Alavi, Nasrin (2005) We Are Iran London: Portobello Books
The aim of Alavi’s anthology of Iranian weblogs is to highlight the preoccupations of a dynamically youthful online community through a discussion of the common themes and recurring topics found in the Iranian blogosphere. She attempts to synthesise Iranian voices overlooked by stereotypical representations of Iran and Iranians to offer the reader an historically grounded insight into the Islamic revolution, the Iran-Iraq war, womens rights, education, media censorship and Iranian youth culture. At present 70% of the Iranian population are under the age of thirty and were therefore born after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. It isn’t surprising in that case that many feel that Iranian culture has outgrown the strict moral codes imposed by the current regime’s guardian counsel and in illustrating the cultural paradoxes faced by Iranians she considers how Iranian society has developed over the last fifty years.
Alexanian, Janet (2006) ‘Publicly Intimate Online: Iranian Weblogs in Southern California’ Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East [Online] 26(1) http://cssaame.dukejournals.org/cgi/reprint/26/1/134 [Accessed 07/06/07]
As an ethnographic observation this study into Iranian weblogs considers the complex relationship between the public and private spheres of social life. It highlights the cultural paradoxes encountered by Iranian bloggers in Southern California, who on the one hand seek to maintain the social norms of their Iranian heritage while exploring the freedom of expression granted by the anonymity of intimate encounters in cyberspace. Alexanian’s observations suggest that although the development of weblogs somewhat challenges the accepted boundaries between public and private distinctions, bloggers continually separate the ‘inner’ from the the ‘outer’ self to consciously discuss private matters metaphorically. This process of indirect self-censorship, according to Alexanian, reinforces the social norms of Iranian culture and enables Iranian expatriates to connect not only with their individual family and friends in Iran but also the broader community of bloggers and their readership in an intimate way. She concludes that ‘these spaces for connections with strangers and friends alike bring the various overlapping levels of public and private into focus, as intimacy is forged in the spaces where these realms intersect’.
Amir-Ebrahimi, Masserat (2004) ‘Performance in Everyday Life and the Rediscovery of the ‘Self’ in Iranian Weblogs’ Bad Jens [Online] http://www.badjens.com/rediscovery.html [Accessed 27/04/07]
In Iran the public sphere is closely monitored and regulated by state authorities charged with enforcing tradition. After the revolution ‘interactions with government institutions and bureaucrats necessitated a specific model of self-presentation’ to conform with the principled teachings of Islam. As a result individuals have come to preserve and sustain their real selves by adapting to new kinds of social performances predetermined by Islamic values. Amir-Ebrahimi argues that the social and cultural selves of Iranians are invisible and dissimulated in the real world because they are forced into these predetermined roles. Through the analysis of the Internet and more specifically, weblogs she argues that there is a new virtual public space in which young Iranians are re-discovering their ‘self’. Increasingly the Internet is being recognised as a key space for socialisation and dialogues; an arena for social interaction ‘that for various social, cultural and political reasons does not often exist in real public spaces’.
Doostdar, Alireza (2004) ‘The Vulgar Spirit of Blogging: On Language, Culture and Power in Persian Weblogestan’ American Anthropologists [Online] 106(4) http://www.doostdar.com/articles/vsob.pdf [Accessed 25/04/07]
The vulgar spirit of blogging and the notion of blogs as speech genres are the central themes in this ethnographic investigation of language usage. The vulgarity debate refers to anything from the standard of language such as spelling and grammar within weblogs to the reckless cultural, philosophical, religious or artistic claims made by weblog authors. Doostdar argues that blogging is a type of oral communication as the conversational writing found in weblogs suggests that the formulation of language is constructed in a similar pattern to speech. Intellectualists tend to hold authority over matters of language and culture and as a result of the vulgar nature of blogging are increasingly frustrated by the disregard of linguistic practices found in blog authoring. In describing weblog characteristics such as the use of emoticons and ellipses she provides evidence of primary and secondary speech genres and transports the practice of writing to the context of speech.
Granick, Jackie (2005) ‘Nixing the News: Iranian Internet Censorship’ Harvard International Review [Online] http://hir.harvard.edu/articles/1353/ 27(2) [Accessed 24/04/07]
This short news article is a brief overview of the government crackdowns on Reformist newspapers spreading to the web. It states that ‘the Internet, previously the sole refuge for activist, pro-reformist Iranians, is now just as vulnerable to political scrutiny as its print counterpart’. Websites critical of the Islamic Regime have been targeted and many mid-level activists imprisoned for their contributions to dissident websites. During October 2004 the chief of the Iranian Judiciary announced the drafting of new ‘Cyber Laws’ to define Internet crime punishment for ‘anyone who disseminates information aimed at disturbing the public mind through computer systems’. Yet as authorities do not have the power to shut down websites challenging moral values they are working towards building an alternative network controlled by the state in hope of cutting out western imperialism.
Halevi is a Canadian post graduate whose Masters thesis was to research the rise of Iranian weblogs and the experiences of Iranian blog readers. Through the use of an online survey with links posted from the Hoder himself, Halevi’s aim was to collect quantitative data on the readership of Iranian weblogs. He found that a vast majority of the 325 respondents were from a lower to upper middle economic class who had at least completed some post secondary education. A high proportion of these respondents also classed themselves as ‘government employees’ and had regular access to the Internet with varying degrees of computer literacy. Some of the methodological challenges he faced during this research completed over a period of four months included the rapidly changing blog environment, authorial anonymity and the actual process of quantifying predominantly qualitative data.
Hiro, Dilip (2005) Iran Today London: Politico
Hiro’s Iran Today is an historical portrait of Iranian society that delivers clear interpretations of Iran’s complex social and political structure; from the Bazaar to the Majlis, the Pahlavis’ to the Grand Ayatollahs and the oil industry to Iranian youth and women. Key points of interest for the purpose of this research include the student protests of 1999, the Cultural Revolutionary Committee, the role of new technology and the Islamic dress laws. Essentially this book provides a useful overview of the research context and by discussing significant events he demonstrates an unambiguous understanding of the ongoing tensions between conservative Iran and the Reformist movement.
Houissa, Ali (2000) ‘The Internet Predicament in the Middle East and North Africa: Connectivity, Access and Censorship’ Journal of Librarianship and Information Science 32(2)
This article discusses the initial enthusiasm for the Internet and how the spread of fear and paranoia over its influence has led to strict access regulations and control. The author indicates that ‘the high cost of computer hardware, excessive telecommunication charges (...), the dominance of English-language contents and the fairly limited computer literacy in most societies of the region’ has significantly restricted the role of the Internet and hampered its penetration. However, despite these technical difficulties Internet connectivity is clearly on the rise not only in business, commerce and education but also in the residential sector with many households affording the high premiums of private Internet service providers. The technological restrictions are slowly disappearing and the government will increasingly come to rely on censorship as a means to control and regulate potentially corrupting material. He concludes that the close state control of information will inevitably impede economic development and as a result scare away foreign investment.
During the Spring of 2004 to the Fall of 2004 Jensen conducted research for a Masters thesis on new media in the Middle East. The primary focus of this study was on Iranian weblogs written in English to assess how extensive censorship in Iran has become and to what extent it is technically possible to censor the Internet. Through the systematic analysis of a sample of 20 Iranian weblogs and reports written by reliable organisations he concluded that even though the information available on the Internet cannot be controlled, the points of access to it can. He also found that in a number of cases Internet users had been intimidated into self-regulation and discouraged from seeking out information that goes against the moral codes of the Islamic Republic.
Within this investigation into Internet censorship the ONI seeks to document the nature of filtered content and explore the technical capabilities of the Iranian government to block Internet access. According to the ONI, Iran is among a small group of states which employ sophisticated filtering capabilities to elevate government control of the Internet and restrict freedom of expression. As a result of the growth in popularity of ‘anti-Islamic activity’ their research indicates a net increase in the amount of blocking underway in Iran, backed by media regulation laws that prohibits the publication of religious, political, social and economic content deemed threatening to national security. In addition to the filtering mechanisms forced upon ISPs to block material presumed immoral or contrary to the preservation of an Islamic state, Internet users must promise, in writing, not to access web content critical of the regime or participate in the distribution of sensitive information aimed at disturbing the public mind.
Rahimi, Babak (2003) ‘Cyberdissent: The Internet in Revolutionary Iran’ Middle East Review of International Affairs [Online] 7(3) http://meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2003/issue3/jv7n3a7.html [Accessed 06/06/07]
Rahimi’s paper provides a clear overview of the history of the Internet in the Islamic Republic by tracing its origins from the early 1990s. Initially the government promoted access to the Internet as an alternative platform to share scientific and technological advancements between universities. However, due to the curiosity of the Iranian public Iran now boosts some of the fastest growth rates in the world, with more and more public users taking advantage of the new virtual space in which political dissidents are increasingly challenging state authority. He argues that the Internet is an important medium in the fight for democracy as it essentially defies control and regulation on the freedom of Iranians to express their political discontent. It poses an insurmountable challenge to the Islamic Regime by acting as a breeding ground for the Reformist movement where political actors have sought virtual communities to express opinions and engage in political life out of sight from the authorities. As a result, in 2000 the government enforced tougher measures to assert control by blotting out immoral and political websites critical of the state. They also ordered ISPs to remove anti-government and anti-Islamic sites form their servers in November 2001 and in January 2002 the Supreme Council ordered a new commission to create a list of illegal websites. Since then hundreds of websites have been banned and access is controlled by Internet filters and restricted connection speeds.
Vanden Heuvel, Katrina (2005) ‘Bloggers of Iran’ The Nation [Online] http://www.thenation.com/blogs/edcut?bid=7&pid=2947 [Accessed 26/04/07]
In the run up to the June 2005 Presidential elections Vanden Heuvel emphasises the potential of blogging to ‘open up’ Iranian society. By ‘permitting the free flow of information and ideas’ she suggests that blogs offer Iranians an opportunity to debate the future of Iran and Iranian politics away from restrictions imposed on the real lives of Iranians. Blogs are used to spread news, share ideas, tell jokes, discuss music and lampoon Iranian rulers, which bypass traditional censors and as a result ‘offer an unprecedented window on Iran’s political culture’. She identifies ten Iranian blogs as examples of the transparency of the coming election and briefly discusses their recurrent themes and characteristics.
Zanganeh, Lila Azam (2006) (ed.) My Sister, Guard your Veil; My Brother, Guard your Eyes Boston: Beacon Press
Although this book is not directly related to the subject of this research it is useful in respect of gaining an understanding of the contexts in which voices have been censored in Iran. It includes stories written by Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Azadeh Moaveni (Lipstick Jihad), Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran) and Salar Abdoh (The Poet Game) as well as interviews with Abbas Kiarostami (filmmaker – Taste of Cherry), Shirin Neshat (internationally acclaimed visual artist) and Shohreh Aghdashloo (Oscar nominee – House of Sand and Fog, 24). My favourite passage in the book comes from Babak Ebrahimian (Middle Eastern cinema and literature teacher at Columbia University). He opens his story with a quote from Winston Churchill, ‘You cannot blame a nation for its government’ and goes on to say that ‘From the media we gather nothing but demonic images of a totalitarian regime at work in Iran. Yet this perception is at once myopic and distorted in regard to what or who Iran and Iranians actually are.’ Part of the reason for my interest in Iran and Iranian youth culture is precisely because of these misconceptions which have come to represent Iran and Iranian culture in the west.