Friday, May 31, 2013

Facebook Movements for Secular Democracy of Iran

We remember the Facebook revolution that began from Tunisia, and then, spread to Egypt and Libya in December 2010. Currently, some of the global public is disappointed with the Arab Spring, in view of the rise of Islamists. From this point, Facebook movements for Iranian freedom is worthy of attention as it pursues secular democracy. Various associations create pages and groups on Facebook to promote freedom movements of Iran.

Let me explain pages and groups. On Facebook, there are two types of communications. "Page" is a one way communication in which a handful of administrators send messages to those who expressed support for them by clicking “like”. On the other hand, “group” is a mutual communication between administrators and members. Once the membership is approved, anyone can write a wall post of the group. Through both ways, Iran’s democracy rallies are launched one after another. There is no way of knowing whether their rallies will succeed like those in Tunisia, but it is apparent that the theocratic government in Tehran cannot control Internet movements.

Unlike those in Tunisia and Egypt, Iranian Facebook movements are strongly secular, because they fight against theocracy instead of military rule. While the Arab Spring was driven by a loose network of students, Iranian movements are more cohesive. This is a vital point, because student activities were hijacked by Islamists, particularly in Egypt. In case of Iranian movements, Former Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi plays a pivotal role. He may not return to the throne, but as often witnessed in Europe, monarchy is a built in stabilizer against religious fanaticism and military dictatorship.

Currently, Pahlavi lives in Bethesda, Maryland, and urges Western civil societies to support Iranian freedom through the media on both sides of the Atlantic. His official page on Facebook draws nearly 158 thousand “like” clicks from all over the world, the most of them are from Tehran despite severe Internet censorship. In addition to his own official page, his supporters created “Prince Reza Pahlavi Fan Page”. Through pages and groups on Facebook, Iranian democracy proponents exchange information and opinions, promote values, and create a sense of unity around the globe. Quite a few individuals use photos of the Pahlavi family members for their profile picture.

 Shir o Khorshid or the Lion and the Sun, is another symbol among Iranian freedom fighters. It has been a traditional mark of Iran since the Sassanid era, and various dynasties used this emblem until the fall of the Pahlavi regime. After the Iranian revolution, Shiite theocrats adopted more Islamic symbol of four crescents and a line to represent Tawhid or monotheism. As a result, Iranian protesters use their traditional national emblem to show patriotism and resistance to the theocracy. Some pages and groups likeOfficial Page of Reza Pahlavi” and “Iranian and their Friends” use Shir o Khorshid cover photos. Compare Iranian national flags before and after the revolution.






                                                                             Before





                                 After 



Politically, those pages and groups show strong solidarities with the United States and Israel. Some of them are closely tied to conservative American civil networks for their detestation of Islamism and Sharia rule. While most of the participants seem to be Americans and Iranians in exile in the West, a substantial number of Iranians living in Iran join freedom networks despite strict censorship under a repressive regime at home. As witnessed in the Green Movement in 2009, Iranian freedom activists and general public are craving for American help. But why Israel? Historically, Iran was in good relations with Jewish people. It is Cyrus the Great who relieved ancient Hebrews from Babylonian oppression. Today, Iran has the largest Jewishpopulation in the Middle East. Moreover, Former Israeli President Moshe Katsavwas born in Iran, and Iranians are proud of it. Current theocracy ruins such ancient and deep friendship with Israel.

The Internet is not the only way for Iranian freedom activists. Iranian Americans a held an event called the PersianParade on April 14 this year in New York. Originally, the parade started to celebrate Nowruz in 2004. Though primary objective of this event is to enhance unity among Iranians living in the United States and promote understandings in traditional Persian culture, Iranian freedom activists advertise the event to raise awareness to their advocacy for regime change at home. The Persian Parade is entirely run by grassroots, without depending on opposition celebrities like Reza Pahlavi, Mariam Rajavi, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. In the parade, American mounted policemen march, raising the Shir o Khorshid and the Stars and Stripes side by side. This is a visual appeal of close ties between Iranian freedom movements and American civil societies. See the photo below.




Shir o Khorshid and the Stars and Stripes march side by side.


Secular democracy in Iran will have significant implication from Africa to China. Currently, Islamists rise in Egypt and Turkey, and Al Qaeda found their safe havens in the Sahel area, the Caucasus, and throughout the Middle East. However, Al Qaeda’s sphere of influence has not expanded in both East and West Turkestan (“The al QaedaFranchise Threat”; Wall Street Journal; April 30, 2013). Sponsoring secular democracy movements for Iran will help promote democracy free of religious biases from North Africa to Xinjiang, beyond the Arab regions. Particularly, Persian cultural traditions are strong in Iranian and Turkic peoples in Central Asia. Therefore, once positive dominos of democracy without religious fanaticism spread, things across Eurasia will be strategically advantageous for free nations, including East Asia. Once secular democracy takes root in Turkestan, the West need not compromise with China in the War on Terror, which enables free nations to stand steadfast against  China’s maritime expansionism and human rights abuse. Therefore , I hope this post will be of some help to draw worldwide attention to Iranian freedom movements.