Every so often, I read the news about Iran and it reminds me of growing up as a refugee in Pakistan.
The latest reminder came on 11 February, my birthday, which happened to be the Islamic Revolution's birthday as well. The occasion brought Green protesters and government supporters to the streets. The government, holding its one mass gathering in the western part of Tehran, blocked off all entries with hundreds, perhaps thousands of security forces. It then transported foreign journalists to the rally and back again, instructing them to write. about their rally and nothing else.
Meanwhile, thousands of Iranians gathered on the streets of Tehran, Mashhad, Tabriz, Shiraz, Isfahan, and other cities to demonstrate against the government. They were beaten, arrested, and denied entry to main squares. Their leaders were attacked, sometimes arrested, sometimes forced to return home at all. The regime had blocked Internet access, jailed as many bloggers as possible, and attempted to prevent the flow of news out of the country.
The government's big move could have backfired if the protesters managed to make it through to the regime's mass gathering and put themselves on live national and international TV broadcasts. But the demonstrators could not.
Suddenly there was uproar by pundits previously sympathetic to the Iranian government: "The Green Movement is dead." Reporters tired of covering the Iran affair published articles stating, "It's all over."
These biased and uninformed assessments reminded me of a series of cricket games I played in Pakistan way back when.
(For anyone who doesn't understand cricket, here's a quick lesson: One guy stands in front of three sticks with a bat and another tries to hit those sticks with a ball from 22 yards out. The guy with the bat tries to hit the ball as far as possible, but if he misses and the ball hits the sticks, he is replaced. The scoring is similar to baseball.)
At 17, I was the best thrower of a cricket ball in my neighborhood in Peshawar, Pakistan. I was energetic, fast, but most of all, I was accurate and consistent. When I threw the ball, if the batsman missed it, it would hit the sticks 90% of the time.
I recall when our neighborhood had a best-of-three match with the guys from another part of town. The reward was about $10 in prize money, but it was more about boosting our testosterone levels than anything else.
Our rival's ace in the hole was a guy the size of Andre the Giant who could make the ball disappear every time he swiped it with the bat. In the first game, he started thrashing our bowlers, including me. After a while, I got angry and frustrated, and the thrashing went epic. We lost the game.
Later that evening, I was smoking a cigarette in the general hang-out area in my neighborhood; it was just a concrete bench where we all gathered and told each other lies about how we'd lost our virginity. I felt horrible.
A friend snuck close to me and said, "You did everything you could. Just keep doing that. He's terrified of you."
"But I'm good at getting thrashed." I said.
"No," he said, "You're good at being consistent. In the beginning, he was just terribly lucky, then, you got angry and stopped being consistent. You'll hit the sticks if he misses; he just hasn't missed, yet. He's just big. He has no game."
I took that sage advice with a grain of salt. Come on, it was Andre the Giant....
Yet the next game, I hit the sticks the third ball and we won.
The Iranian government, like that Andre, has no game. It's strong, but it is scared of the Green Movement. It is having internal problems, most of its people are against it, and the international community is slowly tightening the noose around it day after day.
The key to the Iranian opposition's success is consistency. Every time it has called for a protest, now over more than eight months, it has put people on the ground.
The government, on the other hand, has failed to keep the streets clear. It may have managed to keep foreign news correspondents from covering the protests on 11 February, but just because no one noticed the tree fall in the forest, does not mean it didn't. Whether or not the Washington Post, the New York Times or CNN cover the protests is irrelevant to their occurrence.
The Iranian opposition will continue to be successful. The Iranian government can only attempt to stop people from coming out to streets, but that's just one, highly visible option. The people have other ways to challenge the regime.
This time, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad managed to hold his rally in peace. He used the occasion to continue his rant against the West, with the broadcast ending just as he was about to announce the coming of the 12th Imam.
But what if the Greens manage to storm the government's rally next time? Ahmadinejad won't get to announce the date for the 12th Imam's appearance; worse, the government will be humiliated.
To put it in cricket terms: Watch out, Andre, consistency pays off.
(Oh, you ask, what about the final game of the series? It ended up in a massive brawl. That was even more fun than if we'd won the $10.)