Necessary Roughness

During 2009’s post-election protests in Tehran, one man is struck into a commitment to the cause.

Salar Abdoh in Guernica:

Iran_575 And that’s when it happens. A hard blow of a baton right over my right shoulder. The strike is solid enough that my chest hits the gas tank of the motorcycle and I bounce back. Then another hit.

The blows, I confess, are liberating. I had not known how incomplete my day was until now. And as I scan the landscape of the square—broken bricks, burning garbage containers, tear gas, swarming riot-police, windows being smashed, and people bleeding and thrown every which way—I have the feeling we might not make it out of here. I’m out of my body and in pain and I want to laugh. I am surprised by my pain and I want to thank someone for it at the same time, because the immediacy of physical pain is like a purchase; it makes one feel irrevocably committed. Only now do I remember that when the woman got hit a minute ago, which might just as well have been eons ago (as everything is happening around me in slow-motion), someone started crying out that they are hitting women, they are hitting women. As if hitting women mattered to the men who command the baton-wielders.

After the blows, the bike stalls. I kick the handle and it restarts. In front of me is a lead riot-cop on a bike. Our eyes meet—two bike riders situated at the opposite poles of this republic. His gaze and the slight twist of the head tell me to move it. And as much as I don’t want to be here, neither does he; he’s just doing a job: Go that way. Just go, save yourself and that woman. Get out!

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