On November 14, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, an Iranian-American student at UCLA was asked to leave the library when he failed to produce an ID in a random check after 11 pm. When he was slowly leaving, he was tasered by the police several times, with no good reason, according to eyewitness accounts. The incident was captured on a cellphone video and the shocking video is available on YouTube. It is torturing and gut-wrenching to watch these seven minutes and one is simply obliged to take action one way or another to help bring justice for Mostafa. The UCLA students staged a protest shortly afterwards, which forced the authorities to launch a serious investigation into the incident. The major media outlets ran the story. MSNBC broadcast the video and talked to Mostafa's attorney who is going to press federal civil rights charges against the police.
Surely, this incident calls for a thorough investigation to determine whether this was an abuse of power on the part of the police, and if it was how to stop such incidents happening again. The LAPD's record is not clean, and even if it was the citizens of a democracy should never take the proper use of power for granted. Fortunately the current technology (camera cellphones, internet and the two-billion-dollor YouTube) has made it possible for such news to be readily available to everyone almost instantly. There are even video commentaries by individuals calling for action. This is all good news on the balance side of the original awful news. And we should continue our vigilance.
In the mean time, I would like to call your attention to this point: even in a democracy, incidents like this happen. However, their happening does not reduce the moral standing of a free society, where these are exceptions to the rule, before a fear society, where they are the rule. The main difference is that in a free society like America's, citizens have the power and indeed the recognized right to follow up on these incidents peacefully. They can be reasonably hopeful to find a more just situation by addressing this and similar incidents when they arise.
In a fear society like Iran's today, there is no such hope. Indeed, the system is such that the news of such incidents get out only as the result of the rather heroic efforts of those who put their lives and livelihoods in danger. So, when a friend of mine who commendably reported the UCLA tasering incident was reminded (in Farsi) of the beating of students at one of Tehran's universities by government-backed armed vigilantes, I could only take it that he was mixing things up. Such mistakes will eventually cost us the better future we all hope to find in our homeland.
As it happens, when I decided to write this piece, I did a regular google search for the UCLA student's name in Farsi to see what Iranians are saying about him. Among the search results I found this: Tohid Ghaffarzadeh, a student at the Free University of Sabzevar, was stabbed to death by a Basij member (in Farsi) on November 13, a day before Mostafa was tasered by UCPD. The reason: Tohid was talking to his fiancée (or girlfirend, who knows?) in front of the University entrance, and the vigilante Basij member found that against "his religious beliefs" and acted "upon his religious duty," according to the University's security chief. There was no news of the killing until yesterday, five days after the indicent, and then only on a web site that is filtered by the government inside Iran. Instead, the national state TV is running the news of the UCLA tasering for its propaganda value over and over again.
So, let's all do our best to bring justice for Mostafa, but at least for justice's sake, let's not in the process of doing so forget Tohid's funeral.