Wednesday, June 18, 2003

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The blogosphere takes on the mullahs

Here is Andrew Sullivan's suggestion from earlier this week:

Here's my proposal. On July 9, as many blogs as possible focus on the struggle for freedom in Iran. It's the anniversary of the pro-democracy protests that have been going on for years. I'll devote the week after July 4 to this issue, culminating in July 9.... Many people have theorized about the power of the web to bring about change and the young generation in Iran must know this as well as any group of people. So let's try and use it - if only to send a symbol of solidarity with those resisting the theo-fascists who have wrecked Iran for three generations.

Glenn Reynolds thinks this is "a great idea" and provides lots of relevant links.

I plan to be on board as well. [Why don't you launch a campaign to mock Bill O'Reilly's half-assed comments about the Internet instead?--ed. Too late. Besides, I'm sure O'Reilly was using his whole ass when he penned that prose. Nice reference to The Simpsons!--ed.] However, I have a few conditions:

1) Everyone recognize the limitations of this enterprise: A great deal has been written and posted about how Iranians hunger for a more liberal democracy, and how the blogosphere is playing a vital role in communicating that hunger.

However, this conveniently ignores the fact that the Iranian government is an altogether different beast than either Trent Lott or the New York Times. They play for keeps, and have been unafraid in the past to use paramilitary violence to put down student dissent. Here are the latest reports on Iran from Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. They don't make for pleasant reading. A lot of web postings will be unlikely to diminish the mullahs' ardor for repression.

I've argued that the blogosphere's power has been inflated as of late, and I fear this will prove my point. I really hope I'm wrong, though.

2) Don't lobby for Western governments to take direct action against Iran. Official action by western governments could backfire, as Robert Lane Greene observes:

Iranians don't want... heavy-handed meddling by a foreign power. More than even most other countries in the Middle East, Iranians are intensely nationalistic; they have a distinct political identity dating back thousands of years, and a keen sense of having been manipulated by outside powers in recent centuries....

It's clear that Iranians do yearn for an accountable government and real democracy. But America has to be subtle and sensible about how it goes about helping them achieve that. It is, for example, useful for President Bush to speak up for the Iranian protesters, and it would be far better still if other foreign leaders joined him. But funneling American money into the country could backfire; it would allow the regime to say, with some legitimacy, that the protesters were American agents.

Obviously, the nuclear question is a matter for official action, and rhetorical support for the protestors is appropriate. Further sanctions, however, are unlikely to accomplish anything.

[Why, then, did you agitate for economic pressure on Burma? Isn't this the same thing?--ed. No, it's not. In the case of Burma, the demand is extremely specific -- a release of one activist and a return to the status quo of a few months ago. In Iran, the demand is simultaneously more amorphous and more ambiguous.]

3) Remember that the goal is to act as a megaphone for the Iranians themselves. While official action might be counterproductive, direct pressure from global civil society -- which is what Sullivan wants the blogosphere to be on July 9th -- can, at the very least, offer a show of support to Iranians that their voice is being heard. To that end, please click over to Jeff Jarvis' wonderful collection of Iranian bloggers.

4) Quincy Jones is not the producer. For those of you too young to understand that reference, click here.

posted by Dan on 06.18.03 at 11:24 AM