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370 pages (Fall 2006); 3.8MB download
Soft Skull Press; ISBN: 1-933368-05-5
In September 2001, a young Iranian journalist named Hossein Derakhshan, created one of the very first weblogs in his native language of Farsi. In response to a request from a reader, he created a simple how-to-blog guide in Farsi. With the modest aim of giving other Iranians a voice, he wound up unleashing a torrent of opinion, the likes of which had never before been seen in the Islamic world.
There are now 64,000 blogs in Farsi, and Nasrin Alavi has been painstakingly reviewing them all. In so doing she has created a remarkable document of the efflorescence of dissent in Iran, a book that not only functions as an archive of what Iranians think of their country, their religion, their culture and the world around them, but also as an alternative recent history of Iran.
Theirs is not the Iran of bearded ayatollahs and thuggish militias, but a country that has educated itself to the point where it finds the Islamist fundamentalists antiquated and laughable, where adult literacy (and computer literacy) is higher than in many European states, and where 70% of the population is under 30 and keen to usher in a new Iran. As one blogger wrote:
"There are those such as Abtahi [Iranian Parliamentary ex-Vice President Mohammad-Ali Abtahi] who have called our virtual community too political and have put that we should use weblogs for their intended use... that is to say, for daily diaries... So what if we use our blogs in ways not intended for or defined during the distant conception of this media ... At a time when our society is deprived of its rightful free means of communication, and our newspapers are being closed down one by one -- with writers and journalist in the corners of our jails... the only realm that can safeguard and shoulder the responsibility of free speech is the weblogs..."
There are prominent writers who use their weblogs to bypass strict state censorship and publish their work online; established Journalists are able to post their uncensored reports in their blogs; Iranians living around the world use their blogs to communicate with those back home; people use the medium as a daily journal or diary; student groups and NGO's who utilise their weblogs as a vehicle for coordinating their activities.
We Are Iran therefore provides a unique momentary glimpse of the struggle that the new generation of post-Revolution youth face in democratizing the theocratic state, in generating the revolution within the Revolution. But following on the hardliners' clampdown on the print journalists, there has now been a massive crackdown on bloggers; just a few months ago, one blogger was jailed for 14 years. It is indeed possible, for the moment, that the voices of the bloggers have been stilled and that We Are Iran will serve as the only serious record of their existence.
But only for a moment. The intensity, indeed desperation of these bloggers demonstrates that Iran -- which a quarter of a century ago introduced a mystified world to radical Islam -- may again surprise, as the bloggers point the way to a free, democratic, Islamic nation.