A call to ceasefire in Iranian blogland
February 19, 2007
I am not an internet technologist. I am not a politician. I am not, in random order, an activist, a spy, or a troublemaker. I am just an ordinary user, a consumer of information, news, and facts about things I like to see and read. I am ordinary in the way I review and learn information, not a genius, and not a complete idiot. Very ordinary. I realize, however, that I am an important player in the blogging game -- I am the audience. By virtue of their very nature, blogs are created and updated out in the open, waiting for “authorized snoops” like me, to come and read and see what the author has to say today, and to leave a comment, send a link to a friend, or to move on.
It has been a scary few weeks in Iranian Blogland (affectionately called Weblogestan by some). Accusations, name calling, profanity, and downright hate are running rampant. Everywhere I go, there is either a direct line of fire (whereupon the ordinary user gets really scared and runs away so as not to get caught in the crossfire), or there is reference to the abysmal behavior of other bloggers. After a long and fearful silence, I broke down and started leaving comments where I could muster the courage (some of these guys are really angry and their words could cut through your heart!). The result has been a big, pleasant surprise for me. It has had such a profound impact on me that I must now write and report it, hoping to help find a way out of this mess.
The surprise was that when in the middle of this mayhem I started dispensing advice and careful comments, I was received quite well! My comments were posted after review, and I even received some direct emails from these bloggers, which I must admit touched me to no end! I know that with some blogs, this is not a differentiating factor, as they post anything anyone says, even comments ridden with references to human genitalia, urine, feces, and lewd sexual terms. The fair-minded person in me says that in favor of “freedom of expression,” this might be alright (though I have noticed that for example in the online opinion area of economist.com, they spell out what will or will not be posted, citing deletion of remarks depicting “offensive language, irrelevance and self-promotion.”).
I have discovered something beautiful and rewarding in my escapades through the Iranian Blogland -- behind every single blog, beneath the piles of hurtful and accusatory remarks, underneath the non-chalant and devil-may-care attitudes, a big beautiful heart is beating and a brilliant mind is thinking ... for Iran. If you see the mind and feel the heart, please go back and leave a comment, to show that you care, that you read, and that you appreciate the mind and the heart, hoping to curb the anger and to dissipate the hate.
What is their problem, anyway? You would think that these guys would have so much in common. All of them belong to the younger generation of Iranians, who are intellectuals in their own rights. They read the news line by line and all the spaces in between the lines, they write beautifully and poignantly, they analyze crisply and brilliantly, they express themselves with uncommon honesty and transparency, and whether they are living inside or outside Iran, fearing persecution, torture, and their futures. The ones living outside Iran all miss their families and homeland, and in their homesickness and loneliness, they suffer immeasurable pain. Most of them, in fact, were friends and colleagues before their lives changed and forced them to live outside of Iran. So, what’s going on?
As their audience, we are baffled by their behavior. As fellow-Iranians, we should be fearful for their animosity, because in their cleverness and fearlessness, they know things and can say things that could really hurt the other. Things that their common enemies could never dream of knowing or saying, because, their common enemies, who are enemies of happiness and peace and freedom for Iran, are idiots and we all know it! By engaging in this seemingly childish, but oh-so-grown-up combat, they provide ammunition to those enemies to use against all of them and then some!
I believe that the exiled generation of gifted artists, journalists, and activists, some of whom were the founding members of Iranian blogging revolution, have somehow lost their way in their search for freedom, while coping with growing up and living as over-thirty adults in a foreign land. In between the omissions of how they really feel, or talking too loudly about how they really feel, somewhere in their blogs and in their lines, you will see the pains they each feel as they try to establish an identity of their own. After all, blogging is an individual effort, devoid of the support of a newspaper editorial cast and crew.
Each of these bloggers must fend for themselves, and I think that is hard. I remember after years of work in companies and large organizations, I decided to become a consultant. Consulting was really rewarding, it paid well, the hours were flexible, and being the outsider gave me emotional freedom to do my best on a project and really not care what happened after I had left the scene. I gave up consulting when I realized that I could never “belong” to a team, to a group, and to enjoy the pains and joys of having friends at work, a loss too big to endure even with big fat checks in return, if you have ever enjoyed the camaraderie and the simple sense of belonging to a group. I understand how much some of these new enemies must miss each other the way they used to be, friends and colleagues with a common cause.
Looking to the future, I believe enough is enough. I should like to remind the rightful pioneers of Iranian blogging, that, unfortunately, they cannot abdicate their responsibilities to themselves and to the public because they are busy fighting with each other. Well, they probably can, but they will lose their audiences in the process. Just as they showed this fascinating world to most of us, we look to them to establish the standards by which this body of tireless and loving work needs to continue. In their blogs, they should be setting the rules of etiquette for addressing each other and for us. They should grow up and become better. There is no excuse for childish behavior; as, unfortunately the time has simply run out on their childhood, whether or not it was a happy one.
I have a word of advice to blog audiences, too. We must also take responsibility for the comments we write. We can act as though we are in one all-boys high school and try and use every new profane word and verb we learn (Ki-be-kiyeh). Some go as far as calling this a social test for breaking taboos! I call it like I see it: Boys behaving badly. Stop it; grow up; help elevate the standards by being the first one to enforce proper communication language. The blog may be in virtual space, but you are not virtual! Get real!
As their audience, we are desperate for these bloggers’ sharp analysis, art, satire, wit, and writing, because while we waste precious time, Iran continues to wait for a way forward, a way that must be shown and shone upon through the intellectual labors of all those who have a big beautiful heart beating and a brilliant mind thinking ... about Iran! Comment