.

What is so important to take from this is not just the power of photos, but the fact that the Iranians, unlike the Vietnamese, are doing this all themselves.

Too often world powers have meddled in other countries’ business, created anarchy, and become a counter-productive force in the country,often leading to a worse situation for all parties involved. That can be said of Iran, Vietnam, Iraq, Guatemala, and a host of the other 200+ countries that have been met with bombing campaigns since the end of World War II. That’s why this one must be different. It must be a people’s conquest.

Congress passed a resolution, 405-1, “Expressing support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights,civil liberties, and rule of law, and for other purposes.” Great.

President Obama has said the Iranian government “must stop all violent and unjust actions.” Perfect. President Obama, of all people, cannot shoot from the hip as his predecessor too often did, especially since there does not yet seem to be a planned outcome for the opposition.

But for the most part, besides predictable neo con hawkish statements on Sunday talk shows and blogs, our representatives have been laying low on the issue. And they’re darn right for doing so.

With the power of the photograph and a World Wide Web bringing them to the world, it’s possible that nothing can stop the Iranian people. If Neda Salehi Agha Soltan is the new face of a pro-democracy Iranian Revolution, those writing Iranian history years from now must not look back to remember foreign planes invading from afar, foreign militaries coming in to police the streets. Too many believe that’s how they got into their predicament in the first place.

If this is to be a Democratic success, they must remember this photo,and thousands of others. They’ll remember the streets flooded with green-clad peaceful demonstrations by average people who want their voices heard. They’ll remember their opposition candidate rallying on them to stay peaceful in the face of building aggression and fear tactics. They’ll remember the U.S. superpower and many other countries expressing moral support in the name of real democracy.

And if the Iranian people are resolute, this may be the perfect storm that finally begins the transformation of the Middle East that never came to Southeast Asia. --

photos courtesy of: www.guardian.co.uk and www.iconicphotos.wordpress.com