Magazine article New Internationalist

The Fourth Generation

Magazine article New Internationalist

The Fourth Generation

Article excerpt

An Iranian blogger asks: 'Has everyone noticed the spooky absence of graffiti in our public toilets since the arrival of weblogs?' But unlike graffiti, Iran's blogs are boundless and global. Approximately one in five Iranians have internet access, and Persian is one of the world's most popular languages for keeping online journals.

Yet as the Iranian blogosphere has grown, so has the Government's interest in repressing the medium. Bloggers have been jailed and last September officials proudly announced that 'more than 10 million websites were filtered', or blocked, in Iran.

Still, the internet has opened a new virtual space for free speech and large numbers of Iranians are willing to stand up for their rights and raise their voice in the debate about their country's future. As one unwavering journalist blogger wrote after her release from prison:

Being lazy, I did not take the upkeep of my blog very seriously. But prison taught me that you have to write in newspapers, in blogs and on websites, on walls and anywhere you can.

The authorities have also tried to fight back by actively encouraging what they often label as 'Islamic bloggers'. Plush conferences celebrate and hand out awards to the chosen few; Basij (Islamic Republic paramilitary) centres around the country and seminaries in the holy city of Qom now offer blogging lessons.

Nevertheless, bloggers are able to voice their resentment of a religious system that governs every aspect of their lives, even if such blogs are soon closed down or blocked, as was this irritable one by 'Fozool':

People put an ayatollah and the clergy on the same level as pimps and thugs and they would shove the whole lot of you up a donkey's arse if they could.

Against such utterances must be set many others who write reverently about their faith. In fact the fiercest voices against a regime that rules in the name of Islam often resonate from those who profess to be religious. As the prominent Islamic scholar and Shi'a cleric Hadi Ghabel says in his blog, 25 years of rule by the clerics in Iran 'has not made Islam stronger, but it has brought about a decline in the position of the clergy and religion in society'.

The educated young

The country's young people are described by the Iranbased philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo as the 'fourth generation' who are moving away from political Islam towards an 'Iranian secularism', based on Islamic traditions and Persian cultural history. It is this generation that will ultimately determine the future of Iran.

Those who lived through the Iranian revolution of 1979 are now in the minority. In the post-revolution baby-boom, Iran's population has more than doubled to almost 70 million, of whom over 65 per cent are under 30 years old. Literacy is well over 90 per cent, even in rural areas; and in 2005 more than 65 per cent of students entering university were women. The voices that come through most strongly in the Iranian blogosphere are those of this educated young generation.

In November 1979, at the dawn of the revolution, Khomeini stated that 'a country with 20 million youth must have 20 million riflemen... such a country will JT *, never be destroyed'. The intention was tp create soldiers of the state, but now groups of young people who aspire to a more Western lifestyle have even turned events like St Valentine's Day into a local festival. The regime's attempt to shield Iranians from the West's 'cultural invasion' has backfired and the country's youth is now almost obsessed with the Western culture they have been deprived of for so long. Ali Abtahi, a mid-ranking Shi'a cleric who became Deputy President under reformist President Khatami, commented on the new enthusiasm for Valentine's Day among young lovers in Islamic Iran in his blog. Although there are many irritated by all this, he said: 'We cannot deny the reality. And anyway the Islam that I know encourages life and love.'

Iranians have lived through a recent violent revolution and war; bleak years that they do not want to experience again. …

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