April 7, 2007 -- Over the last two weeks, bloggers have been rare voices of public dissent inside Iran, criticizing their government's seizure of the 15 British soldiers. Much of their criticism centered on the negative impact they feared this episode would have on Iran's reputation in the world.
"Why is Iran losing its case in international public opinion and why doesn't the Iranian government care about this?" one blogger asked at http://viewfromiran.blogspot.com.
Another blogger, at http://persianperspective.wordpress.com/, in an entry entitled "Things you HAVE TO know about Iran," directed his message specifically to Americans, writing, "Ahmadinejad for all of his rhetoric only represents one of many circles of power … the Iranian leadership is not insane."
There is a different tone running through the newest entries on many of these same blogs. On Wednesday, announcing the release of the captive soldiers, Ahmadinejad was seen as having achieved a political victory, or at least a draw; the outcome sent a ripple of pride through the Iranian blogosphere.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Behi (http://mrbehi.blogs.com/), a popular blogger from Tehran, had written, "Iran is afraid. … It is cornered politically and militarily. … I think this is a panic reaction."
Updating his blog on Wednesday, he expressed satisfaction at the soldiers' release, but not before remarking, "I hope that the world would also please stop evil-izing Iran. So we have a naughty government. … You do not have to tell us over and over, we already know it. … And you told on us to the Security Council?"
In an entry on the blog, "Persian Students in the UK," one blogger wrote, "What's all this about allowing the captives to write letters home saying they are all right? It's time the Iranians fell into line with the rest of the civilized world: they should allow their captives the privacy of solitary confinement. That's one of the many privileges the U.S. grants to its captives in Guantanamo Bay" (http://www.persianstudents.org/).
The sarcasm of the entry highlights the feeling shared by many bloggers in Iran that the West has reacted hypocritically in the international face off. Many were quick to remark on the discrepancy between the treatment the British soldiers had received in captivity and the experiences of political prisoners under British and American control. The comparison lent itself to a certain online swagger.
Iran has a notably large and passionate blogging community. Some estimates put the number of blogs at around 700,000. Most of the bloggers are young and educated. In a country where roughly two-thirds of the population is under 30, the blogs provide a direct view into the questions and beliefs of Iran's majority demographic.
"Bloggers in Iran are the post-revolution baby boom generation," said Nasrin Alavi, editor of the anthology "We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs." "It's all about this empowered youth. It is like a taunt. They are saying, 'We are the future of Iran.'"
According to Alavi, the urge that young Iranians have to write Weblogs comes from an urgent desire to express themselves -- and a limited number of ways in which to do so.
"During the last 10 years, over 100 media publications have been closed down. Blogs offer a sanctuary where people can speak out. … Iranians are tired of the image the West has of them foaming at the mouth, burning the American flag," she said.
Alavi said that she believes that the overriding political sentiment in the Iranian blogosphere runs in opposition to the government, but Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian blogger based in Canada, disagrees.
"In the beginning, it was dominated by people who were very critical of the government, but now you can't say that," he said. "It is truly mainstream. Even Ahmadinejad has a blog."
Derakhshan writes several Weblogs, including the widely read "Editor: Myself." He has also compiled a comprehensive set of links to English language blogs in Iran at Hoder.com.
Like Alavi, Derakhshan describes Iranian bloggers as being mostly young and educated, driven by an intense desire for self-expression.
"Also," he said, "Iranians love new technology."
Derakhshan believes that the continuously expanding blog world might provide a way to address the frustration many Iranians feel about constant government propaganda. Through blogging, Derakhshan tries to encourage a more independent way of thinking.
For both Derakhshan and Alavi, it is clear that the world of Iranian blogs represents a change. It is the chance for new voices to be heard, new possibilities considered.
And what does Derakhshan think of this week's conclusion to the British-Iranian face-off?
"Ahmadinejad is one heck of a street-smart politician," he blogged.