We must keep channels of communication with Iranian people open
Nir Bums, Niv Lilian
Ignorance is power, wrote George Orwell in his book “1984” when describing the thought police that kept “bad” ideas away from good people. “Big Brother’s” modus operandi worked well throughout history in eliminating undesired ideas kept away from those who may make use of them. If no alternative exists to thought or faith, the one thought or faith that does exist would win out. Good morning Iran.
The Security Council’s decision to impose sanctions on Iran reflects a growing consensus against Iran’s intentions, which are no longer perceived as innocent. Yet while the West has just started to change its approach to Iran through economic sanctions empty of genuine meaning, Iran is ahead here too and recently completed the shutting off of all possible media outlets of the “evil West.”
Recently, Iran blocked the New York Times website as well as video clip website YouTube and Wikipedia’s free encyclopedia site – all on the orders of the Iranian thought police.
In addition, Iranian Internet providers were ordered to reduce the broadband width they offer in order to block telephone communication through the Internet (VoIP) and prevent the downloading of files.
If we add those actions to others, such as the removal of satellite dishes, actively blocking broadcast frequencies, and the detainment of bloggers and Iranian opposition activists – we end up with a grim picture when it comes to freedom of expression and the related freedom of thought in the former Shah’s kingdom.
This move would further curb the efforts of students and researchers, as well as Iranian opposition activists who are again making their voices heard at this time.
And if all that isn’t enough, Iran’s head of communication development agency announced that cell phone text messages will be monitored too from now on. Big Brother’s eye is always open.
Children clear minefields
Among the Israeli public, Iran is currently perceived as a strategic-militaristic threat closely associated with the mentions of weapons of mass destruction. Yet Iran’s most powerful weapon, the weapon of mass repression and the blocking of the free movement of ideas and thoughts, is missing from the Israeli discourse.
The Iranian regime is working not only to repress Western-liberal thought, but also to export the revolution, among other ways through groups we’re familiar with such as Hizbullah. Iran’s influence can be seen in Iraq, Africa, Lebanon, and also closer to us, in the Palestinian Authority.
Ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran has excelled in propaganda, which it views as a value. During the Iran-Iraq war, thousands of Iranian children were sent to the front carrying “keys to heaven” around their necks.
They were sent to clear minefields and marched before the soldiers in order to undermine the enemy’s morale and demonstrate the Iranian people’s determination. Those who died were declared to be martyrs who have guaranteed themselves a reward in the next world. For that end, 500,000 plastic keys were imported from Taiwan and many of them were used.
Today too, as we can learn from a new study by a center for peace research, Iranian textbooks talk of “collective sacrifice” that would bring about the desired salvation.
For example, an 8th grade textbook reads: “The order of Jihad will be given by order of the prophet, the Muslim leader, so that the Muslim army will defeat the army of the proud (the American enemy and its allies) in the holy war and pave the way for free preaching, arousal, and salvation.”
Yet despite this, the Iranian people, as opposed to its government, gives the impression of being less radical or malicious. For the most part, it is a peace-loving people being trampled on by a fanatic, radical, separatist and religious regime.
Only last week, for example, we saw the protest of students in Teheran, who despite the strict security measures were able to convey the message that Ahmadinejad was a persona non grata in an institution that respects knowledge and education.
The students, who represent the vast majority of Iran’s population that is under 30 years of age, are associated with the opposition that is working to change the regime and make it more democratic.
Clash of perceptions
The Iranian people, again, as opposed to its government, also find ways to communicate with the state of Israel. Many Iranians respond every day, through phone and email, to Israeli radio broadcasts in Persian. A new website launched by the Jewish Agency recorded more than 55,000 hits in the first month, with 50 percent of them coming from Iran (before Iranian censorship discovered this site as well.)
The Iranian theater symbolizes a clash of perceptions between fundamentalism and liberalism, freedom on the one hand, and dictatorial suppression on the other. The battle is over Iranian public opinion – and not only there. The propaganda war continues as does the fight for public opinion in regional countries where citizens could be swayed to adopt one view or another.
On the one hand, the stability of the regimes in Israel and neighboring countries is expected to face true danger should Hizbullah’s modus operandi be duplicated successfully to other borders such as Egypt or Jordan. On the other hand, we can see quite a few rays of light in the form of new, critical voices that appear on television screens and websites in the Arab and Muslim world.
Therefore, in these dark days of all times, where all knowledge and thought channels are being blocked by Ahmadinejad’s regime, the importance of reaching the Iranian people is growing. Actions such as Israeli radio broadcasts in Persian and the website established by the Jewish Agency and aimed directly at the Persian people must continue.
However, these issues were absent, for some reason, from Defense Minister Amir Peretz’s budgetary demands. He must be aware that Israeli radio broadcasts in Arabic cannot even be received in Jerusalem because of the lack of transmitters, and that the paper and ink budget for the Iranian radio station’s old printers ran out a while ago – and what a pity that is.
Every citizen can be monitored by the police 24 hours a day and be exposed to official propaganda, while all other communication channels are open. This marked the first time where it was possible to enforce not only complete compliance with the State’s desire, but also complete agreement on each and every matter.
The Orwellian vision above, taken from “1984”, is being implemented in practice in Iran. We must not allow Iran’s thought police to win. Freedom of expression’s loud and clear voice and our own voice as well must continue to resonate even in Teheran’s suburbs.
Nir Boms is the Vice President of the center for Freedom in the Middle East. Niv Lilian is the deputy editor of Ynet’s computer and Internet channel