Iran, Twitter and Nuclear Power

Interesting take on the Iran happenings up at our sister paper, the Boston Phoenix.

The presidential election stolen from Mir Hossein Mousavi was not really an election at all. It was a sham, an elaborate beauty contest produced by the Islamist theocracy that holds the real power in Iran. The mullahs pick the candidates and the outcome.

In the past, city dwellers, the educated, and the young — in effect, the nation's majority — have boycotted these stage-managed affairs in order to protest their fundamental fraudulence.

Not this time.

With Iran punished by inflation, free speech severely restricted, women oppressed, and the gay population persecuted, a bogus contest turned out to be better than no election at all.

Hope, even under a brutal medieval-minded regime, can be a political aphrodisiac. But hope alone, as the Chinese students who sought reform in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago found out, is no match for armed forces. Whether the death toll in Iran will come to equal that of the Tiananmen massacre and its aftermath remains to be seen.

It took several weeks for those demonstrations to elicit international attention in 1989. And when it came, the world marveled at the power of the fax machine, which was the engine of mobilization in those days.

Today, as hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets, we are marveling at the new tools of social networking and political orchestration: Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter — especially Twitter. Under the right circumstances, 140 characters have turned out to be powerful indeed, aiding organizational efforts on the ground and helping to circumvent the iron wall that has kept out domestic and international press.

The median age of Iranians is 17 years old, so it should come as no surprise that impetus for political change has come from the youth. That younger generation is decidedly pro-Western — a counterpoint to those Republican critics who doubt the value of talking directly to Muslims over the heads of their leaders, and a validation of President Barack Obama's recent strategic trip to Islamic nations.

It is less clear, however, whether this younger generation is anti-nuclear. And if they are, in what numbers? Iran's nuclear-weapons program — which is being conducted despite the nation's earlier agreement to an international treaty banning such weapons — is more than a means for religious fanatics to realize their dream of destroying Israel. It is a manifestation of Iran's nationalist aspirations, a way to show the world that it, too, is a power with which to be reckoned. That is perhaps the greatest unspoken reason for the restraint Obama has shown in commenting on the turmoil.

Iranians would undoubtedly welcome a new president. But, given where the ultimate political power in Iran really resides, would Mousavi make much of a difference to the rest of the world?


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