Iran's Great Green Divide

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When I woke up last Sunday morning, I grabbed a mug of coffee, hopped back in bed and turned on the television. This is my weekend indulgence. On Sundays, I watch the ABC network affiliate to catch a roundup of goings-on, mostly local and occasionally overseas news stories.

I perk up. There is a story on Iran, though I quickly see it is nothing newsworthy. The official clip released by the Iranian authorities shows an orchestrated, somber gathering of people for Ashura, a holy day commemorating the seventh century martyrdom of Imam Hussein, one of Shiite Islam's leading figures.

On the screen, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses neat rows of obedient women sitting in their black hijab, like blackbirds on telephone wires. The ABC newscaster says something about Ahmadinejad kissing a baby's head, but I am long gone. I have leapt out of bed and am logging onto the Web.

Something is up.

As always, the real Iran story de jour breaks on the Internet's social networking sites, building urgently throughout the day and into the night, initially via Twitter and YouTube, then in online blogs and later in print articles. I mouse-click through shared links and wall posts on Facebook.

Chaos reigned in Iran on Sunday.

In addition to the Ashura holiday, December 27 was also the seventh day of mourning for the Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a critic of the 2009 Iran Election who died of natural causes.

The reformist movement took advantage of the combined religious holiday and day of mourning to come out in cities all over Iran, including Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and Tabriz.

Neither the use of force (opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's nephew died during the unrest) nor the threat of arrests could stop the mass protests, which appeared to be the largest since the disputed June 12th election.

Foreign press was banned as usual.

Iran's citizen-news-corp, however, filled in the media gaps. They showed the Green Movement as emboldened and strong as ever.

After fishing in a rushing stream of Tweets, I watched YouTube clips showing a police station burning, a group of Basij militia cornered but not hurt, a police van overturned. The crowd's chants included, "Khamenei is a murderer. His reign is over." and "Revolution. Freedom. Iranian Republic."

Tear gas, batons, even bullets did not end the opposition's determination to be seen and heard. If anything the use of deadly force on the Ashura holiday, which is strictly prohibited by Islam, will likely grow the reformist's grassroots ranks and sharpen their focus.

Whatever shape Iran takes in 2010, reform must happen in order for calm and unity to be restored. It is increasingly clear that the Green Movement is unwilling to back down, turn a blind eye, or otherwise disappear.

Even without the Internet, ordinary Iranian citizens have brought about dramatic change throughout Iran's turbulent history, including the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Today Iran is cracking apart and needs something other than a hard hand in order to truly heal. Tough threats will deepen the crevice. Violent measures will split the seam further. Harsh diversions like arresting the relatives of opposition activists -- Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi's sister was detained in Tehran on Monday -- are not the glue that will bind.

Herein lies Iran's Great Green Divide. The question remains how will it be bridged and by whom?

I expect I will read about it online.