Orwellian Censorship

By Nir T. Boms and Elliot Chodoff
Published November 10, 2006

“Ignorance is power,” wrote George Orwell in his famous book “1984,” referring to the information police that kept bad ideas from the eyes of good people. The rationale of the Big Brother has, unfortunately, often appeared throughout history. According to this approach, the only way to maintain the strength of an idea is to eliminate all suspicion or doubt. If one has no reason to question a belief, then that belief will remain, and if the absence of questioning can be sustained indefinitely, then the belief will be upheld indefinitely. Welcome to Iran. 

Adhering to a new governmental decree, Iran’s Internet service providers (ISPs) have started reducing the speed of Internet access to homes and cafes. Iran’s ISPs are now forbidden by the Communications Ministry from providing Internet connections faster than 128 kilobytes per second (KBps), a speed familiar to those who remember the now obsolete computer modems that disappeared over a decade ago. (Today, the standard worldwide is 512kb or higher.) The slower speed will prevent the use of Internet applications such as VOIP communication that would allow phone conversations outside the tightly controlled Iranian phone system. The new regulations will further hinder the work of students and researchers who already have limited access to the government-censored Internet.

This latest decree has much to do with an escalating clampdown on the media following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rise to power. Just last month, Iran’s government urged the judiciary to clamp down on newspapers which spread “lies” about the government. “Those who spread lies against the government should be prosecuted,” government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham asserted in a letter to Tehran Public Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi.

Recent victims of the campaign have been Shargh, a reformist newspaper, and Nameh, a political journal. Their crimes? Shargh published a cartoon that seemed to lampoon Iranian nuclear negotiations. Nameh was forcibly closed for the publication of a poem by dissident female poet Simin Behbahani.

But these realities are camouflaged by Iranian officials who are intensely engaged in a “Dialogue of Civilizations,” and travel to Western capitals to expound upon the wonders of the Islamic revolution.

“The government welcomes criticism and assessment of its work by the media” said Mr. Gholamhossein Elham to the official news agency IRNA. “The government defends the free circulation of information and opposes censorship, self-censorship and government pressure on the media,” he added.

Iran, in case you missed it, is actually a beacon of freedom and liberty in this world. And when it comes to the Internet and freedom of the press, it should really be considered in the “avant-garde” of modern societies – which should help explain the passionate plea of Hossein Maleki, Iran’s Representative to the Special Political Committee of the UN General Assembly: 
“News monopoly by the media networks of developed states created a roadblock in the way to peace and security of the international community,” Mr. Maleki pleaded as he called on the international community to adopt new measures that will “guarantee justice and free flow of information.” While Reporters Without Borders ranked Iran number 162 out of 168 countries surveyed in its 2006 World Press Freedom index, Mr. Maleki demanded an “international campaign against one-sided and purposeful news broadcasts.” In the name of freedom, he pleaded, we must not allow “certain developed countries to distort realities in developing states and inflict damage on them by monopolizing media networks. 

“Freedom of expression should be accompanied by a sense of responsibility and respect to ideas and religions of others violation of sanctities, which is repeated in European states, has nothing to do with freedom of expression” he concluded. Irresponsible or insensitive information – such as any criticism of the Iranian government – should not be allowed on the airwaves. 

And so this Orwellian saga continues. While Iran develops nuclear weapons, puts its journalist in jail, persecutes its religious minorities and further limits its communication to the world – its former president Seyed Mohammad Khatami receives an honorary PhD from the respected St. Andrews that recognized his contribution to tolerance.

Mr. Khatami was found guilty by a German court for the September 1992 assassinations of opposition leaders in Berlin and for whom Argentina has issued arrest warrants for directing Hezbollah to carry out the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires (an attack that killed 85 people and wounded hundreds). He received a doctorate of laws in recognition of his “efforts to encourage interfaith dialogue.” He should, however, have received a PhD in public relations for a well-staged propaganda operation.

“Ignorance is power” appears ever so relevant in this evolving story that illustrates the sad truth of the Western approach to Iran. Those who welcomed Mr. Khatami apparently think that good is bad, war is peace and nuclear weapons are just chopped liver. The problem is that the Big Iranian Brother is watching and laughing. Because soon enough, he knows, he can make Europe and the United States cry. 
Nir T. Boms is the vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East. Elliot Chodoff is a military political analyst for MidEast-On Target. 

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