We have all seen them… the faces of protestors, police, curious bystanders, Basij milita and those just simply caught up in the recent protests in Iran. For the most part we see the faces of the protestors in videos and still shots. Almost without exception the protestors look determined and dedicated to a cause they believe in. Occasionally an individual looks as if he or she is just along for the ride… the adrenalin rush… but these are very much in the minority. What of the others we see in the videos? What do the expressions in their faces tell us? This is harder to ascertain since, with exception of police and Basiji, they are not as easily seen. The faces of curious bystanders and those simply caught up in actions in which they are unintentional participants are typically not what the photographer or videographer focussed on. Nevertheless, their faces are present and they tell a story.
Let me start with the police. There are innumerable videos and still shots that clearly show their expressions. In the faces of most of the police I see little more than intent to perform their duty. Oftentimes expressionless their focus on what is demanded of them masks what they may be feeling inside. Sometimes you will see what appears to be the expression of an internal conflict between devotion to duty no matter how distasteful and what they perceive to be an injustice which they have no choice but to perpetrate. Apparent in many of the videos is the exhaustion and frustration the police experience.
The Basij, no matter what you think of them, exhibit an interesting range of expressions. Yes, you do see the animalistic ogres amongst them but they are not the ones I find interesting even in a morbid sense. No… the ones I find more intriguing are the faces of the middle-aged veterans of the Iran-Iraq war juxtaposed with the faces of the younger Basij that have been brought in to reinforce them. The faces of the veteran Basij mostly tell me of their determination to fight against what they perceive to be Satanic forces. Most telling is the expression on the face of one individual I saw in a 13 Aban video. This individual was a middle-aged Basij and the expression on his face and in his body language as he walked across a street through a crowd of protestors can only be described as… totally disgusted! No, he did not look like a brainwashed automaton… he had the appearance of an experienced and responsible person called to perform his civic duty in service to a land and society he loves.
The younger Basij, as my eyes interpret them, seem to fall into two groups. First are those for whom being a Basij is a badge of honor. In all likelihood the only position in which they achieve a degree of recognition and what they perceive to be respect. The second group appear consumed by their desire to avenge themselves against those they see as undeserving, disobedient children of the upper class. For the young Basij the unrest is, I believe, more the reflection of a class conflict than a desire to preserve the Islamic Republic. Their religious training allows them to justify their actions if and/or when they reflect on them. They see the protestors as fighting “against God” therefore deserving of any punishment that can be inflicted on them. Despite this justification I believe deep down they are expressing their resentment of those who belong to a more privileged class.
People unintentionally caught up in the protests usually tend to avert their faces when they realize they may be caught on camera. You see them trying to rush through or break free of the crowd of protestors as quickly as they can. Fear is evident in some of the faces briefly visible and obvious in their body language. Whether they agree with the aims of the protestors or the governments attempts to control them is beside the point. These are people who simply wish to be allowed to get on with their daily lives. Some may resent the disruptions but, I suspect, most are antipathetic to either side. They just want the security of a peaceful, predictable daily routine to their lives.
Then there are those onlookers you see watching the protestors and watching the government forces. Many are supporters of the protestors who choose not to demonstrate visibly themselves. Others seem satisfied with the status quo and look mystified that anyone would wish to protest against it. Still others appear disengaged from either camp but obviously interested… as if they are taking time to give careful consideration to what they are witnessing. And, as usual, there are those few who are simply morbidly curious.
There is a common element in all the faces in the protest videos and stills. Their humanity and their belief, nay conviction, that the respective roles they have chosen or had thrust upon them are all correct and that they, each and every one, is acting in accordance with good faith and prudence. It will do no good for the Sea of Green to see the opposition as faceless enemies. They must, instead, seek out and embrace compassion and respect for those who oppose them. If they fail to do this they also fail to win over the hearts, minds and souls of those they sorely need to stand with them in this time of turmoil.
As usual with anything I write this is all just my opinion. I claim no academic credentials or extraordinary insight. I do, however, feel compelled to put what I feel deeply into words rather than let them gnaw away at my psyche.
Michael Hebert aka hawaiianbear