So often historic events are symbolized by a single iconic image. "I am burning, I am burning," were Neda Agha-Soltan's last words as she bled to death from a bullet wound through her heart.
Neda was an innocent young lady returning from singing lessons that were conducted "underground" because Iranian women are not allowed to sing in public. "She was so full of life," said a relative, "She sang pop music." Witnesses spoke of hearing the crack of a sniper shot from a Tehran rooftop, then in a split second seeing her body fall to the ground. The bullet intended to snuff out the life of a protester has instead transformed a nation.
The video of Neda's death has fueled fires of passion in most Iranians, fanning rage against government oppression of freedoms and human rights. "We have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets," President Barack Obama said in his news conference today. Describing the Neda death as "heartbreaking," he concluded, "While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: Those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history."
Fear and uncertainty runs through a population that is largely young and unaccustomed to the fresh air of freedom. Rumors and disinformation are spreading on social networking sites and word of mouth. But the mullahs, who govern this rigidly Islamic state, are feeling fear and uncertainty as well. Fissures are beginning to appear in the foundations of this nation. Political jockeying has ensued as would-be leaders position themselves for more power.
Western nations are being accused of inciting protests by the Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, especially England and the United States. Most Iranians are wary of the U.S. given its long history of meddling in that country. Khamenei would love nothing more than to turn this into an Iran versus the USA showdown.
While Obama has been properly cautious up to now, today he appropriately ratcheted up his rhetoric. "I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not interfering in Iran's affairs," Obama said. "But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place." If the report is true, it is also deplorable that the Iranian government is charging families of dead protesters a $3,000 "bullet fee."
Under orders of the government the family quickly buried Neda's body. There will be no memorial, no service in her memory and no public prayers. Neda's organs will be donated to those in need of a transplant. The former philosophy student and musician, whose name means, "voice," has spoken to the world through her death. Neda didn't have a weapon. She was not a soldier at war; she was not a revolutionary.
Neda was a Persian woman. She was a daughter of Iran. She lived her entire life of twenty-six years never knowing total freedom. Her fiancé, Caspian Makan, said, "She wanted freedom, freedom for everybody."
Neda's death is a tragedy. But her death has now given voice to an unstoppable movement toward freedom in Iran.