Slapping back

An unprecedented protest campaign is under way by Iranian web community against Iran's ruling hardliners. Many bloggers (web loggers) based in Iran and around the world have renamed their sites to Emrooz (means today in Persian) for this entire week to protest the harassment and blocking of a popular news site named Emrooz. [See: Crckdown on reformist websites]

The Emrooz site is closely tied to Iranian regime's moderate faction, lead by the now lame duck president, Mohammad Khatami. The site renaming campaign is also aiming to protest the recent wave of ISP closings, harassment and arrests of editors, writers and even in some cases server administrators who are associated with some of the dissident web sites!

There is even a case where the father of a dissident blogger who writes in exile from Europe was arrested in Tehran to force him into silence!

I know that as young as the Internet is, there have already been many protest efforts, petitions and email drives around the world and against the governments that have attempted to control and limit the use of the Web by their subjects and citizens.

But I am unaware of such concerted efforts related to the new medium of blogging which due to its interactive and participatory nature provides a potent and effective medium for political content. So, this is a ground breaking and historical move by Iran's bloggers.

What is particularly troubling to the Ayatollahs is that many satirists, cartoonists, feature writers and political analysts who had been put out of work and kicked off their podiums by the serial closings of the undesirable print media outlets have chosen the blogging medium to continue their work.

Blogging has been especially attractive to those activists who were sidelined or even left the country after the press crack down that followed the brief period of freedom heralded by President Khatami's election in the spring of 1997. In fact, almost all of the more popular writers in the Persian blogsphere used to work for one or more of the reformist papers and magazines that are no longer in print.

With their total and unchallenged control of radio and television, and the complete cutback on Khatami-enacted print freedoms, the last medium for the hardliners to put down is the Internet. The newly inaugurated Majlis (parliament) that is filled with hardliners, thanks to a doctored-up election last year has made it a priority to address and fix the “Internet problem”!

Unfortunately, as important as the Emrooz protest campaign is, it is bound to go almost entirely unnoticed and will be unheard by the overwhelming majority of Iranians, including many educated and intellectual Iranians who are either not involved and connected to the Internet or not particularly interested in and paying attention to web logging!

But the Ayatollahs are taking no chances! This is definitely a fight with the future in mind. The use of Internet and its exposure to the masses will no doubt rise in Iran, and the rulers want to make sure that their complete control of broadcast and print media will not be compromised by the Web.

Ironically, a slap in the face of Iran's ruling class is that many leading bloggers and Internet activists are the sons and daughters of Islamic Republic's founding and ruling class. In fact, this week's Emrooz protest campaign was first proposed by a popular blogger who is living and writing against the Mullahs hard line policies from his apartment in Canada!

This gentleman's father was and is a prominent Islamic activist and an early booster of the Islamic regime in Tehran's bazaar establishment and very much responsible for the existence of the regime! More than anything else, this ironic phenomenon demonstrates the complete failure of the Ayatollahs' efforts and programs for quarter of a century to find legitimacy and acceptance with Iran's youth!

Another interesting detail is that this campaign has a name and a face! The Islamic Republic's judiciary has organized a special task force to fight the proliferation of dissidence on the Web. This effort is headed by a young over-zealous judge named Saeed Mortazavi.

Mr. Mortazavi's official position and title is Tehran's Prosecutor General, but he has adopted the fight for the control of the Internet (!) as his pet project. Incidentally, this is the same man who has been widely implicated in the murder of Iranian-Canadian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi who died while in custody of Tehran's judiciary operatives last year!

So, in a nutshell, Mr. Mortazavi wants to control and fight the Internet, as so plainly stated by him and his deputies! In addition to ISP closings, web address blocking (known as filtering) and blogger arrests, their project includes a consistent and widespread mudslinging campaign against the use of Internet by children and young adults in general. Apparently the plan is to use the bad aspects of the Internet such as porn and other mischief to turn the mostly uneducated and unaware parent community against their children's use of the Internet!

Mr. Mortazavi's job and the ruling Ayatollahs fight against the spread of the Internet reminds me of those old classic Tarzan movies showing am expedition trapped in the depth of the African jungle and the feeling of helplessness and inevitable demise as the circle of siege by the cannibal natives around them tightened while the drums of annihilation kept beating louder and louder.

Except in this case, the judge and his Ayatollahs are the cannibals who find themselves trapped inside of that self-made fort and they are no doubt going to be over run, sooner or later! If you ever think that your job is overwhelming and sometimes pointless, just think of Judge Mortazavi's task!

Before the drums stop beating and the Mullahs' time, along with the patience of the Iranian youth, runs out someone needs to tap Mortazavi on the shoulder and hand him an old Tarzan video tape to go home and watch! We know how those movies always ended! They can't possibly have enough bullets in that fort!

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