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Join Date: Jan 2004
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Blog the (Counter)Revolution
The explosive growth of youthful, irreverent online diaries has alarmed Iran's hardline Government
THE MUSIC OF Eric Clapton was banned in Iran this week. Broadcasters were ordered to cease playing “decadent” western songs and stick to “fine Iranian music”. Not content with denying the Holocaust, Israel’s right to exist, and advertising hoardings featuring David Beckham, Iran’s hardline President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has now denied his people the chance to listen to Layla — cruel and unusual punishment indeed.
But if Iran, under the repressive rule of the ultraconservatives, is silencing the sound of Western pop, in another area of its culture, a wild cacophony of voices has erupted. The blogosphere is exploding. In Iran there are now more than 100,000 active blogs or weblogs, individual online diaries covering every conceivable subject, from pets to politics. Farsi is the 28th most spoken language in the world, but it now ties with French as the second most used language in the blogosphere. This is the place Iranians call “Weblogistan”: a land of noisy and irreverent free speech.
The collision between these two sides of Iran — hardline versus online — represents the latest, and most important, battle over freedom of speech. The outcome will dictate not only the shape of Iran, but also the future of the internet as a political tool, heralding a new species of protest that is entirely irrepressible.
The growth in Iranian blogging is part of a worldwide surge. In 1999, there were some 50 bloggers on the web; in January there were about 5.4 million; today, according to the blog search engine Technorati, there are more than 23 million.
There are reasons why Iran should be especially fertile ground for blogging. More than 90 per cent of the country is literate, and 70 per cent of the country’s citizens are under 30. Computer ownership is relatively high and internet cafés abound. The first Iranian blog was born in November 2001, when Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian journalist, posted instructions on how to build a simple weblog in under ten minutes. As Nasrin Alavi (a pseudonym) demonstrates in her new book, We Are Iran: the Persian Blogs, these diary sites cover the gamut: angry, sad, humorous and brave. Like all blogs they can also be self-indulgent, inaccurate, inarticulate and boring. Internet usage is growing faster in Iran than anywhere in the Muslim Middle East, and there are now more blogs in Farsi than in German, Italian, Spanish, Russian or Chinese. Apparently, since the rise of the blogs, graffiti have almost entirely vanished from the walls of Tehran’s public toilets.
What a wonderful thing the internet is, check out some anti-Mullah action at www.activistchat.com