Friday, January 27, 2006

Blogging in Iran - a book review

We Are Iran: the Persian Blogs
By Nasrin Alavi
Soft Skull Press, 2005

Iran is proving to the rest of the world that, thanks to the power of weblogs, no totalitarian government will ever again be able to suppress the ability of people to communicate their inner thoughts, desires, political beliefs, or views on history and current events.

And more so, it’s becoming impossible for dictatorships to keep information from the outside world out of their subjects’ daily lives. To break the mind control of those in power, all you need is a computer and access to the Internet.

Two-thirds of Iran’s population is under 30, and for the most part technologically savvy and more than willing to share opinions about topics ranging from dating to how to avoid detention from the state or harassment from the neighborhood militia’s “Morality Police.” Iran’s blogsphere allows a public debate on key figures, politicians, poets, and pop icons.

“You have heard the story of my generation many times. A generation who grew up on bombs, rockets, war, and revolutionary slogans,” one anonymous blogger writes in Nasrin Alavi’s anthology of the Iranian blogosphere. “Who can forget? For my generation, talking to a member of the opposite sex was akin to adultery, and its punishments are better left unsaid. These are just partial moments in all of our bitter lives: each and every one of us could write a book about them.”

The Internet in Iran has become a beacon of light for journalists and editors who refuse to abide censorship.

Part of the movement has grown beyond its borders. In September 2001, Hossein Derakhshan, a young Iranian who had recently moved to Canada, set up one of the very first weblogs in Farsi, his native language. In response to a request from a reader, Derakhshan posted a how-to-blog guide in Farsi. Derakhshan currently writes in both English and Farsi on his popular blog Editor: Myself at

By 2002, more than 100 newsprint and online publications were shut down by the government. Hundreds of journalists and editors went to prison during the crackdown. In 2003, Sina Motallebi was the first blogger in the world to be imprisoned for the contents his blog. Motallebi spent 23 days in prison and credited his release from pressure mounted through the Iranian blogosphere. He has since been exiled and lives in Holland with his family, where he is an advocate for free speech.

Many journalists and editors did not return from prison, but those who did became even more determined to utilize the Internet as a means of distributing the news. Some of them went underground or began to use pen names or post articles and opinions anonymously. Astonishingly, Iran has the fourth-largest web community in the world today.

Alavi also sheds light on the fact that Iran is one of the most educated and literate countries in the world. Ironically, the very educational programs established after the 1979 revolution that forced people to read, write, and study Islam are now responsible for millions of young people’s ability to utilize the Internet and read and write whatever they choose.

“I keep a weblog so that I can breath in this suffocating air,” wrote an anonymous poster. “In a society where one is taken to history’s abattoir for the mere crime of thinking, I write so as not to be lost in my despair. So that I feel that I am somewhere where my calls for justice can be uttered. I write a weblog so that I can shout, cry, and laugh, and do the things that they have taken away from me in Iran today.”

We Are Iran: the Persian Blogs is for anyone who wants a glimpse not only into Iran’s modern-day culture, but at the tools that will be used for years to come for critical thinkers and common people who are all too often cast aside by the powerful elite.

Published January 2006, Real Change, Seattle, Washington.

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