Posts about iran

The Argo election

The release of Argo — a wonderful film — comes ever so coincidentally a month before the presidential election and a month after the murders of our diplomats in Bengazi.

It’s timing that can be exploited. I half wonder whether that helped inspire Romney’s campaign to double down on its attacks regarding Bengazi, trying to make Obama look like Carter (for those of us old enough to remember) and himself like Reagan (well, there is the hair).

But it could go the other way. Tonight in the crowded theater, the audience needed to let out applause after the Americans arrived safely home (no spoiler there) and even again at the end of the credits. In the long, awful saga of American involvement in the Middle East, there was only one other time when I remembered hearing such a release of pride and overdue relief: when Obama announced that we’d gotten Osama Bin Laden.

So will Argo — which undoubtedly will do well at the box office — make more Americans mindful of the morass in the Middle East or of one victory there? Of course, I have no idea. But I do expect it to be exploited, since anything and everything — even Big Bird — has been in this election.

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I do recommend seeing Argo. It doesn’t try to do much more than tell an amazing tale that couldn’t be told for years. That’s enough. It’s plenty. Ben Affleck, the star and director, passes up innumerable opportunities to play for cheers (the audience tonight wasn’t sure when to applaud, only that it wanted to) or to shove us to the edge of the seat (we do know how it turns out, after all) or to go for an exploitive political message (many others will do that for him). It’s just good story-telling.

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Another note: In April 2003, a bit more than a year after I started blogging, I happened upon news of the arrest of an Iranian blogger named Sina Motalebi, revealed by another Iranian blogger, then in Canada, named Hossein Derakhshan and also known as Hoder, who is given more or less credit for helping start the blogging scene in Iran.

From them both, I learned much about Iran and about the power and potential of blogging. I marveled then at how this new medium made connections possible even to a country that I had envisioned mainly from TV reports in the ’70s of those 444 captive days and of angry Iranians in black chanting for our downfall. Argo brings back those memories. It also reminds me that Hoder — who in charming naiveté once declared his candidacy for the Iranian parliament on his blog and who went through some strange times later — is now in prison in Iran for 19 and a half years. It is still a frightening place.

Sina made it out of jail and out of Iran. He found his way to London, where he now works for the BBC and where last April — nine years after I first heard of him online — Sina’s 9-year-old son resurrected his father’s original blog, called Webgard, with this message: “My dad was originally the creator of this blog so this post is partly to say that, how much the Iranian government try, they will never stop bloggers like me and my dad, how much they harass, torture, and basically make the fear into normal people… They will never take our freedom.”

The persecution of Hoder

Very troubling news about Hossein Derakhshan, the Iranian blog pioneer known online as Hoder: He received a prison sentence of 19.5 years in Iran for being an “anti-revolutionary blogger.”

I’m personally heartbroken. I first met Hoder online when I happened upon his blog as he announced that another Iranian blogger, Sina Motalebi, had been arrested. Sina, who is now working for the BBC in London, just emailed me, by coincidence, when I asked below about the idea of publicness. Sina had announced in public on his blog that he had been summoned to the police. Hoder blogged it. I did. Many others did. He believes that public attention helped get him out of prison and enabled him to escape the country.

Hoder’s story is much more complicated. When I met him online, he was in Canada, where he’d become a citizen. Some gave him credit for starting the amazing Iranian blogosphere; others don’t. He has always been controversial. He was critical of the Iranian regime. He went to Israel and made friends (and lost friends) there — which is one of his so-called crimes: “cooperation with hostile states, propagating against the regime, propagation in favor of anti-revolutionary groups, insulting sanctities, and implementation and management of obscene websites.” Then, just as suddenly, he turned the other way and started supporting Iran’s government and even its right to have nuclear weapons. He asked me to link to posts that made such statements. I was over my head in Iranian politics as I heard other online expats criticize him. I wasn’t sure what to do.

Then Hoder mysteriously returned to Iran. Some say he’d been given assurances that he’d be OK. Others say that he is caught in a power struggle. Again, I know too little. He was arrested two years ago. His family stayed silent in hopes that things would work out. That’s why I said nothing.

But now he has been sentenced. No matter what his opinions were or what opinions you may have had about him, that doesn’t matter now. We should all be outraged, loudly outraged. For — as I said when Hoder told me about Sina’s arrest — a blogger, one of us, has been arrested and imprisoned for what he has said. If anyone should stand up for the right of free speech of a blogger it should be us, bloggers.

What to do? Ethan Zuckerman suggests we pressure Canada to pressure Iran for his release. On the Media reports (when there were still rumors that Hoder could have received the death penalty) that Iran does not recognize dual citizenship. The Canadian government is protesting:

“We are deeply concerned about the news of this severe sentence,” Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said. “If true, this is completely unacceptable and unjustifiable.”
“No one should be punished anywhere for simply exercising one’s inherent right to freedom of expression,” he said, adding that “Iran must release him.”

The Globe and Mail editorialized for his freedom:

Mr. Derakshan’s views and ways may not be to everyone’s liking – he doesn’t fit neatly as either a state propagandist or an agitator for democracy. But free speech is often inconvenient; indeed, that is one of the reasons why free people should be agitating for his release.

: Here is my original post announcing Sina’s arrest as reported by Hoder. (Please ignore the damned spam links in my archives; I don’t know how to clean them up.)

Davos07: Iranian blogs

At a session on the future of Iran, the panelists talk about blogs as central to political information and discussion. One participant says that “talk of blogs can sometimes trivialize the quality of information in Iran” but that the people read the New York Times and Washington Post and that a role of blogs is to “boomerang” that into society.

Blogs and Iran

The Telegraph has a good story on blogs in Iran and the regime’s fruitless efforts to contain them.

But the Iranian authorities are fighting a losing battle to crush these new outlets of dissent. As fast as one perpetrator is tracked down and closed, another rises in its place and takes up the cause.

The authorities have reportedly spent millions on programmes designed to filter cyberspace and block access to controversial sites, with names such as “regime change Iran”, “free thoughts on Iran” and “women against fundamentalism”.