Yesterday I, along with thousands of other people, watched a young girl die before my very eyes. I'm talking about the footage of a young girl in Iran, shot by a Basij as she watched the protests on the streets. We don't know much about her - she has been given the name 'Neda' or 'the voice'. The footage is very graphic- you can find it very easily on the internet and there are hundreds of links to it on facebook and twitter so I'm not going to embed it here.
Within seconds you see people trying to revive her, while she is dimly aware of the camera and then just like that- life goes from her eyes and blood starts seeping from her eyes, mouth and ears, joining the pool of blood she is lying in. It is very disturbing - not least because of the surreal realization that you are watching the life snuffed out of someone. This is probably the first person I have seen die and as I thought about it, it began to trouble me for a host of reasons other than the obvious ones.
On one hand this video has galvanized people and has given a real, concrete image to the brutality of what the Iranian government is doing to its own people. Despite it's best efforts, the government cannot stem the steady flow of words and images coming from the people in Iran. And through our various global connections, these words now can spread faster than any government can anticipate. This has its value and is no doubt important- many Iranians are exhorting people to publicize and spread such stories and images.
But at the same time, I'm deeply disturbed by the whole phenomenon of connectedness that the Neda video symbolizes. This connectedness is a double edged sword. Why should it be so easy for us to watch someone die before our eyes? Will Neda be forever reduced to a 'trending topic', as she currently is on twitter? Will we watch these images of inhuman brutality, express our anguish for a few minutes, maybe even a day and then go on with making lunch or doing the laundry? Like I did and perhaps had to. There is something wrong about that to me and yet what is the alternative?
I'm struck with the parallels to the Tiananmmen Square massacre which we recently observed the 20th anniversary for. The Neda of that uprising was a young man, called the 'Tank man' who we all remember bravely standing up to the force of Chinese tanks. The immediate ending to that story was much more hopeful though many believe that tank man was executed shortly after- but I think the reason that image stays with us is that it was so rare and so difficult to get that kind of insight into an event like that. Now insight, commentary and images are ubiquitous. And I'm not sure how I feel about that.
I think this connectedness both immunizes us and lulls us into thinking that we are participating and 'making a difference' in this uprising. Are we? I'm at a loss for words as to what the alternative is. Would I prefer for us not to be able to see and share these images? am I advocating no action at all? I think those alternatives are surely worse but there is something about the celebration of our new global 'connectedness' as a force for social good that leaves me ambivalent at best and frightened at worst.
The image of Neda's last moments on earth is haunting but also troubling for all the ethical questions it raises. I've seen over the last hours many promises on twitter, facebooks and blogs not to forget her- I can only hope this is true and that not only Neda's murder but also the indignity of it being broadcast all over the world is not in vain.
*#Neda refers to the key word that people on twitter are using to keep her death a twitter 'trending topic'.