The ongoing demonstrations in Iran, touched off by public outrage at what is believed to be fraudulent vote counting in the recent Presidential election, has completed its sixth day.
Not since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 has there been this much sustained, grass roots political protest in what is one of the world’s most closed societies–a society whose government is accustomed to maintaining order through fear and intimidation.
So, what is so different this time?
Why are the Iranian people–ordinary citizens from every walk of life, age cohort and socio-economic background–risking their own personal safety for the sake of protest? One answer to this question lies in the advance of social communication methods that provide new avenues for person-to-person information exchange.
Like the human heart, information wants to be free, and finds a way. In the course of everyday discourse as it relates to commerce, education and ordinary person-to-person information exchange, the technology revolution that brought us social networking has ushered in real-life information in real-time, and not just text information, but video and audio as well.
Social networking delivers not merely news reports, gathered, edited and re-distributed by large broadcast media, old media as it were. Instead, social networking delivers person-to-person reports gathered on the street and shared via cell phone, Blackberry, iPhone and other personal communication devices.
Amid the Iranian demonstrations, social networking has enabled other Iranians, and the world at large, to see and hear photos and sounds that are real, and shared virally through countless blogs, bulletin boards, Facebook pages and tweets, inspiring others to join in the demonstrations.
As the government has sought to close down communication channels, person-to-person social networking platforms such as Twitter have become the life blood of the real communication inside and outside of Iran when it comes to reporting on the massive and radical demonstrations taking place in Iran.
This was not possible, at this scale, five years ago!
The authorities seeking to repress information flow by expelling foreign journalists, blocking and jamming selective telephone service and satellite distributions which feed websites, cannot block the person-to-person internet communication without bringing to a halt the flow of every day information exchange that makes the modern world function, even in Iran.
So, what does this mean? It means that like the human heart, the information wants to be free. Social communication is reflective of the human heart and so it too will find a way to be free.
Whether it is poetry scrawled on the inside of a political prisoner’s cell, graffiti drawn on the western side of the Berlin Wall, a novel describing one day in the life of a soviet gulag, smuggled out one chapter at a time, or the large scale crowds gathered to welcome a pontiff home to his native land in spite of an opposing rule, the innermost thoughts and feelings of man are to be free. Man must express himself, and he will find a way.
The crowds gathering on the streets in Tehran and other cities in Iran, and those gathering in other cities around the world in solidarity with their Iranian brothers and sisters, are expressing this fundamental desire for freedom, for truth.
As Pope John Paul II said so often, and as Pope Benedict XVI echoes repeatedly: “Be not afraid.” Communicate Truth in Love. After all, in the beginning, was the Word.
As of this publishing (2PM Friday, June 19, 2009), the situation in Iran has intensified. Associated Press reports that the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the June 12 election a “definitive victory” for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and offered no concessions to the opposition, effectively closing any chance for a new election called for by masssive demonstrations in recent days. Interestingly, the crowds in Tehran and elsewhere were organized despite increasing government clampdown on the internet and cell phones. “The government has blocked certain Web sites, such as BBC Farsi, Facebook, Twitter and several pro-Mousavi (the opposition) sites that are vital consuits for Iranians to tell the world about protests and violence,” reports the Associated Press, “Text messaging, which is a primary source of spreading information in Tehran, has not been working since last week, and cell phone service in Tehran is frequently down. The government also has barred foreign news organizations from reporting on Tehran’s streets.” Catholics form a strong but small minority in Iran. As Catholic Business Journal guest columnist Mark McElrath put it, the truth nonetheless desires to be free, and it will ultimately find a way.