The Revolution Will Not Be Televised- (It will be on the internet)
By Mike Sanch
Over the past couple of news intense and hot summer weeks, Americans and people around the world have stayed glued to their screens as they watched in dismay at the ongoing and violent street demonstrations in downtown Tehran, the capital of Iran. The erudite and young crowds have been massing in the streets in protests that have essentially pitted a generation of young revolutionaries against a hard line establishment.(“youth or young” pertains to the 16-35 demographic in this article)
During the recent Iranian unrest, the images of bloodied protestors facing off with masked police in riot gear could not be ignored by the world’s internet community, as videos posted by Iranians lit up youtube.com, and helped spread the news and images of the carnage being executed on the world stage- streaming to you within minutes of the events.
The role of Internet in these demonstrations cannot be ignored, for the Iranian revolutionaries have shown their utilization of the internet with twitter.com accounts, and facebook.com profiles as they are openly reeling and blazingly demanding reform by posting and updating the world and the rest of Iran about their struggles in confronting their government.
Videos of the events have spread virally, such as the now infamous Neda video, a graphic and raw video that shows a bloodied protestor named Neda staring into a camera as she laid dying after audaciously taking a bullet while standing up for her rights as a women. The video now serves as a rallying cry, and has become a symbol of rebellion.
Ironically, the government being confronted by these demonstrators is led by the people who participated in their own revolution just 30 years ago, when their generation was young.
I could not help but have reverence for the youthful and connected demonstrators who showed the world the courage it takes to stand up to an unrighteous and oppressive regime. By amassing and communicating via the internet to organize their demonstrations, they openly defied the elites, and sent the establishment a message. A message that is quickly becoming a mantra- in the age of the Internet, tyranny does not go unchecked or unnoticed by the world community.
Demographics – Young and connected
Iran is a nation of youthful and connected people. Because of the Iraq- Iran War, which lasted through 1980-1988, nearly a whole generation of Iranians was wiped out due to the long, savage and bloody war that forced Iran to defend their borders against an invading U.S. backed Saddam Hussein who unleashed hell in the region. Chemical warfare, village massacres, and pointless lost of life were all part of that merciless war which had no clear winner, yet the people of the two countries were the clear losers.
One of the consequences of the aftermath of the Iran –Iraq war is the shift in demographics. Iran’s population characteristics are unique in the world. Nearly half of the 70 million Iranians are under the age of 25, and accordingly, it is the third largest nation of bloggers in the world. In fact, Iran has the highest amount of bloggers per capita in the world. The blogs provide a safe haven for the young generation of people in expressing their thoughts about politics, love, dating, railing against the repression of women’s rights and other “progressive” topics.
What the demonstrations may really be about
The demonstrations come in response to voting irregularities experienced during the elections, which saw the controversial incumbent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, take a commanding victory once the votes were tallied.
However, this is only what sparked the powder keg, for the country was just waiting to explode.
Patrick Zeller, an ex “mainstream media guy”, who has frequently worked with numerous publications around the country, such as San Antonio’s own Express News, toured the country of Iran just three years ago on a cross country motor bike ride that took him from the elegant palaces of Tehran graced with elaborate and colorful Persian rugs, to the gate of a controversial Nuclear power plant, tucked in between the mountains that dictate much of Iran’s geographical landscape.
I had the opportunity to speak with Patrick at a local beer joint in San Anto’s South Town district over a couple of beers.
“When I was there, the topic of another revolution came up frequently.” said Zeller, as if it was a matter of fact. He noted the disconnect between the hard line Shia branch of Islam, which dominates the government, directly conflicts with the youth of Iran, who seemed just to want to ride their motorcycles and be free.
Zeller went on to say, “We tried to predict when the next revolution would come, we thought at the time within 8 years”.
The revolution it seems, didn’t want to wait that long. For the clash between the generations can be described as a battle between the connected vs. the unconnected, the progressive (secular) urban populations vs. conservative (religiously) rural populations.
To understand the situation in Iran today, let’s establish a little history.
In 1979, Universities across the nation of Iran started participating in demonstrations with students railing against the shah and the United States intervention into their internal affairs. The struggle of ’79 eventually led to a revolution that overthrew the U.S. Government supported and installed crony, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, or better described as the then dictator of Iran.
The revolutionaries of the 1979 revolution were inspired by the Ayatollah Khomeini, an elderly and charismatic clergy man who was exiled by the Shah for political reasons, yet returned to Iran once the student led rebellion successfully ousted the Shah.
Once Khomeini arrived in Iran, he and the clergy quickly began to formulate one of the most complicated governments in the world, which consists of nearly two “branches” of everything. A secular government body and a clerical or religious based government body complimenting each sector of the government. The president of Iran serves at the bequest of the most powerful individual, who is known as the supreme leader, which is presently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
After the 1979 revolution, the fierce war between Iraq and Iran began, and it can be analyzed, because of the War and the scenes witnessed by the Iranian revolutionaries of 1979, their conscious and ideas of an ideal new government was tarnished forever. This allowed and set the stage for an oppressive government led by theocrats to take hold. Perhaps, these past events gave the reasoning behind the crackdown in Tehran, for it is the scarred minds that fought in that war, who now control the government a generation later in 2009.
The Future vs the Past
The clashes between the Bassij (Government Troops) and the young people of Tehran, has stained the streets of the capital of Iran with the blood of protestors.
The Ayatollahs who benefit from the current theocratic status quo in Iran realize the power of the Internet, and recognize the web’s efficiency and view it as a threat. The Iranian Government has even moved to crackdown on those who are utilizing the internet, by slowing down internet access, detaining opposition leaders, and in some cases restricting internet access in general.
Michelle Bastanjoo, who is an Iranian- American, attending the University of Texas in Austin, said this about a fellow acquaintance that left for Iran in May.
“I know one girl who went to Iran for vacation for two months, she left right after the spring semester, so after all this started I thought I would send her a message on facebook, but then I saw on someone’s page that apparently facebook is blocked for them, so I didn’t think she’d see my message any time soon.”
As the young generations of people around the world, log in, have access, and are exposed to the internet, we should have nothing to fear. Once we combine the taste and experience of freedom with energy of the young imaginations that enable the human conscious-the revolutionary spirit against oppression will be kept alive and well.
It is the youth that formulate creativity and progress, and the energy of the youth combined with the prowess to access information-perhaps this will accelerate progress in the years to come. Knowledge is power, and in tomorrow’s world, if knowledge is increasingly being decentralized because of the internet, then it is only natural that power will be decentralized, as human’s go into a world where bombs and bullets don’t solve our problems anymore.