Iran, Michael Jackson, and Generation X

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The violent June uprisings in Iran ricocheted around the world. While young, old, conservative and liberal Iranians protested the stolen election win of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the global online community rushed to support the cause. Although the Western rhetoric of good versus evil was embarrassingly simplistic – most of the protesters weren’t calling for the end of the Islamic Republic, merely reform – it was gratifying to find international interest for the rioting Iranians.

This backing took many forms. Web-savvy youth provided tools for Iranians to avoid government-backed censorship. One man in California published an online guide for geeks to set up proxy servers for Iranian citizens, as a way to get around the blocking of sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. “I felt like it was my responsibility to use my skills to help”, he told the US-based Tehran Bureau website. Many others volunteered their time and energy to allow Iranian youth to maintain an online voice.

Even singers Madonna, U2′s Bono, Jon Bon Jovi and Joan Baez stood alongside the protestors. Joan Baez recorded a version of “We Shall Overcome” – the anthem of the American civil rights movement – with some lyrics translated into Farsi.

When news circulated in June that phone companies Nokia and Siemens had sold Iran a monitoring centre that enabled security forces to tap mobile phones, scramble text-messages and interrupt calls, the worldwide response was immediate. A “Boycott Nokia” campaign sprouted almost overnight, bringing tens of thousands of signatures. According to the Guardian, Iranians themselves started to back an economic boycott as those sympathetic to the protest movement began targeting companies seen to be collaborating with the regime.

By mid-July, however, the story had largely fallen out of the news, not helped by the fact that the vast majority of Western journalists had been kicked out of the country and the authorities had brutally cracked down on local bloggers and dissidents. In the week June 29-July 5, Iran-related stories accounted for only four percent of total news coverage, down from 19 percent one week earlier, according to Pew Research.

For a few weeks, Iran seemed like the biggest story in the world, although the possibility of a full-blown revolution was always very unlikely. Beirut-based think-tank Conflicts Forum wrote in July that, “The events in Iran centred on a dispute about the role of certain powerful clergy as well as an airing of old grievances between several strong personalities. This does not imply a leadership so ‘divided’ that it is about to fall.” This was no Eastern European “colour” revolution, despite the best efforts of the Western media to claim otherwise.

Many young Iranian friends reminded me not to be seduced by the romantic notions of liberty and freedom. The vast majority of support for Iranian “democrats” in the West isn’t so much about the individuals or groups but a way to overthrow or challenge the Islamic Republic. A revolution from within is the only way forward.

Outside interference in Iran is a time-honoured tradition, something that even US President Barack Obama acknowledged in his famous Cairo speech in June. “In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government”, he said, in reference to the 1953 coup which overthrew the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

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