Blog crackdown in Iran

by Henry on November 8, 2004

One of the problems of writing about current affairs is that your claims are often overtaken by events. So it goes for the “article”: that Dan Drezner and I have in the current issue of _Foreign Policy_. We said (accurately at the time of writing) that blogs in Iran have provided a partial substitute for reformist newspapers that have been shut down, and that “government efforts to [censor the Internet] have been sporadic and only partially successful.” The Iranian blogosphere is one of the very few inarguable cases of how the Internet can sometimes create more pressure towards democratization. However, almost immediately after our article went to press, hardliners in Iran “began to crack down”: on reformist websites and blogs. Now that the anti-reformist elements in the government have decided to take action, I suspect that the outlook for political blogs in Iran isn’t very good, although outside protests and negative publicity may help limit the extent of the backlash (it’s “worked”:, at least in part, in the past).



Jason G. Williscroft 11.08.04 at 11:49 pm

Ouch. Do you have any idea how sophisticated the Iranian authorities are?

The reason I ask is that posts on an open blog like Unity are inherently anonymous… but an unfriendly ISP could obviously log the act of form submission at an IP address tagged as subversive. Not a whole lot you can do about that, but the ISP would have to be going above and beyond the call to catch that sort of thing.

I wonder how many would.

Anyway, I know I speak for my colleagues when I say that all of us at The Dead Hand would be more than pleased to host that kind of traffic. We fully understand that to do so involves a certain personal risk, and I for one say: bring it on.

Freedom is worth precisely what you’re willing to pay for it.


novalis 11.09.04 at 12:14 am

Or just run your own damn blog, but use Onion Routing ( to hide your origins.


Snark Again 11.09.04 at 2:40 am

Powerline blog, via one of its readers, brings to our attention the results of an opinion poll, which is not getting any publicity outside Iraq. “[The] poll taken in Baghdad, Mosul and Dehok and published in Iraq on October 25. The poll probably over-sampled Sunnis, which makes its results even more striking:

“63% of Iraqis say that the withdrawal of American and allied forces will not be in the best interest of Iraq, it will undermine the work towards security and control of the country. 27% say that it would be in the best interest of Iraq. 9% had no opinion.

“58% say that terrorists do the kidnappings and assassination of police and soldiers. 9% say that patriots fighting for Iraq carry them out. 32% say ignorant Iraqis who have been brain washed & misled carry them out.

“89% said that the terrorism, kidnapping, beheadings and assassination of police and security forces do not help the freeing of Iraq and the building of a stable country. 6% said that it would help free Iraq and build stability. 4% had no opinion.”

It seems that insurgents are failing not only to win popular support but also to slow down the march towards democracy. Iraq’s Shia religious establishment have now thrown their weight and moral authority behind the election:

“Ahmed Al Safi, a senior aide of Ayatollah Sistani announced… that ‘Those who don’t participate in the elections will end up in hell’ and he added in his speech ‘We must bear the responsibility and we must all participate in the elections because it’s a patriotic duty and not doing so is like treason.’ He also denied the news that spread about Sistani preparing or supporting a particular list of candidates.”

Iraqi blogger Zeyad has more. Buoyed by religious imprimatur, the country’s Shia majority is increasingly looking forward to exercising their democratic rights:


Chris 11.09.04 at 8:09 am

Iranian authorities are not only heavyhanded but have enough technological smarts that non-hacker bloggers are very likely to be identified.

When I worked there (1992), you even had to be licenced by the state to send a fax, to prevent subversive information spreading.

Moderate muslims are the people even more at risk than ferangis like Van Gogh. In Iran and worldwide, they are vulnerable wherever they are because they and their families are exposed to individual local extremists, organised killer groups and the actual state arms that will happily kill worldwide.

How can ordinary people not only express solidarity but help them protect their lives and those of their families?


No Preference 11.09.04 at 12:09 pm

I can’t help but remark to the extent to which the innocent belief that the “good” people are with us and the “bad” people are against us prevails.

US policies in the Middle East are widely opposed by people living there, for good reason.

As for the Iraqi poll, one wonders about the accuracy of a poll that apparently offers as a choice for the perpetrators of car bombings “ignorant, brainwashed Iraqis”. Still, I’m pretty sure that most Iraqis do abhor such acts.


Jason G. Williscroft 11.09.04 at 3:40 pm

Well, Chris, there goes another bubble.

It’s so tempting to believe that the education necessary to do something technologically challenging—like run an ISP or build a nuclear reactor—would inoculate a person against the kind of thinking that appears to prevail among the ruling classes in Iran.

Evidently not.


Ken Houghton 11.09.04 at 4:10 pm

Is this a case where the Drezner/Brighouse article precipitated the crackdown, since it brought the government’s attention to the blogging? Your posting (“almost immediately after our article went to press”) seems to imply that.

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