The public and the private portrayal of Iran

Internet censorship in Iran is one of the issues in this article by Antony Loewenstein in The Guardian. Antony looks at the real Iran, not the one that’s regularly portrayed in the western media. He finds many Iranians shun the views of their leaders – but they won’t say so openly.A few points from the article on the internet:

  • the country’s former vice president in parliamentary legal affairs under previous President Khatami, Mohammed Ali Abtahi is also a popular reformist blogger
  • access to the internet is pervasive – around one million blogs exist in Iran and while many are for meeting boys and girls, rather than political in nature, the web has changed the dialogue
  • internet censorship is a growing problem. Type in words like “choral” or “queer” into Google and both will be blocked (the former because “oral” is a banned phrase.) Google Earth is not generally accessible. There is little international e-business because Iranians can’t easily obtain a Visa or Mastercard, making such transactions virtually impossible (likewise trying to purchase products on sites like Amazon.) The mullahs have realised the potential of the internet – magazine editor and blogger Bozorgmehr Sharafedin said that the reformist movement was failing to gain international support because it translated none of its newspapers into English – and now train bloggers in the holy city of Qom.
  • using the internet at Iranian “coffeenets” is an interesting experience. Numerous, seemingly harmless sites are blocked – Australian news-sites are filtered, the New York Times is not – and censorship appears to be based on certain key words appearing regularly on websites. Like in China, where western multinationals are covertly assisting the government in building a massive filtering system, the Iranians, under Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, are following a similar path. Engagement with the outside world is matched by a paranoid mentality that views many Western sources as suspect.

It’s an interesting article, and very different to the situation the mainstream media would have you believe. There’s a vibrant discussion amongst Iranians, although they may not feel confident in speaking out in public.

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