In countries where traditional media such as newspaper, radio and television are tightly controlled, and outspoken journalists can be executed, online weblogs provide an outlet for the venting of one’s true feelings.
Unsurprisingly, blogging has had a massive appeal in Iran. According to Nasrin Alavi, author of We Are Iran, Farsi is the fourth most frequently used language in the blogosphere, with something between 64,000 and 1,000,000 Farsi blogs (plus a smaller number of Iranian blogs in English). Almost all are less than five years old. Many Persian blogs and websites – including Farsi Tube, Iran’s answer to You Tube – strive to avoid taking a political stance. Others, such as those of blogger Hamid Tehrani, who summarises Iranian journals for the Global Voices webpage (www.globalvoicesonline.org/author/hamid-tehrani), embrace controversial discussion. With alarm bells going off for a possible US airstrike on Iran, it has never been more vital to listen to these voices.
“Don’t you dare bombing our minds.”- mrbehi.blogs.com
In December 2006, the United Nations’ Security Council passed Resolution 1737, imposing sanctions on Iran for continuing to enrich uranium. The United States has been beating its wardrums ever since. On 25 February this year, New Yorker journalist, Seymour Hersh (the man who revealed the Abu Ghraib atrocities), published details of the Pentagon’s warplans. US ally, Kuwait, claims in the Arab Times that George W. Bush will attack Iran by May. On 21 February, the UN’s deadline for Iran to end their nuclear enrichment passed, ignored by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Yet many voices within the US government have spoken out against a possible attack. Robert Gates (Secretary of Defense) and General Peter Pace (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) have both stated that there is “zero chance” of a war on Iran. Political analyst Noam Chomsky has previ- ously said that similar figures may be “trying to leak dire warnings in the hope of cutting [an attack] off at the pass.” Right-wing British newspaper The Economist (which supported the invasion of Iraq) ran a cover story on 10 February, opposing any attack on Iran. Unfortunately, such warnings are unlikely to deter the American neocons led by Vice President Dick Cheney.
Left-wing journalist John Pilger’s recent article in the New Statesman pointed out that even Democrats, including Hilary Clinton, want to keep “all options on the table” while dealing with Iran. Thus, while top military figures such as Gates and Pace may deny an attack, and others attempt to pressure Ahmadinejad through the media, an attack is still likely. Overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US cannot commit ground forces to Iran. Yet it does have two aircraft supercarriers in the Persian gulf, holding 180 aircrafts (mainly F/A-18 ‘Hornet’ fighters) poised to strike at any given time.
“It’s the ultimate hypocrisy of the West to punish Iran for a crime Iran has not committed.” – www.hoder.com
Canada-based Persian blogger, Majid Zohai (http://www.majidzohari.com), argues that anyone denying the possibility of an attack is forgetting the extraordinary arrogance displayed by Bush in the build up to his invasion of Iraq; if it’s airstrikes he wants, it’s airstrikes he will get. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and, unlike the US, has stuck to its treaty commitments. Her rulers have allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect and ensure they are not building an atomic weapon, although they have refused to stop developing nuclear power. Another weblog, ‘Adventures of Mr. Behi’ (http://mrbehi.blogs.com), accepts that, given the massive numbers of young Persian men who volunteer for the Basiji religious guards, there will inevitably be Iranians who will provide weapons for similar militants in Iraq. But he dismisses the United States’ press conferences on the amorality of Iranian weapons in Iraq as “manipulative propaganda.” Mr. Behi opines that the USA “has the biggest expenditure in arms, the biggest amount of exporta- tion of arms, has been in every and each major military conflict in the world since zillion years back…and came halfway around the world to occupy two countries that [it] once sold arms to… and is now putting the blame on Iran!”
“Those most addicted to religion will, at some stage, overdose”- ibrahim.blogspot.com (no longer active)
While Persian bloggers have responded with alarm to these developments, many have refused to pin the blame solely on the United States; nor have they been baying for Bush’s blood. Persian bloggers tend to be well educated (though this is not unusual, given the country’s policy of free education), and many see Ahmadinejad’s obsession with Iran’s “nuclear rights” as responsible for the growing US threat. Following his well-publicised claim, likening Iran’s production of nuclear fuel to a train “which has no brake and no reverse gear”, Mr. Behi lampooned him as “a trapped convict who does not care if he drives into a one way road or hits another car. There is no turning back for him and his only friend is the unknown world of tomorrow.”
The anonymity offered by the blogosphere has allowed such critics a channel to oppose not only the regime’s nuclear policy, but also its obsessive religiosity. For women in particular, whose movements and appearance in public are closely restrained, weblogs present an outlet for their feelings about this situation. Yet blogging in Iran can still be dangerous: in April 2003, Iran became the first nation to arrest a blogger for comments made online (the author in question, Sina Montallebi, now lives in Europe). Since then, a number of bloggers have been arrested and beaten, and one group has been accused of adulterous involvement with one another, a crime punishable by stoning. Thus bloggers who criticise Iran’s nuclear ambitions are taking a dangerous risk.
Perhaps the most prominent Persian blogger is Mohammed Ali Abtahi, a moderate politician (and friend of former reformist president Khatami) who blogs in both Farsi and English (http://www.webneveshteha.com/en). Abtahi points out that the USA supports many regimes with human rights records similar to those of Iran, and argues that relenting its nuclear ambitions would entirely relieve international pressure. He quotes the current President’s claim that “a 16 year old girl with the help of her brother has bought some tools, from the market, and has made nuclear energy.” Abtahi opines that if this speech “is translated and foreigners read it, and we also tell them that this is our nuclear energy – the danger of attack, war and sanction are fully eradicated.” Abtahi’s lack of concern about Ahmidenijad’s threat comes from the Presidency’s lack of actual power; despite his desire to attain a nuclear arsenal, he is ultimately a puppet of the mullahs. He became President in 2005 only after the clerics had thrown out the previous reformist government and banned reformists from standing. The Ayatollah is more concerned with holding on to his unpopular power rather than taking on the world, and may choose to ignore his president completely..
‘View From Iran’ (http://viewfromiran.blogspot.com), the blog of an American woman married to an Iranian, takes a similar dismissive attitude towards the danger of Iranian arms – “I sure hope Iran doesn’t use any Shahab missiles. If they do, it will be the start of WWIII… they’ll hit everything but their intended target. A missile aimed at Israel will hit Saudi Arabia or Russia or some other country.”
Persians who refuse to define themselves by their regime are trapped between their opressive religious police, and the threat of being bombed to smithereens by a set of Western political and military leaders who consider Persians to be citizens of a “rogue state”. Cartoonist/blogger Nikahang (http://nikahang.blogspot.com) has also lampooned both Ahmadinejad’s fanatical attachment to nuclear power and the hypocritical stance of the US. His images balance the danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of a religious fanatic, while simultaneously pointing out the double-standards inherent in Mr. Bush’s response.
“A generation that had battle-green grenade-shaped piggy banks.”- dentist.blogspot.com
That Iran’s bloggers should be so critical of their regime’s nuclear ambitions should not be surprising for anyone familiar with the nation’s demographics. Two thirds of all Persians are under thirty; this young generation have no personal memory of Iranian monarchy before the Islamic Revolution, but they have received a high level of education.
Many grew up during the “Imposed War” between 1980 and 1988, when, around a million of their older brothers, fathers and uncles died in trenches against Iraq, while suffering gas attacks and air bombardments. Unlike young Americans or New Zealanders, most Persians know first-hand the horrors of war. They also know of the early days of the Islamic regime, when Revolutionary Guards would routinely slice off women’s lips for wearing lipstick. Nasrin Alavi compares them to the American baby boomers who grew up in the shadow of WWII. She points out that the regime’s education policies have created a generation of forward thinking, well-informed youth, who are willing to criticise Islamic extremism. Their political voice is stirred up due to Iran having the youngest voting age in the world, yet is frustrated by parliament’s lack of power. Ultimate power remains in the hands of a few elderly clerics.
The Arab states, whose monarchies are supported by western trade are friendlier towards the West than the bulk of their subject people. Persians too are predominantly much more open to western culture than their Ayatollah: the reformist cleric Muhammed Khatami was elected President with at least 70% support in three elections. However in 2002, a major national poll showed a similar 70% of the population favoured open political discussion with the United States.
The Iranian government’s biggest and most outspoken critic is the national students’ union, Tahkim Vahdat. Given the predominance of youth in Iran’s population and the young voting age, Persian students are a much more significant group within their country than their counterparts in the West. Students regularly protest against the regime when politicians speak on campus. Last December, protestors at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University interrupted the President with chants of “death to the dictator” (54 of these students have since been suspended and forcibly enrolled in the military). Many worry that the pandemonium of the USA’s war plans and obsession with “nuclear rights” have allowed Iran’s leaders to avoid discussing abuse of human rights.
Considering the risks taken by the youth of Persia to speak up against their nation’s harsh rule, it seems unfair that the West opts to put more pressure on them. The morality and acceptability of bombing their roads, industries and power stations, as well as the inevitable “collateral damage” to their homes, schools, hospitals and lives is based upon the presumption that killing them will stop them killing us. Most Iranians do not want to kill anyone. Bombing Iran will only cement the power of the mullahs, as we force all Persians, whatever their feelings on a fundamentalist leadership may be, to defend themselves against violence. Canada-based Persian blogger Hoder (http://www.hoder.com), a self-professed atheist who “can’t even tolerate having dinner with most of these people who still believe in God and heaven and hell”, says he would take Ayatollah Khamenei’s side against the USA “out of pragmatism… Khamenei’s worst is way better than anything that the United States or the European Union can bring to Iran.”
I am going to take a stand and say that any decent, reasonable person would oppose an attack on Iran. But it would be foolish to fall into the generic lefty habit of opposing western aggression and then letting the matter rest. Nuclear power in the hands of Iran’s fanatical regime is a threat to the Iranian people, not to mention global stability. The world needs to find a solution. To do so, we must work with young Persians who are willing to support what is good and fair. Personally, I’m shit all out of answers as to how exactly this is going to happen, as are most of the political leaders who are involved in this issue on both sides. But, sometimes, the answer isn’t as simple as killing some shit and then shouting, “Victory!”
Fun Persian Websites: