Iran described the efforts of the United States, to establish secret internet and telephone networks in countries that Washington regards as oppressive, as being a “soft war”, saying that this was part of a conspiracy to wage “digital warfare” against it.
But in fact whenever there is talk of a conspiracy it simply means that repressive, regulatory steps are being quickly put into place, and this is exactly what we see with the Iranian efforts to establish what it is describing as “Halal Internet”. This will be an electronic network subject to the regime’s strict regulations, blocking websites it deems anti-Islamic, which in practice will mean the blocking of websites that deal with women’s rights, human rights and political reform.
But the vitality of Iranian society, which has proven its ability to bring about tangible changes in more than one area, will not facilitate such repression with regards the establishment of an internet under the control of the armed forces, or thousands of blogs supporting the regime’s ideology, namely that the internet is the primary domain for anti-Iranian activity. Indeed this Iranian regime has not hesitated to imprison bloggers, activists and even issue death sentences against them.
But how can the Iranians confront the regime’s plans which aim to further isolate them from the outside world, and impose additional control on the virtual domain that they use to organize their opposition and demonstrations?
Today there is a kind of relative calm on the Iranian scene after the youth revolution was foiled by the brutality of the Basij and the Iranian security apparatus. Browsing through Iranian websites and blogs it is easy to see the bitterness felt by the Iranian youth watching the revolutions taking place around them, frustrated at the suppression of their own political activities and the preoccupation of the world with what is going on elsewhere.
But the stalled movement on the ground [in Iran] has not been reflected online, where the opponents of the [Iranian] regime have resorted to expressing their anger unilaterally through websites and social networking sites. Here we must not forget that the Persian language is the fourth most popular in the world, whilst Iran has one of the largest online communities in the world.
This reality reflects what is happening in a society whose view of the outside world is growing deeper and more comprehensive, but which still lives under a strict, religious regime.
In a report published by the Washington Post [In Iran, “Coach Rebels” prefer Facebook; 14/6/11] one Iranian activist said that “our world online is like an endless party with no rules, and that keep us very busy.” She added that changes [today] are not occuring on the [Iranian] street, but online.
This young Iranian activist did not repudiate any of the steps previously taken by the youth of the “Green Revolution.” Although online activism today [in Iran] may not be able to achieve any genuine changes on the ground, it does allow the Iranian youth to view and react to what is happening in the region, particularly with regards to all the revolutions taking place in the region surrounding Iran.
Within the conservative trend in Iran today, there are those who do not accept “Facebook.” Indeed there is a conflict taking place between the conservatives and the even-more conservatives; between the Revolutionary Guards and those who are even more extreme.
This confrontation has become a dispute between those who want more openness, and those who are calling for further restrictions to be enforced [with regards to the internet].
Whatever happens, this “Halal internet” will not allow the regime to avoid this confrontation.