The Imagined Cyber War Against Iran

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Censorship is not new in Iran, but since the controversial presidential election in June 2009 it has been revived by state authorities in an unprecedented manner. The Ministry of Intelligence now views websites and social networking sites as enemies of the state. Talking to Voice of America or Persian BBC TV is a criminal act for which activists and ordinary citizens could spend months in prison.

Fars News Agency recently announced that thirty individuals have been arrested for “Cyber crimes.” Reflecting the view of security officials, Fars victoriously reports of a ‘crackdown’ on an organized network of U.S. agents, and more specifically the CIA, who have been engaged in ‘cyber war’ against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Names of the arrested individuals are not specified.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Revolutionary Court condemned six individuals involved in a demonstration on the Day of Ashura (a day of mourning for Shia Muslims). They will be executed.

All these events intensify tensions within Iranian society, as state officials label dissenters and protesters as “agents of the U.S.” Despite these pressures, the Green Movement–protesting the results of the presidential election–is strengthening. Among other actions, Zahra Rahnavard’s (wife of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi) has given prolific interviews demonstrating the resilience of this social movement and its insistence on being self-sufficient and independent of foreign powers.

But the Green Movement is just part of a long history of flourishing social movements in Iran. The One Million Signature Campaign, a vibrant women’s rights movement started in 2006 to gather one million signatures to support changing the discriminatory laws regarding women in Iran, still continues its work despite its website being blocked by the government at least 26 times since its inception, but it continued. The website was the first winner of the recently announced Net Citizen award given by Google and Reporters Without Borders.

It is in this context that the U.S. Department of Treasury’s easing of sanctions on Iran in order to help further the use of web services is a step in the right direction. While Iranian state authorities may believe that the great Satan is at work against them, the young population of Iran–65 percent of Iranians are under the age of 34–want social change. The majority of Iranian youth have shown a commitment to non-violent social protests, such as the ones that took place after the June 12th election. They also want the right to information, an undeniable 21st century right. Like youth anywhere in the world, they will find their ways into the Internet.

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Elham Gheytanchi is a sociology instructor at Santa Monica College. She writes on the Iranian Women's Rights Activist Movement in the Huffington Post and other major publications.