We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs

Nasrin Alavi’s book, "We Are Iran: the Persian Blogs" presents a clear picture of the dissent of youth in Iran. In this expressive chronicle Iranian bloggers denounce their government, critique American films and discuss politics. They also express the disdain and injustice that is brought upon them under the guise of religion.

According to Alavi, there are 64,000 blogs in Farsi. She reviews them all and translates a collection of them in this book. Alavi recounts the historical, social and cultural context of Iran today and chooses blogs that solidify and humanize all facets of Iranian life. Alavi chooses blogs that receive the most hits, allowing the reader to taste the intellect of a majority of the population.

The Iranian blogosphere was born of a young Iranian tech journalist named Hossein Derakhshan. He wrote a how-to blog guide in Persian, allowing his peers to use the new medium to type the words they dare not speak. Derakhshan emigrated to Canada in 2000. He is a student at the University of Toronto. He continues to speak out and support Iranian bloggers who are harassed and arrested for their work. Last year he started a podcast, Radio Hoder. Again, he taught Iranians how to use this technology to their advantage.

In a June 2004 blog Derakhshan writes, telling his peers that they must start to write their blogs in English (as authorities constantly shut down politically sensitive blogs) in order to make noise in the Western world. In the blog he writes,

"If a news item isn’t written or printed in English. . . it has never happened…and if we keep the frightening details of human rights abuses locked in our hearts we will never be able to show the realities of Iran to outsiders."

The Iranian bloggers don’t use their names. They call themselves: "Spirit," "Antidepressant," "the Hungry Philosopher," "Godfather," and "Earth."

What is alive in the Iranian blogosphere is not represented anywhere else on Earth. While this book is foremost an insight into Iranian lives, it is also a revelation in what this medium can be used for.

Last week, the biggest story in the American blogosphere was whether Martha-Ann Bomgardner (wife of Supreme Court nominee Sam "roe & wade v. me Alito") was crying "real" tears or crocodile tears at the hearings. Our bloggers now perform a service that the mainstream media cannot seem to do anymore. The Iranian blogs are an exercise in expression that is not allowed anywhere else in that country, and that is the primary difference and the reason why this work is so intriguing.

It is not to say that Iranian bloggers do not write about the frivolities of life as well,

"The Matrix Revolutions is truly a shambles. . .a total freefall…What were the Wachowski brothers thinking?" – hamid@hamidreza.com

What is primarily shown in this book are the secret longings of a nation of educated youth unable to stand their repression much longer. The blogs are a catharsis for their writers. Sometimes, this redemption is used to convey their gratitude for those who have come before them, to speak out against the ruling clerics.

Alavi writes, "Revelling in the forbidden, many writers use their blogs to honour men and women who are loathed by the regime. The bloggers pay tribute to anti-establishment heroes…."

One of the first "heroes" Alavi writes of is Dr. Muhammed Mossadegh, whose democratically elected government was toppled in an American and British coup in 1953.

According to Alavi he is regarded today as a mighty uncorrupted and democratic force in Iranian history. The ruling clergy deem him just a secular liberal who merits no memorials or place in their history.

Mossadegh was viewed as a threat to Western interests in the Middle East. He was the only democratically elected leader of his era in the Middle East and the United States and Britain worked to overthrow him. "By bringing down a democratically elected government, the United States also empowered key radical Islamic groups in Iran." She goes on to enumerate financing give to radical Islamist groups. Keeping in mind current relations with Iran and the way it is identified by W deuce as part of the "Axis of Evil," it might serve the administration to brush up on a bit of its own sorted history.

What started as a democratic revolution in 1978, quickly transformed into a theocracy. Alavi cites the blog of Iranian journalist, Ibraham Nabavi,

"We had a revolution so that a regime that from 1957 to 1975 had at most killed hundreds of Iranians. .could be overthrown, and we brought in a regime that would kill thousands during its first days alone"

Another blogger writes of the idyllic days pre-Ayatollah Komeini, when his family had gatherings.

"After a month of Ayatollah Komeini entering Iran, everyone still used to come, except my born-again Muslim cousin. He completely cut off ties with everyone. Today he has a position in the system…the alarm bells had rung for us. Kindness and humanity had gone astray." bamdadz@yahoo.com

The people of Iran are ready for reform. It is clear, from the blogs, that the system in place has failed and they want change. In a blog titled, "The Wind Will Carry Us," daftarespid@yahoo.com writes,

"I deeply believe that there are no short cuts to democracy. There are no other paths but those which Ghandi or Mandela took or Mossadegh and Bazargan tried to take. The student movement can be a catalyst for reform but only for reform and not a revolution. We should not have to pay such a high price or end up again with the destruction and extinction of the best children of this nation…Sudden overnight change would be like an earthquake destroying what shelter we have over our heads…Reform was not invented by Khatami, nor is it dependent on him….Believe me, if we again choose a revolution and violent change…the wind will carry us.

The blogs range from what I’ve quoted above to others such as this one from May of 2002,

"What would happen if you were no longer legally required to wear the veil? Just

imagine if our women were free to wear whatever they wanted; if even mixed bathing on the beach were allowed …would this be culturally tolerable to Iranians?" – baakereh@yahoo.com

Required to wear veils, forced into unwanted marriages and often treated as second class citizens, Iranian women are a major focal point in Alavii’s book. One of my early, and few, criticisms of this book was that Iranians must not all have access to the internet. How do you know if what you’re reading is representative of the majority of Iranians? Alavi writes, "Blogs have allowed some Iranian women to express themselves freely for the first time in modern history and this small freedom may have a big knock on effect. It might be objected that the majority of female bloggers do not reflect a true cross-section of Iranian society, as not everyone has access to computers and the internet. However, thanks to the Islamic Republic’s policy of free education and its national literacy campaigns, those who enter further education tend to be from a relatively wide cross-section of society. Iranian students come from a broad variety of social and regional backgrounds and have access to the internet."

It should surprise no one then, that Iranians have learned to use this tool in an extremely effective way that is comprised of little more than conversation.

In a chapter entitled, "Virtually Unveiled Woman" Alavi introduces feminist muslim activists and provides blogs that echo the feelings and disgust of Iranian women

Western culture teaches us to feel sympathy toward these poor women are not free to wear blue jeans, Uggz and make-up. Avari writes, "These women activists are less interested in whether or not to wear the veil and more concerned with gaining access to education, wider employment opportunities, equality at work and better health care for their families.

"You say Father can get a second wife; but we don’t even want the familiar scent of our mum’s beds to change… You say Father is allowed to give Mum a beating once in awhile; well, when we grow up we’ll show you who needs a beating."

-By Antidepressant

Read that last one, read it over and over again. And think not about what it says, but rather, that it can be written at all.

In a country where the state controls the media, Iranians also value and use their blogs as a means of real-time communication and a journalistic tool. Iranian students, who have been protesting on and off since 1999, post notices, news and photos to their blogs and activists write daily reports.

According to Alavi, Iranian author and journalist Massoud Behnoud, of the BBC, believes that the country is experiencing an ‘Internet Revolution’ and that, "Internet sites and weblogs by dissident Iranian youths are independently shouldering the entiremission of a public media network and resistance against the conservative clergy."

It is clear from "We are Iran" that there is one voice and it is screaming loud and clear through distant cables and underground wires and it is only a matter of time until that voice can no longer be stifled by the click of a keyboard.

To order a copy of the book, go here: http://softskull.com/detailedbook.php?isbn=1-933368-05-5

Melody Zagami is the assistant editor of TowardFreedom.com