There are about 75000 blogs in Persian in world and their numbers are growing fast. We are Iran, written by Nasrin Alavi and published in English and German. It is first book written about Iranian blogs. WE ARE IRAN was amongst a handful of books last year recommended by English PEN . It has also been selected amongst the books of the year by both the Independent and the New Statesman. Nasrin in this interview first introduced book and then answered questions.
Global Voices: May you introduce your book and its objectives?
Alavi says I can't claim that “We Are Iran” is scientific controlled study of the Iranian blogsphere. But for example I have tried to highlight common themes, common/recurring topics and areas of concern etc. For instance a “common theme” was defined as a topical discussion by 5 or more high traffic blogs. Yet to show a spectrum of viewpoints other bloggers (not necessarily high traffic) that contributed to debates on the message boards of such blogs were also followed through and sometimes quoted. It is the voices of this educated youth that comes through the phenomenon that is the Iranian blogosphere.
Like most Iranians I am also terrified of a US attack against Iran. As the Americans ask the world to consider Iran as a major world threat and potentially the next place after Iraq to be precision bombed into democracy. I wanted to highlight the existence of this dynamic community of bloggers that has risen out of a dynamic society. In the book you get to eavesdrop into the intimate conversations of this so called world threat. And get a unique glimpse of the changing consciousness of Iran’s younger generation. What is happening in Iran is more significant and sustainable in the long run than the mere overthrow of dictators; that as we are witnessing in Iraq is the easy part.
Global Voices: Some criticise your book that you did not mention Hezbollah blogs or bloggers ?
I’ve only reflected a bias that exists in Iranian blogosphere. Yet “Hezbollahi bloggers” are also included in the book, but they don't feature heavily. Do you think that we would find one “Hezbollahi blog” featuring in the top 100 Technorati zeitgeist list of Iranian blogs or even the top 500? Yet we need to also primarily define a Hezbollahi blog. One blogger in the book explains his reasons for voting for Ahmadi'nejad, but I would not call him a “Hezbollahi bloggers”. But there are other bloggers featured in the book who work as journalists for publications such as Kayhan and Hareem and perhaps they could be labelled as “Hezbollahi bloggers”.
For instance do we define someone who attends Friday prayers as a Hezbollahi? They may have power, but how representative are such individuals of Iranian blogosphere or even Iranian society in general. We see Iranians portrayed as death chanting crowds in archive footage that was shot during Friday prayers that is routinely shown on any news broadcasts about Iran. Yet according to surveys by Iran's own Ministry of Culture and Guidance, fewer than 1.4 per cent of the population actually attend Friday prayers.
But young “Hezbollahi bloggers” do exist and they would make a fascinating study. Perhaps we might even find a commonality that they are also part of a new generation of Iranians who see themselves as citizens with rights. That they also want elected representatives that are answerable to them. As one blogger quoted in the book, describing his clash with a Basij group on a student protest puts it, “Lets us finally break this chain of hate . . . even against those who hit and arrest you . . . All the children of Iran . . . believe even in our smallest efforts . . . I have to tell you that my generation, we don't want to be anyone's heroes or martyrs for freedom. We want to live and the Basij are a part of my generation too.
Global Voices: In same review we read rather than analysing blogs you wanted to expose Iranian youth with pro reform liberal attitude and you used some blogs to achieve your goal. What is your reaction to this review?
It is no secret that most of the rulers in the Middle East are out of touch with their youth, and Iran is no exception. Expect that while Arab leaders have tried to crush the militants, in Iran’s case you have had a militant regime. Tahkim Vahdat, Iran’s largest national student union was formed after a decree by Ayatollah Khomeini to reinforce his rule yet nearly a quarter of a century later it became one of the most vocal critics of the regime. A Generational change ecologically threatens the survival of radicals. But radical Iran survives in isolation. There is now the challenge of not hindering and alienating Iran's bourgeoning youth who will determine the future of their country. .
I tried to show the reality that we Iranians all know well, that there is also another Iran simmering behind the sabre rattling headlines. I included an email address in the book and have been genuinely surprised and overwhelmed by hoards emails from Iranians. I had no idea how many others shared my disheartened feelings about the way we are misrepresented in the Western media.
What has also been gratifying and yet again startling are the emails from non-Iranians who are impressed and humbled by our young bloggers and who write to say that they never even imagined that such Iranians existed. A reader of the German translation of the book wrote to say that that, “I am ashamed to admit that for many years I have been unable to see Iran or Iranians that I have met as anything but hostage takers”.
Global Voices: Book does not have an introduction, don’t you think it can creat confusion?
I definitely agree that the book needs a foreword and I had written a background for the book but for some reason it was not included in this edition, but there will be a short forward for the paperback edition. But for obvious reasons we cannot have an acknowledgment section. For instance, you will notice that some the bloggers only gave permission for the inclusion of their writing in the book if they were made totally anonymous. So in such cases their web addresses were taken out during the final edit.
Global Voices: Which effect Iranian blogs ( 75000 at best) can have on Iranian 70 million population and society?
One remarkable aspect of this virtual community is the emergence of something resembling a Habermasian public sphere, were blogger can discuss matters of public concern in an ‘unrestricted fashion’. These are perhaps small freedoms that may have big knock on effect.