It’s funny, watching a stodgy old regime lose power. The more power they lose, the more hard-line the regime in power becomes. The further they are willing to go. The more atrocities they are willing to commit. But, like Gordon Brown said this morning in response to the Supreme Leader’s sermon blaming the Iranian problems on Britain, there won’t be another Rwanda, there won’t be another massacre hidden in the dark. You can bring out the guns. You can bring out the tanks. But the Revolution will be Twittered and everyone will know. Instantly.
Like everyone else, I have been staring at the net trying to follow the little drips and drabs of information coming out of Iran. No one knows where this is going to go, or how it is going to end up. An election was stolen in the most hamfisted, 19th century manner and who knows how many elections until now have, themselves, been rigged. No national election can ever go forward there now, not ever again, not without people knowing absolutely that the system is rigged (unlike here where everyone just thinks it.) One thinks, at least they could have looked up on Wikipedia ways to steal an election before staging one so brazenly but this is a regime who is anti-technology, anti-modernity, and is sticking its heels in the ground and refusing to move forward into the 21st century. It was a poor attempt at a coup to change a nominal republic into a military junta with the veneer of a theocracy to make the pill go down easier.
In normal times, before The Internets, the regime could make a polite fiction of the electoral system and murder anyone who disagreed. But in a society full of cellphones with cameras, no atrocity goes without showing up on YouTube. Everyone who is subscribed to the right channels knows instantly. Polite fictions become ugly truths fast.
What has entertained me, as I insert myself into the story, is the cat and mouse game between the attempts to cut off communication to the global community and the clear and obvious leaks of information getting out. The world is full of groups quietly getting around their government’s oppressive filters to get to the outside. There was an entertaining op-ed piece from Nick Kristof in the NYTimes yesterday about how the Iranians are flooding servers set up exclusively for the Falun Gong. The Chinese are trying to keep the servers up, but there is a huge difference between 12 Chinese dissidents sending a few emails and 400,000 Iranians twittering. The servers don’t have capacity.
How do we, as a Free Society who wants to encourage Democracy, set up the equivalent of a Free Internet for those who need to get out? How do we ensure that people who need encrypted email and encrypted connections can get out to news and services on the outside? Information needs to get out, so how to make it happen? What to do? (If I had a server, I would have put up a proxy box by now…)
As of this morning, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s speech, which boiled down to “we hate foreigners who are doing this to us and my candidate won and if you don’t like it, my goons will beat you up,” was what was predicted he would say. In the face of cities full of protesters and rioters, and having to cling to a poor decision to save face or else admit his complacency in the coup, he could do no other. And now the protesters will be back in the streets. More twitter proxy servers than ever are out there up and humming and it will escalate. My fear is that this will all end in Tiananmen Square Redeux, that the hard-liners will have no choice but to make it clear this was a military coup and the republic part of “Islamic Republic” will be forever over, but that will be twittered and on Youtube, too, in all its glory. Where it will then be run on cable news…
And where that goes, no one knows. Welcome to the 21st century. We have beanies with propellers.