The murder of 30-year-old medical student Gelareh Bagherzadeh near her Houston home last week was surely meant to convey a message. This was no case of mistaken identity or random violence; what must be known about this remarkable young woman is that while she feared for her life she still spoke at every opportunity for freedom and women’s rights in Iran. Indeed, for Islamists there was reason to make an example of her and to send a message that – even in America – those who summon the courage to speak boldly against Islamism will be silenced.
It now is up to Americans to accept responsibility for making our own inspiring example of the courageous Gelareh Bagherzadeh. We have the power to profile this young woman of conviction as the leader that she was. But we have to know what her life meant and we have to honor the risks she took to stand for the freedoms we say we hold dear. If her killers intended that she would be silenced, it is now our duty to make sure she will not be, even in death.
Gelareh’s friends report that she had converted from Islam to Christianity and that she said “that her rights counted for nothing in Iran" and that "now in the U.S., she was going to speak for every cause she believed in." One friend at her funeral called her "a real fighter" and said that "she was a strong Persian woman who would stand up for her rights. She never gave up her right to speak, to demand freedom for our nation (Iran)."
Ms. Bagherzadeh was called an organizing member of SabzHouston, a group formed to protest the results of the 2009 elections in Iran. It is not possible to know if Gelareh was present at a well-supported September 2009 protest in front of Al-Hadi Mosque in Houston where the protestors charged that the former imam, Biria, had departed for Iran to become a senior advisor to Ahmadinejad. But, it is clear from the video that the protest sent a powerful message.
It currently appears that Gelareh’s murder will be chalked up to just another random act of violence; one that the FBI does not find worth investigating and one that is quickly becoming a dead end for the Houston police who are begging for tips. Her brother, speaking for the family, now claims that Gelareh was never politically active. There is only $5000 in CrimeStoppers money to offer as a reward. Whether the speculation about an Iranian Qods hit is worth considering, reports of the murder do suggest that the shooting was not random.
First, early reports from a Houston police officer revealed that the crime was reported twice – with one call coming in before the shooting actually happened. When police responded the first time, they found no crime scene. About forty-five minutes later, a caller reported hearing shots fired and others heard Gelareh’s car crash into the garage structure. Police arrived to find her motor still running and tires spinning.
Second, at the time of the shooting, Gelareh was on her cell phone talking to a former boyfriend. While on this call, Gelareh turned her car away from her family’s condo and into a garage area that she certainly knew was a dead end. Lorena Lopez, who said she was with the former boyfriend reports that he told her that Gelareh “screamed for her life." The boyfriend said that he heard a loud thud and then the sounds of the crash. The boyfriend does not mention hearing the gunshot that took Gelareh’s life through the passenger window. Was the gun silenced, and how then did the caller of record hear a gunshot?
Of course, the police likely have facts that did not appear in news reports and we cannot know that all reports presented were accurate but the fact that Gelareh’s purse and cell phone were left untouched also indicates that this was not a random crime.
Whether Gelareh was assassinated or not, her case deserves utmost attention and careful investigation. In the final analysis, it is most valuable to know how she lived but we also owe her the duty of learning why her life was taken.
Diana West, noted author and respected columnist, recently gave a C-SPAN interview where she made the startling observation that she thought the most important lesson surrounding -- and including -- the attacks of 9-11 was the capitulation of the West over the Danish cartoon controversy. Like the American episode where cartoonist Molly Norris joked about an “everybody draw Mohammed cartoon day,” Western Europe ran for cover in the face of threats and demonstrations. American now has an opportunity to choose differently in championing the life of freedom fighter Gelareh Bagherzadeh.
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