The Blogging Revolution lands
My following essay appears in today’s Weekend Australian newspaper:
The young online tribe is more interested in discussing sex, drugs and rock’n”roll than political revolution, writes
Early last month, some Iranian members of parliament voted to debate a draft bill that aimed to “toughen punishment for disturbing mental security in society” by adding to the list of offences punishable by execution crimes such as “establishing websites and weblogs promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy”.
Nikahang, a Canadian-based Iranian online cartoonist and blogger, was defiant: “Only people who disturb people’s mental security could support such a thing.”
During a visit to the Islamic Republic in 2007 to research the blogging community, I found this attitude was common. With a population of 70million, most of them under 30,
The more than 100,000 active Iranian bloggers, writing mainly in Farsi, include hardline Islamists battling with reformists over religious dress, anti-Semitism, the war in
The rise of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it seems, has only emboldened activists of all political persuasions.
I spent a day with the country’s former vice-president Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a regular blogger. This chubby man, a frequent giggler, chastised me when I asked why it was impossible to criticise Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei publicly, just as Westerners routinely slam elected politicians. “One of the misunderstandings is that you try and compare the institutions of countries, which are not similar to each other,” he instructed.
I quickly discovered that in a country such as
Across the world, young generations are challenging tired state media by writing online about politics, sex, drugs, relationships, religion, popular culture and especially Angelina Jolie. From Egyptian activists opposed to female circumcision to outspoken, pro-Western women in
The rise of the online community means the relationship between the state and its people is shifting radically. Individuality is emerging in societies that routinely shun such behaviour and repressive regimes are not pleased.
In the West, blogging has become an essential part of the media, with millions of internet users cataloguing their daily lives. The US-based Co-operative Congressional Election Study has found that although political blogging is popular, only a minority of web users regularly engage with political bloggers. The study’s report confirms that readers “tend to visit blogs that share their viewpoint”.
The need for alternative sources of information, voices not processed through a Western journalist’s filter, became pronounced after the
Blogs offered a window into mainly middle-class segments of societies rarely examined in the West. What does a Saudi Arabian male think about his country’s adherence to Wahhabism? How does the average
These are just a few of the issues that blogs have helped to elucidate.
My on-the-ground investigation of the blogging revolution and its influence on the relationship between the West and the rest took me to
The subjects we discussed included the role of companies such as Google, Yahoo, Cisco and Microsoft in helping repressive regimes censor the internet.
The results were surprising. As one blogger told me in
Vocal activism was the exception, not the norm. Take
Despite these realities, during the past decade there has been a steady increase in awareness about political rights, principally because of satellite television and the internet.
Earlier this year, most Chinese bloggers reacted with outrage at what they perceived to be anti-Beijing coverage in the Western media of the pro-Tibet protests in
I heard repeatedly during my visit to
A separate global Pew Research Centre study conducted this year found 86 per cent of Chinese were happy with their country’s direction, double the 2002 figure. In comparison, only 23 per cent of Americans surveyed thought their nation was heading the right way.
Blogger Mica Yushu told me in
Online culture is thriving in almost every country I visited. The exception is
Most bloggers prefer to protest privately, anonymously or not at all. The fight against repression takes many forms, from drinking contraband vodka in
Despite their relatively small numbers and the penalties they attract, dissenting bloggers are playing havoc with the established order. According to Human Rights Watch researcher Elijah Zarwan, “bloggers have succeeded in doing something that years of standing on the street corner and shouting ‘No to torture’ or ‘No to the interior ministry’ has never managed to accomplish”: putting these issues on the public agenda.
The small size of online communities in
Neither country employs harsh online filtering, but users learn quickly there are lines that cannot be crossed.
Saudi Arabian actor Mohammad al-Qass explains that in a fundamentalist nation such as his, internal reform — for women’s rights and broader legal and social rights — needs space to develop. “Fifty years ago, Saudi Bedouins were riding around on camels. Now they’re using mobile phones and the best technology,” Qass says. “It will take time for society to catch up with this technology.”
Meanwhile, for the first time a more nuanced view of the West is being offered via the web, and it allows a woman in
The issue of online representation is central to this debate. I recently presented a paper in
Letting people speak and write for themselves without a Western lens is one of the triumphs of blogging. The culture of blogging is unlike that of any previous social movement. Disjointed and disorganised, its aims are deliberately vague. While many want the right to be critical in the media, others simply crave the ability to date and listen to subversive music. That in itself is revolutionary for much of the world.
The Blogging Revolution by