“The pen is mightier than the sword” were the words of 19th century English writer Edward George Bulwer Lytton, but in the case of the Iranians, the Internet has proven even more powerful in battling a repressive regime. Perhaps that is why the Iranian government is threatening to limit Iranians to an internal, state-run Internet service that would minimize communication with the rest of the world.
In its ongoing “soft war” against Western ideas, influence and infiltration, the Iranian government announced plans to reconstruct a “halal,” or Islamically lawful network that would disconnect the country with the rest of the world, instead running a parallel Internet service that censors and blocks even the most mainstream sites such as Google.
Though experts say the initiative to completely ban broad Internet service across the entire country appears too difficult and daunting a task for any government, the option of a twin network system is entirely feasible and has been implemented by other governments.
The Internet has been an integral part of Iranian society for decades, embraced by a large population of young, educated and curious Iranians looking to connect to and learn from the rest of the world.
The role of the Internet became especially apparent in the freedom movement that followed the disputed Iranian presidential election of 2009. Protesting and marching did little good as the government, fortified with hired Basiji militiamen, brutally and successfully cracked down on dissenters. Unprecedented violence coupled with strict media censorship begged for new forms of resistance. The most effective fight came through blogs, articles, Facebook and Twitter, surpassing the ability and access of journalists and commentators in sharing the opposition’s stories and experiences. Well aware of the range and potential of the Internet and tech-savvy Iranians, the government began by blocking Facebook, Google, and Yahoo days in advance of the Election.
The “soft war,” one against ideas and ideologies, particularly those imposed by the United States, was launched by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the fall of 2009, shortly after government suppression of the post election uprisings.
“Presently the fight against the enemy’s soft war is our main priority,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by English-language Press TV on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Basij, Iran’s brutal paramilitary militia. “As long as there is Basij, the Islamic republic will not face any threat.”
Khamenei’s government declared the war to combat both the social media advances that the Iranian people had made during the time of the uprisings and, likewise, a parallel “intellectual war” fought by the Iranian people who found it more effective to fight seated behind a computer screen rather than risk putting themselves at the mercy of hired mercenary men.
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