U.S. Professor Witnesses Iranian Dissent

Professor Babak Rahimi recently was in Iran working on a book about the development of the Internet there. Rahimi, who teaches Iranian and Islamic studies at the University of California, San Diego, discusses with David Greene the upheaval in Iran following the disputed presidential elections.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Iran's Guardian Council looks set to approve the official results of the country's disputed presidential election and street protests in Tehran have all but ended after a massive security crackdown. Babak Rahimi has just returned from Iran. He's a professor of Iranian and Islamic studies at the University of California San Diego. He was in Iran for several months working on a book about the development of the Internet there.

Good morning, Professor.

Professor BABAK RAHIMI (University of California San Diego): Good morning.

GREENE: Thanks for being here.

Prof. RAHIMI: Thank you.

GREENE: You just left Iran a day or so ago, as I understand it.

Prof. RAHIMI: That's right.

GREENE: What was the mood like? We've had a lot of trouble getting a real sense from the street. Perhaps you can help us.

Prof. RAHIMI: Just before I got to the airport a friend of mine was describing the mood in the country as, you know, as a republic of silence. Many people have really tried their best not to speak of the violence and the current events in public.

But at the same time there are other moods involved here - frustration, helplessness, anger, and also anticipation. Anticipation for what the opposition will do next and how the public should react accordingly. So there's a lot of unpredictable elements involved in Iran right now. And I think at this moment the opposition is kind of standing back and waiting to see what they should do next, of course.

GREENE: That's quite a mix of emotions.

Prof. RAHIMI: Yes.

GREENE: Well, you - and they seem to have changed very quickly, because when you spoke to us a few days after the election, about a week ago, one point that you made was that people were not intimidated, that they were ready to get out there. Is that still the sentiment or are people really, really scared?

Prof. RAHIMI: Not really. At this stage what really made people kind of afraid, quite frankly, were really the Basiji state militia forces, not the state police itself. But these are basically - the Basiji forces are so-called grassroots state supporters or gangs.

GREENE: Some of the regular police actually look to be supportive of the opposition in some ways.

Prof. RAHIMI: Actually, some of them are just - I mean, some of them are ambitious, but some of them actually have come out to support or defend some of the demonstrators in the streets.

But the Basiji are just simply vicious. They have come out and killing a number of people, including Neda, a young lady who was recently killed. And of course…

GREENE: She was the - we saw the images of her…

Prof. RAHIMI: That's right.

GREENE: …all across - that was Neda Agha Sultan…

Prof. RAHIMI: Yes, that's right. That's right.

GREENE: …I think shot in the street.

Prof. RAHIMI: Shot in the street. We do not know exactly from where or the person responsible. We do know most likely it was a Basiji militiaman who did it.

GREENE: But we still are not fully sure?

Prof. RAHIMI: No. That has not been absolutely confirmed.

GREENE: Well, as people are thinking about the next steps, as you say, you know, you're writing a book in the Internet. What's the sort of buzz on the Internet? Are there plans for, you know, strikes, other ways to voice dissent other than getting out on the streets and facing security forces?

Prof. RAHIMI: Well, that was definitely the hope during the elections and also a few days after the elections before the state really cracked down on the Internet. Now, when I say crack down on the Internet I'm talking about slowing down the speed of the Internet and also blocking so many different sites.

Now, there are ways to navigate around it, but there is one problem. You cannot really do much with the speed of the Internet. So at this second, at this moment in Iran, the Internet has been kind of an auxiliary alternative for Iranian opposition movement to do what (unintelligible) should do. But right now the most important oppositional way in which many Iranians are voicing their dissent is through actual ordinary actions of symbolic defiance.

GREENE: What's your prediction, very briefly, from what you saw? Is this period of silence going to continue?

Prof. RAHIMI: For a while, but I think it's short term.

GREENE: Ok. Thank you so much for being here.

Prof. RAHIMI: Absolutely.

GREENE: We really appreciate it.

Prof. RAHIMI: Thank you for having me.

GREENE: That is Babak Rahimi. He is a professor of Iranian and Islamic studies at U.C. San Diego. And he joined us right here in our studios in Washington, D.C.

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