Tuesday, June 23, 2009

To Answer Bret

In a comment Bret makes a few points: 1) that Neda has not served as a focal point for collective action; 2) that the information we manage to get out of Iran (via Twitter, Facebook and blog posts) is skewed because its produced by tech savvy Iranian youths and, because of limited access to such applications inside Iran, can only serve a limited role; and 3) that the regime is more capable than the Shah’s at disrupting collective action.

To begin with, I was not arguing that Neda's death in particular was serving as a focal point for collective action but rather, mourning demonstration in general could serve a similar function that which they served during the 1979 Revolution. That said, Bret’s point about Twitter and Facebook being more outwardly directed and only playing a marginal role in terms of organizing within Iran is well taken. In fact, Andrew Sullivan reported that Mousavi’s supporters have been distributing newspapers to disseminate information as was done during 1979 and Roger Cohen's first hand account indicates that crowds have been rallying through word of mouth. As far as how quickly information is being disseminated, I take that the Iranian regime felt it necessary to claim that Neda’s death was staged as a foreign plot and subsequently banned a public funeral to mean the Iranian regime, at least, believes that news of Neda’s death is both powerful and spreading quickly.

Finally, I too fear that this regime will be more adept and disrupting an uprising than the Shah’s regime. I don’t attribute this to the regime’s technological savvy, however. First, the 1979 Revolution occurred without the aid of cellphones and twitter; second, as described above, this uprising seems to be adopting similar low-tech communication methods as well as high-tech modes. The regime, I would say, has been generally ham-handed in its response thus far: Khamenei overplayed his hand at the outset by stealing the election and only compounded this error by declaring the results divine, only to have that questioned and be forced to walk back the outcome’s divinity by allowing the Guardian Council to investigate and acknowledge “irregularities.” Further, it strikes me as a foolish that Khamenei allowed the movement to gain a foothold and momentum before cracking down. Those false steps aside, that security presence in Tehran has, seemingly, effectively prevented gatherings of demonstrators since Saturday’s riots, thereby limiting the use of brutal tactics likely to inflame the populace.

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