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December 23, 2005

Can Blogosphere Beat The Mullahs?

Thanks to Allah for this.

The Mullahs think the Iranian blogosphere -- which they call "Weblogistan" -- is a threat to their regime, and they're right.

With almost all Iran’s reformist newspapers closed down and many editors imprisoned, blogs offer an opportunity for dissent, discussion and dissemination of ideas that is not available in any other forum. There is wistful yearning in many Iranian blogs, and a persistent vein of anger: “I keep a weblog so that I can breath in this suffocating air,” writes one blogger. “I write so as not be lost in despair.” Blogs by Muslim women are particularly moving in their bitter portrayal of life behind the veil.

The Iranian State has done its utmost to smother the nascent Iranian blogosphere. In 2003 the Government began to take direct action against bloggers — more than 20 have been arrested, on charges ranging from “morality violations” to insulting leaders of the Islamic Republic. One blogger was sentenced to 14 years in prison for “spying and aiding foreign counter-revolutionaries”; in October, Omid Sheikhan was sentenced to a year’s jail and 124 lashes for a weblog featuring satirical political cartoons.


It is less the political content of the blogs that terrifies Iran’s Government than the mere existence of this space outside its control, where Iranians are free to say whatever they wish to one another. Here in Weblogistan they can tell jokes, flirt, mock their leaders and share music files, unencumbered by mullahs’ fiats or state decrees.

I wonder what they'll do when they realize they can have that freedom they so savor in the real world, as well as on the internet.

I don't think it's absurdly unlikely that Weblogistan can defeat Mullahistan. A thriving alternative media can set off a preference cascade, in which people stop falsifying their preferences (because they believe they're expected to or compelled to) and express their true preferences. And the more repressive a society is, the more effective an alternative media can be in bringing down the government.

An elite can rule against the wishes of the majority of the popuation only so long as the majority of the population doesn't realize it's actually the majority.

So long as those who actually represent the true national consensus falsely believe they hold a minority or even "extremist" view -- a belief imposed on them by a monolithically partisan media -- they will not agitate for change nor express their true political wishes, for belief that such an effort would be futile.

And possibly "extremist."

An elite ruling against the wishes of a voting population is an inherently unsustainable situation. At some point --as with the Reagan Revolution of 1980 -- the house of cards must fall. But sometimes it may take quite a while indeed.

Zero-entry-cost media -- blogging -- doesn't allow that false belief to persist as long as it once could. Again, not because bloggers are saying what the public doesn't already know; but because we're saying what the public damn well knows, but just isn't really sure enough other people know too.

A zero-cost amateur blog in France helped fell a five-hundred page document that took millions of pounds/francs/marks and years to produce. Had easy and rapid connections between like-minded people not been possible, the "constitution" might have passed, simply for lack of public belief that they could actually successfully oppose it.


And if France can be woken up partly due to a single blog run by a school teacher, who knows what country may be next?


So: what if there are actually quite a few Egyptians or Syrians or Yemenis who "support" Islamism largely because they believe most of their fellow Muslims do? What if free -- in both senses of the word -- communication technology begins letting Muslims know that they're not the only ones fed up with tyrants and constant hectoring and hate from self-styled holy warriors?

After I'd written that, Strange Women Lying in Ponds wrote me about Natan Sharansky's take:

In his book, "The Case for Democracy," Natan Sharansky writes that there are three types of people in any "fear society" -- what he calls "true believers," "dissidents," and "double-thinkers." It is always reasonably simple to discern who the dissidents are, but it is nigh impossible, especially for an outsider, to discern the difference between the true believers and the double-thinkers. But his theory is that the vast majority of people in a fear society are double-thinkers, and will openly express their preference once they feel it's safe to do so.Without doubt most Muslim nations are "fear societies." We can't know yet the ratio of true believers to double-thinkers, but maybe an underground media can encourage the double-thinkers to stop double-thinking.
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posted by Ace at 12:52 AM

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