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December 20, 2004
The Transformative Power Of Free Speech

Today's Guardian (UK) reports on what likely is the vanguard of a second Iranian revolution. Iranian bloggers have made Farsi the fourth biggest language in blogs, as over 75,000 sites have opened on the Internet under the noses of one of the strictest totalitarian regimes. The number of Iranian bloggers far outstrips that of those in neighboring countries and allows democracy-minded activists a means to network information to each other and the outside world:

In the last five years up to 100 media publications, including 41 daily newspapers, have been closed by Iran's hardline judiciary. Yet today, with tens of thousands of Iranian weblogs there is an alternative media that for the moment defies control and supervision of speech by authoritarian rule. ...

While for some blogging allows them to revel in the forbidden, for others it's a way of organising action and spreading the word. As RSF's 2004 Internet Under Surveillance report states: "Weblogs are much used at times of crisis, such as during the June 2003 student demonstrations, when they were the main source of news about the protests and helped the students to rally and organise".

Ten years ago, the fax machine bypassed government controls and undermined tyrants. Now the capacity of anonymous broadcast that characterize blogs allows for quicker and more robust means for information to flow where needed. And it's not the information itself that transforms societies and frightens the powerful -- it's the communities blogs create, where like-minded people know and communicate with like-minded people. The Iranian bloggers might well have remained silent, unable to get past their own fear to connect with each other to promote freedom. Blogs reduce that security issue, although they do not eliminate it, as some Iranian bloggers have discovered:

In April 2003, when Sina Motallebi, a web-journalist, was imprisoned, Iran became the first government to take direct action against bloggers. Sina's arrest was only the beginning and many more bloggers and online journalists have been arrested since. As RSF puts it: "In a country where the independent press has to fight for its survival on a daily basis, online publications and weblogs are the last media to fall into the authorities' clutches ... through arrests and intimidation, the Iranian authorities are now trying to spread terror among online journalists".

Unless Iran simply disconnects their country from the Internet -- which they've apparently threatened to do -- or severely restricts access for their people, the problem will continue to grow. These methods of clamping down would probably result in another massive revolt among students, one the mullahs might not quell so easily anyway. The mullahs have this problem: their subjects have tasted freedom and savor it. Once acquired, that taste never disappears.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 20, 2004 7:41 AM

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