While the current Iranian uprising began as a green revolution, it is quickly turning red. With each death at the hands of the regime, a martyr is born, and with each martyr, the seed of revolution is planted. According to Shi’a legend, where the blood of a martyr spills, a red tulip will bloom. And in a culture so intensely steeped in symbolism, it could very well be these tulips that determine the next chapter in Iranian history.
Shi’a Muslims, who make up over 95% of the Iranian population, observe the 40th day after death as a highly significant day of mourning. As a result, the 1979 Islamic Revolution often progressed in 40-day intervals. These dates frequently sparked the greatest protests and demonstrations throughout Iran. From Qom to Tabriz to Tehran to Shiraz, people poured into the streets to honor their martyrs. And with each procession, new martyrs were created and this cycle repeated itself until the revolution finally succeeded.
Thus, another Iran was born, one with a crimson tulip at its core. A single word in red Arabic calligraphy graces the center of the current Iranian flag, deliberately shaped in the outline of a tulip: “Allah.”
Thursday marks the 40th day following the death of Neda Agha-Soltan and at least a dozen others. Since the world witnessed Neda’s brutal murder in the streets of Tehran, she has become the symbol and rallying cry for the opposition. At least a dozen others were killed that same day as the so-called Islamic Republic continued to ignore the lessons of history.
More recently, on July 19, 28-year-old student Taraneh Mousavi was arrested after attending a speech about the martyrs of the opposition movement. Soon after, Taraneh became its next martyr. Her grisly rape and murder planted yet another seed of revolution.
And the cycle continues.
I expect that we will see the 40-day commemorations of martyrs like Neda and Taraneh pave the path toward change in Iran.
Many are speculating that the opposition movement is beginning to fizzle. They forget, however, that it took over a year of sporadic protests for the Islamic revolution to succeed and that it required far more than marching in the streets. A revolution demands just as much thought, preparation, and strategy as it does public demonstration.
The opposition’s most brilliant strategy to date has been its use of Islam to combat a regime falsely claiming it to gain and maintain political power. The allegedly Islamic Republic of Iran disgraced the very faith it claimed to promote the moment the regime began forcing its twisted version of Islam onto the Iranian people, repressing women and religious and ethnic minorities in the process.
Today, the Iranian people are reclaiming Islam for themselves, and in the process, they are creating a new Iran from the blood of their martyrs.
On Thursday, July 30th, Iranians all over the world will be mourning, but they will also be tending to their gardens. Tulips are delicate flowers by nature. A mild wind properly timed can prove fatal. But tulips do not die. They are perennial. Between blooms, they prepare.