Neda Agha-Soltan, 1982-2009
It's hard to say what is more remarkable about Neda Agha-Soltan: The simplicity of the things she wanted from her life in Tehran, or how simple it was for a thuggish, repressive society to deny them.
Neda -- whose name, most ironically, translates into English as "voice" -- wanted to sing, in a society that would not allow her to do so in public:
She studied philosophy and took underground singing lessons — women are banned from singing publicly in Iran. Her name means "voice" in Persian, and many are now calling her the voice of Iran.
Neda wanted her vote in last week's Iranian election to be counted, but obviously it was not:
"She couldn't stand the injustice of it all," Panahi said. "All she wanted was the proper vote of the people to be counted."
Neda was just 26 years old, engaged to be married, ready to live life to fullest. But now she is dead -- murdered for trying to exercise her basic right to gather in public:
Neda Agha-Soltan, 26, was shot dead Saturday evening near the scene of clashes between pro-government militias and demonstrators who allege rampant vote-count fraud in the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The jittery cellphone video footage of her bleeding on the street has turned "Neda" into an international symbol of the protest movement that ignited in the aftermath of the June 12 voting. To those who knew and loved Neda, she was far more than an icon. She was a daughter, sister and friend, a music and travel lover, a beautiful young woman in the prime of her life.
"She was a person full of joy," said her music teacher and close friend Hamid Panahi, who was among the mourners at her family home on Sunday, awaiting word of her burial. "She was a beam of light. I'm so sorry. I was so hopeful for this woman."
To be sure, Neda is very much alive tonight as a symbol, as an inspiration to millions around the world, and one can only hope that some day many others will sing because this special "voice" was silenced. But I'm sure that is also small consolation to her fiancee, to her parents, and to the others who were fortunate enough to know her. My thoughts and prayers are with these people tonight.
UPDATE: Roger Cohen of the NY Times, reporting from Tehran, has an excellent and moving column about Neda online tonight.