The doctor who got death threats after trying to save the life of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who became the symbol of the anti-government protests in Iran in 2009.
The Gaze of the Gazelle by Arash Hejazi has appeared this week in the Book Bench Section of the New Yorker, under In the News: A New Psycho, Boozy Books:
“In his new memoir, Arash Hejazi recalls the moment Neda Agha-Soltan was shot, during Iran’s Green Movement protests—as he stood next to her.”
Arash Hejazi smokes hand-rolled cigarettes, which he keeps in a silver case. He speaks a considered, professorial English, idiosyncratic only because of his Iranian accent. Despite having endured much since the summer of 2009, he exudes the guileless energy of a very young man (he is 37).
You may not have heard Hejazi’s name before, but it’s likely that you already know something of his story. During the Green Movement protests that swept across Iran in the summer of 2009, Hejazi was standing next to a young woman when she was shot. He bent over her prostrate body as she lay dying, in an unsuccessful attempt to save her life. A video of those events was posted online and soon became international news: images of Hejazi and the tragic girl were transmitted into hundreds of millions of living rooms. That girl was Neda Agha-Soltan, and she became a symbol of a new Iranian generation, their dream of freedom, and the brutal suppression of that dream.
The violent death of Neda Agha-Soltan is perhaps the most watched in history. The astonishing video which depicts her murder shocked the world when it emerged during the protests following Iran’s 2009 presidential elections. Neda, and thousands more like her, believed that the published result which indicated a clear and unprecedented victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a consequence of flagrant electoral fraud. She was shot dead at point blank range by a Basiji, a member of the Iranian regime’s voluntary militia, on a crowded street during a peaceful protest. The Basiji’s tactic on that day was to scatter clusters of demonstrators by shooting one individual in each cluster. Arash Hejazi is the man who can be seen in that video wearing a white shirt and blue jeans. He is fruitlessly attempting to prevent the transfusion of Neda’s blood from inside her chest onto the Tehran pavement.
THIS BOOK IS a story of failure—the failure of the Islamic Republic, despite thirty years of propaganda and political education, to inculcate in a new generation of Iranians faith in the ideology of the regime. The children of the revolution of 1979 have turned their backs on its values; and this was nowhere more evident than in the mass protests against the manipulated presidential elections of 2009. The young joined the protests in hordes; and the regime’s harsh suppression of these protests, along with the widespread arrests, torture and deaths in prison that followed, were the final steps in delegitimizing the Islamic Republic and its barren ideology.
The generation of Arash Hejazi’s parents embraced the revolution; and their children volunteered to defend it when Iraq invaded Iran in 1980. But when, as young adults, they took to the streets two years ago to ask, “Where is my vote?” they were mowed down by the regime’s goons and security forces. These young men and women were not afraid. They had fought every effort by the regime to isolate them from the West, and now they used their cell phones and their blogs, their videos and the Internet to broadcast to the world the violence taking place on the streets of Tehran. As Hejazi writes, “We were also a generation that, for lack of anything else to do, spent its time learning. We were the true witnesses of our nation.”
Arash Hejazi is an Iranian writer, publisher, doctor and one of the few to witness Neda Agha-Soltan’s dying moments first-hand, when he captured it on a mobile-phone camera during the 2009 riots. It was his choice to upload the video, whichsparked an international media frenzy over the death of the bright-eyed young woman.
Forced to leave his country and live in exile due to his prominent role as an opponent of the Ahmedinejad regime, it is no surprise that Hejazi comes across as a weary narrator.
Along with Hejazi’s recollections of his youth and experiences in Iran’s publishing industry, The Gaze of the Gazelle is also an account of the nation’s history of uprisings – political, religious and cultural. From being prosecuted by hardline Islamists for his outspoken attitude at college to the difficulties he endures under Iran’s strict censorship regulations, Hejazi spares little in recounting the decline that finally culminated in the incident that put him in the global spotlight.
Hard-hitting and direct, this book provides valuable revelations about a struggle that receivedvery little coverage inside Iran.
By Arash Hejazi
An article published in Washington Post on June 16 2011, called ‘In Iran, ‘couch rebels’ prefer Facebook’, claims — based on its interview with three or four Iranians, whose identity (except for Abbas Abdi) is not known — that the Iranian people have given up on their protests that started in 2009, because they prefer ‘playing Internet games such as FarmVille, peeking at remarkably candid photographs posted online by friends and confining their political debates to social media sites such as Facebook, where dissent has proved less risky’.
To someone who knows about the undercurrents of the Iranian society, this simple explanation shows how ignorant the Western media, and probably politicians, are in interpreting what’s really going on in the Middle East and the socio-politico-cultural differences in each country. I have seen more that one ‘political’ analysis or opinion pieces in the media that try in vain to compare the successful rebels or ‘revolutions’ in Egypt and Tunisia to Iran and Syria and Libya, while these comparisons cannot be more relevant than comparing the 1917 Revolution of Russia to the Independence wars of America.
In his book, The Gaze of the Gazelle (Negli Occhi della Gazzella)… [Arash Hejazi's] the autobiography becomes a story of a generation that grew up under the Orwellian eye of the Islamic Revolution. Hejazi says that he has written these pages ‘to heal’. Neda is the beginning and end of the story.