Quds Day: Hunger Strikes

Click here for all the installments of this account of the protests in Tehran last month.

This is a small point. I have mentioned the funny hats, the parade of uniforms, the howling masses seeking to be heard and then entertained. What kept the event from being even more like a carnival or state fair (think Shriners, Boy Scouts, crowds at a sideshow) was the total absence of food, let alone Cokes and funnel cakes. Quds Day fell, as it does every year, on the last Friday in Ramadan. Pervading this fiesta of Palestinian solidarity and anti-Semitism was hunger and thirst.

Ayatollah Khomeini started Quds Day in 1979, during a period of Israeli bombing in southern Lebanon and acute anti-Israeli sentiment among Shia. He explicitly intended the selection of the last Friday in Ramadan--a month recognized as holy by Muslims of all sects--to unite Sunnis and Shia behind a single banner. That Khomeini himself originally hoisted that banner would, not coincidentally, establish him as first among equals in the Muslim defiance of Israel and the West.

But that timing also guarantees that all observant protesters will be out with growling stomachs and parched mouths, famished and peevish after nearly a month of daytime fasting. At this year's march, the weather was hot and dry. I witnessed a government-sponsored march in Iran once before, in 2004, on the occasion of the Islamic Republic's 25th anniversary. Food was not only available but paid for by the government: Revolutionary Guards threw juice boxes and plastic-wrapped muffins from the backs of trucks, to keep the energy up among the marchers. And the energy was indeed much higher then than at this year's Quds Day.

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Death to America: 2004.

Why does this matter? The fasting certainly helped change the tone of things, keying down the energy but also keying up the bitterness, the anger, the irritability. Year by year, the lunar and Islamic calendars trot forward by a couple weeks, so next year's Quds Day will be hotter and the day of fasting longer. And the year after that even more so. I look forward to seeing if these conditions make any difference.

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Graeme Wood is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His personal site is gcaw.net.

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