It's Rough Out There In the Iranian Blogosphere
You can't lose your temper in the Iranian blogosphere - and whatever you do, you mustn't lose your sense of humor.
We Iranians generally have one of the sharpest and most resilient senses of humor that I have ever seen. Some theories relate that to the decades of oppression, during which people have only been able to use indirect methods to express themselves.
Even today, you only need to ride the bus in Tehran to hear the latest rumors about the Ayatollahs and the regime through the jokes people trade and laugh at. But if you try to move from humor to a more direct way of expressing your opinions, you'll likely end up crossing a couple of the unspoken red lines and eventually people will start yelling at you.
A lack of free speech has basically halted constructive discussion from developing and years of dictatorship have caused massive resentment, even among the ordinary people.
What makes things worse is the fact that hundreds of thousands of Iranians have been killed during these years, some executed by the regime and some killed on the various fronts of the supposed war "to conquer Qods [Israel]". This has made all political argument incredibly sensitive - lives have been lost for every point argued.
As a result, any successful discussion with a group of Iranians has to start with a long introduction through which one has to clearly declare his positions on key issues.
And if you dare to express your views in a public forum, it's incredibly easy to be accused of being "on the payroll of the Islamic Republic", "being an apologist", or at the other end of the spectrum "a warmonger Iran-hating traitor".
The majority of the accusations come from sincere people who are irritated by politics and political games. But then there are the the opportunists, bloggers who thrive on accusing others in order to promote their image as the "reasonable observer" - throwing horrible accusations at those who dare to speak out on sensitive issues.
I have been accused of being on the Islamic Republic payroll in the past on multiple occasions. Most of the people who made those accusations are now amongst my good blog-friends. That's because we sat down - either virtually or in person - and talked it out. Then came the accusations of being anti-Iran activist, including charges of "involvement in a filthy plot against Iran".
When I started blogging, on October 17th, 2004, about three years ago, my goal was to improve my English towards helping me score higher in the upcoming TOEFL exam, which I had to pass as a step in my admission to the Canadian university in which I am a graduate student. In those early days, and months, Kamangir was a lonely blog somewhere on the outskirts of the blogosphere. Soon after my wife and I came to Canada, I started writing about politics more explicitly. On February 25th, 2006, a post I had written about a blast in a shrine in Iraq attracted the attention of high-traffic bloggers. The next day, after the number of hits of my blog jumped to 600, from the steady 25 of the past year, I had mixed feelings of joy and horror.
The best move I made was on May 1st, 2007, when I started writing a Persian blog as well. As of today, according to Alexa, half the visitors of my blogs visit Persian Kamangir. I have shifted a large portion of my efforts to my Persian blog in order to have the opportunity communicating with the Iranian youth. As we discuss issues of mutual interest such as human rights and fanaticism I am able to glean a lot of information about Iran through Persian blogs, comments and emails.
The result of this communication is translated into English and published in my English blog.
My efforts to help the flow of information from the Iranian blogosphere into the English-speaking audience and media has deeply irritated those who want to build a wall of denial to hide their atrocities.
As a result, on October 27th, 2007, Alef, a website known to be owned by a high-ranking conservative Iranian MP, published a piece about my blog. The report referred to my ongoing research on the state-run media's incomplete quote from the Norwegian Foreign Minister's speech at the United Nations University in Tokyo.
"He claims that the sentence 'West must be more concerned with their own arsenal, rather than pointing at Iran and North Korea' is made up. The blogger mentions that he will follow the story with the Foreign Ministry of Norway", wrote the author. The piece then followed with mentioning my real name accompanied by two pictures of me and describing me as "a resident of Canada whose blog is frequently referred to by the media and the warmonger neo-con blogs (including Pajamas Media and Gateway Pundit)".
It followed, "His blog is the number one source of anti-Iran news from the Iranian blogosphere for the neo-con media. The content translated by him, regarding President's speeches, Iranian missiles, stonings, executions, the social security project, and so on, have been enthusiastically followed by the neo-con blogging networks. During last few months, he has increased his presence in the Persian blogging atmosphere, and also Iranian social networks, in order to direct anti-Iran content."
While public disclosure of my real name, in connection with my blog, has jeopardized my safety, it wasn't the first time this vital information is spoken of publicly. On May 6th, 2007, another expat Iranian blogger disclosed my real identity for the first time in a post on his blog.
One of the pictures of me used in Alef's piece is in fact a rare picture I had used in my biography in an academic journal paper related to my engineering degree. Earlier, the other blogger referred to that paper on his blog, when mentioning my real name.
I wasn't surprised to find him accusing me of being involved in a "big filthy plot" against Iran in a Persian online community a short while after Alef's piece came out.
In a society so politicized, it is important to pierce through the layers of confusion and look at what is happening at the core.
The fact is that Iran is rapidly deteriorating in terms of many measures of civilized life (the last one was being ranked 162 among 168 countries in terms of freedom of press, by RSF). But that's just the tip of the iceberg -- there's the terror of the sharia police, the increasing drug use among young people, and other social problems.
In the international arena, Iran is on the verge of war because of its president's behavior and because the Islamic Republic seems obsessed with what it calls "peaceful nuclear technology."
In this environment I say - let's talk with those who are willing to talk and ignore those interested in accusations and flame-throwing.
With my homeland falling apart so rapidly, losing one's temper or getting offended by flames and throwing in the towel is the last luxury we can afford. We Iranians need to harness any tool for constructive discussion we can get our hands on, and right now, the Internet and the blogosphere is the best forum available.