Captive Americans November 4, 1979
BY MASSOUMEH TORFEH
The London Guardian
Hundreds of thousands are reported to have taken part in rallies in Tehran today to mark the 30th anniversary of the US embassy takeover. “The arrogant American attitude has not changed,” said Gholmali Haddad-Adel, former hardline speaker of parliament when he addressed the crowds.
“Death to the dictator” shouted anti-government protesters, who were being blocked from reaching the embassy. The “dictator” referred to is deliberately ambiguous but this is a slogan increasingly adopted by the opposition since the June election.
This photo, obtained by the Associated Press outside Iran shows anti-government protestors chanting slogans in Tehran on the sidelines of state-sanctioned rallies
to mark the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover on Nov. 4, 2009
Revolutionary Guards had issued stern warning that they would not tolerate any slogans other than “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”. Yet opposition demonstrators braved the streets. The conservative Fars news agency reported “crowds were 10 times more than previous years”. The opposition website, Tagheer, reported that thousands of demonstrators were blocked “violently by Revolutionary Guards’ special units”, who were using tear gas and batons.
Iranian students climb over the wall of the US embassy in Tehran 4 November 1979.
Many were arrested today. One of the opposition leaders, Mehdi Karoubi, was forced to leave the rally and is reportedly injured. Streets leading to the embassy were blocked and Tehran Metro was closed. Parliament News, the website of reformist MPs, said “an impressive number of supporters of the Green Movement took part in the rally”.
In previous years only pro-government crowds attended the 4 November rallies. However, since the contested June presidential elections in Iran, opposition supporters turn out on to the streets every time there is an official rally. This division inside Iranian society is reminiscent of the early days.
An Iranian woman walks past an anti-US mural
painted on the wall of the former US embassy in Tehran.
On 4 November, 1979, militant Islamic students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took 71 hostages. Nineteen were released within weeks. The remaining 52 were held for 444 days. Their long captivity – and an abortive US attempt to rescue them – harmed US-Iranian relations beyond repair.
The storming of the embassy was pre-planned in secret by a number of militant students. They called themselves students of “Imam’s Line”, a reference to Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution. These dedicated followers of “Imam Khomeini” set themselves aside from the rest of the students, who were a mixture of reformist Islamists, leftwing revolutionaries and democratic activists.
This episode, even in those early days of the revolution, caused serious tension between those who viewed the revolution as a path to democratisation and those who were interested only in turning Iran into a militant Islamic state. Today that division has become more complex. Many former militant students have moved further right while others have formed Islamic reformist opposition groups. They should not be confused with several layers of the more modern anti-government demonstrators whose demand continues to be for freedom, equality and justice.
Massoumeh Ebtekar, a former student of “Imam’s Line”, now turned reformist, asks in an article for Tagheer “why should those who were called national heroes in 1979 be in prison today”. Ebtekar, who was Iran’s vice-president during the reformist era, is referring to scores of militants-turned-reformists who have been jailed for protesting at the presidential election results.
Yet the response of the hardliners is consistent. The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has held two meetings with students in the last week. He said on Tuesday that the US should know “our revolution” is stronger than ever before. “Forget about a few tired revolutionaries who have left the struggle,” he said in a meeting with students to mark 4 November.
He now rekindles those hardline values of “Imam’s Line”: to export the Islamic revolution and remain an important stakeholder in the Palestinian cause and the struggle of Lebanese Hezbollah. “Both Lebanon and Gaza are our front line,” militants chanted at the rallies. They are also vehemently anti-American and anti-Israeli. These values are fully supported by the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia who are the main force behind the supreme leader.
And while the US is awaiting a response from Iran over the proposed nuclear agreement, Ayatollah Khamenei referred to America as “a truly expansionist superpower involved only in conspiracy against Iran”. Making a veiled reference to recent exchanges he said, “every time Americans smiled, they also carried a dagger from behind”. Militant organisations have called on “the diplomatic apparatus” to stop its “secretive” negotiations with “the Great Satan”. They quote from a letter by the late Ayatollah Khomeini: “No one is allowed to speak to Americans.”
The supreme leader has now set the scene for direct confrontation with reformists. “Those who negated the elections have committed the biggest crime,” he said in a speech on Saturday. He criticised opposition leaders sharply for daring to cross the fundamental slogans of the Islamic republic, namely “death to the US and death to Israel”.
His views are echoed extensively in the militant Islamic press which demands punishment of the former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, the former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and the former speaker of parliament Karoubi.
With such deep internal divisions, it was ironic that today the finale of the official rally in Tehran was the recital of the “Unity Prayer”.
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