Pontifications

Pontifications


Is Neda a martyr?

posted by David Gibson

Neda Agha Soltan.jpgThe simplest answer to that question is “yes.” Neda Agha-Soltan died terribly and publicly while at a protest for freedom against a repressive regime. Her story has spun around the globe, drawing broad support and rallying the reform cause at home. (I watched the graphic video of her death, clicking without thinking, and regretted it–but on reflection realized this is what I needed to see, and to know, about the reality there. But the perils of voyeurism remain, and are troubling–another discussion.)

But look more deeply at Neda and her death and we also begin to ask what martyrdom is.

As this very good LA Times report notes, Neda seemed like a wonderful if fairly typical 26-year-old Iranian. She was from a middle-class family, was a traditional Muslim and studied Islamic philosophy at a branch of Tehran’s Azad University “until deciding to pursue a career in tourism.” She was fascinated by the rest of the world. “But,” the report says, “she was never an activist…and she began attending the mass protests only because she was outraged by the election results.”

“Martyr” comes from the Greek for “witness,” and it retains that meaning in most usages today. But Merriam-Webster’s two definitions also defines martyrdom as voluntarily accepting death for refusing to renounce beliefs or sacrificing for the sake of a principle. The word has both secular and religious parameters.

Was Neda’s death the same as that of the deaths that Christians usually associate with martyrdom? Suicide bombers and their ilk have polluted the traditional Islamic idea of martyrdom to a great extent, and Judaism developed teachings that seek to restrain martyrdom in ways Christianity perhaps has not. She is a very attractive young woman, an image that I think evokes the early virgin-martyrs of the church, perhaps.

I wonder if we “construct” martyrs today for our own benefit as much as some martyrs also seek their own martyrdom, or a version thereof. This can twist reality, on the one hand, or raise someone’s idea of victimization to the level of martyrdom (and victimization of the other). Both can be self-indulgent, especially when contrasted with a true martyrdom. 

Neither seems quite right, and it seems Neda Agha-Soltan was neither seeking the glory of martyrdom nor looking to be any movement’s emblem. But she has become the most powerful witness possible. What is martyrdom then? 

UPDATE: Hanna Rosin takes Andrew Sullivan (and others) to task for “reporting Neda myth as fact,” citing a doctor’s email without corroboration (which came later).

“I do not begrudge this ‘doctor’ his narrative. But it should not be reported by respectable American news sites as confirmation of a fact. It is an artifact in the construction of a martyr story, just like everything else in the story of Neda: Her name, which means ‘voice’ in Farsi (now silenced), her age, first reported as 16, but actually 27, the final close-up of her face, blood streaming from her mouth, one eye opened.”

Yet martyr stories seem to be always “constructed” later, in that after the person’s death they find their true meaning, through others, through re-telling.



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Frank Clyburn

posted June 23, 2009 at 5:08 pm


She is not a martyr but is obviously a patriot! We used to have those in the United States of America also………



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Albert the Abstainer

posted June 23, 2009 at 6:05 pm


She is a statement, and we will see if the audience is listening, and if the powers of repression play out their role or get smart enough to realise that something new is afoot, something which may upset their theocratic applecart. One thing is for sure, those who see her die will be affected. Her death throws gasoline on the fire. Let’s see what happens next.



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Archangel

posted June 23, 2009 at 10:41 pm


Mr. Clyburn obviously doesn’t get it. In fairness, I’ve not seen anywhere else either in your worldly media the deeper reference to Neda’s murder. Persia (present day Iran) is historically a substantial conjunction of both eastern and western faith. Now, 26 years ago Ned? ???-Solt?n is born. In farsi her name means “voice” or “calling” or “Divine message”. Do we have that established? Secondly, before going out this fateful evening she was reported to tell a friend who cautioned her not to go; She said, “Don’t worry. It’s just one bullet and its over.” We have the fact of a dead-on certain premonition. It was a bullet that concluded her destiny and purpose here on earth. Who will argue with me that as apalling as her murder is to us, the living, God’s divine plan for Neda… launched before her Iranian birth in 1982, and the course of Iranian, as well as all history, was fulfilled upon her last breath on this earth. Ned? ???-Solt?n, your spirit lives within me forever. Ned? is without question a true martyr. I tell you, there is more to come.



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Steve

posted June 24, 2009 at 8:03 am


Did Jehenne D’Arc fulfill a prophecy, or did the prophecy create the heroine? Answer: it doesn’t matter; the results are the same. And so it is with Neda (I prefer to honor her as most heroes seem to be, by one instantly and globally recognized name). The meaning of her name and the “one bullet” comment are enough to haunt even disbelievers. But, even if those facts are merely the result of reverse documentation and have nothing whatsoever to do with destiny or premonition, Neda is either way the same immortal force. As much as I hate to see the soiled theocracy of her ancient holy land overcoming the cries for justice(at the time of this writing), I cannot help but pray that her name and comment might really have been more than coincidence.



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Your Name

posted June 24, 2009 at 8:40 am


There is almost always a cost to protest regardless of the issue or the nation. This doesn’t mean that killing protesters is right however. Neda was a courageous young woman, an example to us all to act upon our convictions just as the folk in Tiananmen Square did years ago.



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ann

posted June 24, 2009 at 10:04 am


Martyr or otherwise, she was someone’s child. Pray for her family.



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Cindy

posted June 24, 2009 at 7:57 pm


It would seem in some Catholic circles that only Catholic Christians can be “martyrs” – how sad for all of us that people hold such a view.



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mehdi

posted July 1, 2009 at 11:48 am


neda not Martyr because she act against rules that majority of iranian people accept it.



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CALVIN

posted July 1, 2009 at 2:34 pm


LET ME JUST SAY PAUL WROTE HIS LETTERS TO THE SAINTS…WELL IF
THEY WERE DEAD THE LETTERS WERE WROTE FOR NOTHING, BUT THEY WERE TO
TO THE LIVING SAINTS…SO I AM LIVING AND I AM A SAINT ACCORDING TO
THE BIBLE.. IT MATTERS NOT THAT SOME CHURCH HAS TO DECLARE A PERSON
A SAINT. THE BIBLE DECLARES ME A SAINT AND IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT
SOMEONE ELSE SAYS. THANK YOU



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asd

posted July 10, 2009 at 11:35 am


DOWN WITH USA



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