Thursday, December 01, 2005

THE IRANIAN WAR ON BLOGS

From the Telegraph: Iran's war on weblogs - the new voice of dissidents.

First the bad news:
Iran is fighting a constant battle against dissenters who are using the internet to voice criticism of the Islamic Republic and to push for freedom and democracy.

With the closure of most independent newspapers and magazines in Iran, blogging - publishing an online diary - has become a powerful tool in the dissidents' arsenal by providing individuals with a public voice.

...

Over the last year, however, Iranian authorities have arrested and beaten dozens of bloggers, charged with crimes such as espionage and insulting leaders of the Islamic Republic. Among them is Omid Sheikhan, who last month was sentenced to one year in prison and 124 lashes of the whip for writing a blog that featured satirical cartoons of Iranian politicians.

The press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders last week named Iran as one of 15 countries who were "enemies of the internet".
And the Iranian dissidents response?
Nevertheless, Iranians are increasingly turning to blogs and those who can publish their words in English hope they will reach a wider international audience and alert them to the problems facing free-thinkers within Iran.
Well it's worked for me. Just a shame that papers such as the Guardian are keener on printing screeds from Osama bin Laden than reporting on the fight for democracy in Iran that is currently occurring both within and outside her borders.

One of the major objections to the war in Iraq was that we should have supported an anti-Saddam resistance rather than resorting to war. Well apart from the Kurds in the north, there really wasn't much of an organised resistance at all - state-sanctioned torture and murder had seen to that. Whilst the same happens to dissidents in Iran, resistance to the theocracy is already far better organised than was ever the case in Iraq. And yet the very people who proposed we support the Iraqi opposition to Saddam have remained almost completely silent on the efforts of those in Iran fighting for freedom whilst risking their own.

The parallels to the Cold War are pretty strong. Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech was derided by the Left at the time and yet ultimately he was proven right. Communism was a brutally repressive system, robbing individuals of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Is it any wonder that 'New' Europe with its newfound freedoms is so much more confident in and willing to show support for the United States than France, Germany and the rest of 'Old' Europe? That's gratitude for you.

Those who favoured detente with the USSR have had the rug swept from underneath their feet: appeasement and containment simply didn't work. The very idea of a robust neoconservative foreign policy is still anathema to most European socialists and traditional conservatives. Indeed, the act of negotiation itself seems to be viewed as some form of success: maintaining stable relations with dictatorships being more important than removing them. The contrast between the US and European stance on Iran's Manhattan Project being a case in point.

It is no coincidence that those who oppose the war in Iraq come from both extremes of the political spectrum. Witness George Galloway and David Duke making almost identical speeches in Syria. Is it any wonder that ultra-conservative Muslim groups such as the MAB have found an ally in the hard left Socialist Workers' Party? The one thing that unites them is a common enemy: US foreign policy. Both are desperate to see the US fail in Iraq because success will simply highlight the failings and weaknesses of their own flawed non-interventionist position.

And back to Iran. Two decades after Reagan began talking of "The Evil Empire", Bush's "Axis of Evil" remarks have been subjected to the same level of contempt - have we learned nothing? I simply cannot see any redeeming features in either the current North Korean or Iranian regimes. Both are run contrary to my beliefs in liberal democracy and both popluations suffer as a result. It must be the muscular liberal in me that prefers to think of a world in which both these countries are governed by their own people rather than a dictator or council of fundamentalist Islamists. Despite possessing relatively more freedoms than North Koreans, Iranians cannot stand for public office unless they are approved by the current regime, so regardless of the turn-out (some commentators put it as low as 12%) it is not a democracy by any meaningful definition of the word.

And whilst the US has learned that the only way to deal with bullies is to stand firm, the EU seems content to have rounds of negotations upon rounds of negotiations. All the while, Iran is getting closer and closer to possessing nuclear weapons. Even after Iranian President Ahmadinejad described Israel as a "disgraceful blot" on the face of the Islamic world and called for it to be "wiped off the map" we have those accusing the Americans of warmongering. The Stoppers are already preparing their campaign: there was a rally at UCL yesterday entitled "Is Iran Next?" Presumably we are supposed to trust a man who believes he developed a halo that prevented delegates from blinking for 27 minutes when he spoke to the UN last September? Bush talking to God (neocon code for 'prayer') looks decidedly mild in comparison.

Yet in the face of mountains of damning evidence against the current Iranian regime, what does the Left do? They invite the Iranian ambassador to speak at a CND conference. And to show their solidarity for the long-suffering Iranian people, they kindly ejected several protesters who dared to criticise Iran's poor record on human rights and who (quite rightly) called out the Iranian leadership as "fascists."

Who exactly do the Stoppers think they're standing up for by defending Amhadinejad and the Iranian regime? That looks like a betrayal of the Iranian public to me; haven't we been here before with Iraq and Michael Moore's Minutemen?

Exactly whose side are they on? It's certainly not the side of the majority of Iranians who are crying out for true democracy and freedom. Unfortunately, for too long those cries have gone unnoticed in our media.

But, one by one, their voices are being heard across the blogosphere (from the same Telegraph article):
An Iranian blogger known as Saena, wrote recently: "Weblogs are one weapon that even the Islamic Republic cannot beat."

There are an estimated 100,000 active blogs written by Iranians both within the country and across the diaspora. Persian ties with French as the second most common blogging language after English.
...
[T]he Iranian authorities are fighting a losing battle to crush these new outlets of dissent. As fast as one perpetrator is tracked down and closed, another rises in its place and takes up the cause.
The fact that the second most common blogging language is Persian shows just how much effort Iranian dissidents are putting into bringing down the current hardline regime. I for one applaud that effort and can only encourage all bloggers, regardless of political affiliation, to sign up for the "Blogosphere Supports Real Democracy in Iran" Campaign from Regime Change Iran.

It's not much, but if dissidents inside Iran are having their access to well-known activist websites blocked, just hosting the odd story on Iran on your blog may help someone get a piece of news they otherwise would have been prevented from reading by the current regime. "Every little helps," as they say.


UPDATE


For those who are interested, Regime Change Iran have a good round-up of the farce that was Iran's Presidential election here.

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