THE EMOTIONAL PUSH AND PULL OF IRAN
I think Thomas Friedman about summed it up in Sunday’s New York Times: “I am rooting for them and fearing for them…. we and the reformers must have no illusions about the bullets and barrels they are up against.” (see Bullets and Barrels) And I would add: we should have no illusions about how we are involved and implicated in the regimes they are fighting against.
The “bullets” are obvious. By the “barrels” he means the government’s oil-derived wealth, enabling the entrenched regime in Iran – and regimes throughout the middle-east – to buy off public discontent with subsidies and welfare programs. Directly and indirectly, we have supported that effort and continue to support it with our backing of the autocratic and repressive regimes that have guaranteed the flow of oil to feed our energy-dependence.
There is a third obstacle they are up against as well: the government’s penetration and control of the internet. The WSJ reported today on an advanced system developed for Iran by Siemans and Nokia, enabling the government to intercept internet communications. It is well-known that the Chinese developed what’s known as “the great firewall” to block access to websites and blogs, once they saw the role it played in communicating their student revolt at Tienneman Square. The Mullahs seem to have learned as well to turn to western technology companies to counter the impact of social networking sites.
“If you sell networks, you also, intrinsically, sell the capability to intercept any communication that runs over them,” said Mr. Roome, a spokesman for the joint venture, Nokia Siemans Networks…. Asked about selling such equipment to a government like Iran’s, Mr. Roome said the company “does have a choice about whether to do business in any country. We believe providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate is preferable to leaving them without the choice to be heard.” (See Iran’s Web Spying Aided By Western Technology) Apart from the fact that this statement ignores entirely the fact that the purpose of “this ability to communicate” is to interrupt and interfere with communication, it ignores the fact that these new capabilities include the ability to intercept the messages, change them, and expose thse who sent them to arrest and imprisonment.
So, as we identify with the protestors, “rooting and fearing” for them as Friedman put it, we need to acknowledge that the profound feelings and technologies that make them seem so allied to us, are matched by ours on the other side as well. They are using Facebook and Twitter, but they are also using the intelligence skills we have developed in the West to track down deviants and dissidents.
Looking at them, we are seeing ourselves – and I think we know it.