Robert Fisk at Dusk in Tehran
By dusk, the Basiji were being chased by hundreds of protesters in the west of the city but shooting was crackling around the suburbs after dark. Those who were fatally too late in leaving Azadi, were fired on by the Basiji. One dead, thousands in panic, we heard behind us.His story filed in Wednesday's edition published tomorrow (the occasional lapses of our post-global age) returns to the dusk:
After every day of sunlight, there usually comes a perilous darkness and perhaps it was prefigured by the strange grey cloud that approached us all as we drew closer to Azadi Square yesterday afternoon. Many of the thousands of people around me noticed it and, burned by the afternoon sun, seemed to walk faster to embrace its shade. Then it rained, it poured, it soaked us. There is a faint rainy season in mid-summer Tehran but it had arrived early, sunlight arcing through the clouds like the horizon in a Biblical painting.
As the fume-filled dusk fell over the north Tehran streets, the crowds grew wilder. I listened to a heavily bearded Basiji officer exorting his men to assault the 10,000 Mousavi men and women on the other side of the police line. "We must defend our country now, just as we did in the Iran-Iraq war," he shouted above the uproar. But the Ahmadinejad man trying to calm him down, shouted back: "We are all fellow citizens! Let's not have a tragedy. We must have unity."
Clearly the decision of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to instruct the Council of Guardians to recount Friday's election vote had done nothing to dispel the suspicion and anger of the reformist opposition in Iran.
First it appeared that the council would examine every election result. Then only a few. Then Iranians were told that it might take 10 days to learn their decision. It was as well, perhaps, that Ahmadinejad had flown to Yekaterinburg for the Shanghai summit to bore conference delegates with his speeches instead of the Iranian people whom he believes he represents. But on Vanak Square last night, all this meant nothing.
What do I add? It would have been nearing dusk when I stepped off the bus this evening at Wilshire and Vermont: The sun slick off buildings and aisles of palm trees, men selling Mexican squash and mangos on the corner in front of the gas station, the clutch and groan of evening traffic. A far cry from Tehran.
Plain-clothes cops – perhaps at last realising the gravity of a situation which their own obedience to Ahmadinejad's men had brought about – persuaded middle-aged men from both sides to meet in the centre of the road in the middle of Vanak Square's narrow no-man's-land. The Mousavi man, in a brown shirt, placed his hands around the arms of the bearded Iranian official from the Ahmadinejad side. "We cannot allow this to happen," he told him. And he tried, as any Muslim does when he wants to show his desire for trust and peace, to kiss the side of his opponent's face. The bearded man physically shook him off, screaming abuse at him.
The two rows of police were now standing shoulder to shoulder, their linked arms holding both mobs back, as they stared at their own comrades opposite with ever increasing concern. An American-Iranian a few metres away, shouted at me in English that "we've got to prove they can't do this anymore. They can't rule us. We need a new president. Either they get their way or we get ours".
It was frightening, the absolute conviction of these men, the total refusal to accept any compromise, one side demanding obedience to the words of Ayatollah Khomeini and loyalty to the ghosts of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the other – emboldened by their million-strong march on Monday – demanding freedoms, albeit within an Islamic Republic, which they had never had before. Maybe they now have the police on their side; if last night's example was anything to go by, either some senior officer – or perhaps the cops themselves, appalled at their behaviour over the past four days – decided that the special forces would no longer be patsies to the frightening power of Ahmadinejad's ever-loyal bullies.
I woke slowly this morning to the radio, and in that dull murmur of NPR, I overheard Sen. McCain stridently declaring that the President ought to denounce the results of this most recent election. The good Senator is entitled to his opinion, but between this dusk and Fisk's dusk...
We'd be better served, I think, to watch closely: What new songs will the dusk bring?