Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Neda Agha Soltan, Iran, Cell Phone Cameras, and the Information Age

It's official: Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be sworn in late July or early August. And, perhaps to show that Iran is run by open-minded people, the Iranian government has extended the deadline for complaints about the election - whose winner has been officially declared.

These two paragraphs seem like a pretty good summary of what Iran's leaders have been doing, aside from sending riot police and plain-clothes militia to rough up uncooperative Iranians:
"... The Guardian Council earlier ruled out the possibility of nullifying the results of the election, saying irregularities were reported before the balloting -- not during or after.

The announcement was another in a series of inconsistent stances by the council on how to handle the unrest stemming from the election....
" (CNN)

Neda Agha Soltan: It Seems You Can't Shoot Anybody These Days, Without Somebody Raising a Fuss

Back in the 'good old days,' somebody with a title like Supereme Leader could send enforcers to kill some malcontents, rough up a few more, and warn any left standing that they were next, if they didn't stop making trouble.

And, best of all: the Supreme Leader, or whatever, could say that his valiant troops vanquished a fearsome foe. And, with communications technology being what it was before the 20th century, there was a good chance outsiders would believe him.

Or have to accept the official account: since that was all the information they'd get.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: Now, Think 15 or More Frames a Second

Decades ago, in college, I ran into a discussion of labor disputes in the late 19th and early 20th century. The presentation was - understandably, given when I encountered it - full of a 'sixties' world view. The facts, though, were what stuck in my mind.
Information Age Tech and Clueless Leadership: Nothing New
According to the presenter, newspapers and magazines had, by and large, written articles on events involving labor-management relations from management's point of view. Laborers - the ones demanding safe equipment and reasonable wages - were depicted as rough, violent, utterly uncivilized louts. (No wonder one of my ancestors, responding to a question about my grandfater, replied, "he doesn't have family, he's Irish.")

Then, movie cameras became reliable, portable, and affordable enough to be carried to significant events.

Like a picket line.

Where the police were going to deal with those violent protesters.

I saw an excerpt from a newsreel from that period. The picture quality wasn't all that great, but the viewer could plainly see picketers - maybe a couple dozen - plodding back and forth, carrying signs, about as violent in appearance as a draft horse that's been pulling the plow since sunrise.

Then, down the street flowed a dark mass. It resolved into a crowd of uniformed men, each with a short club. They looked like something out of a Mack Sennett comedy.

But, this was (apparently) real life.

When the dark flood hit the picket line, the laborers and signs went down. Fast.

I'm told that the dichotomy between what the audience saw, and descriptions of striking laborers as presented from management's point of view, made labor's view seem more reasonable.

Neda, Cell Phone Cameras, Citizen Journalists, and Freedom

I found a forty-second video clip on YouTube: apparently the same footage that has been causing all the fuss. It's the sort of digitally-grainy, well-below-broadcast-quality video that you'd expect from a cell phone camera.

I debated whether or not to embed it in this post: the video is unsettling, at best. But I think it's important, as an example of what dictators have to put up with these days.

"Neda Agha Soltan Iranian girl shot dead on Tehran street, live camera recording"

endeavour29, YouTube
video 0:40

Back in the 'good old days,' the story by Iran's foreign minister, that "...'Great Britain has plotted against the presidential election for more than two years. We witnessed an influx of people (from Britain) before the election. Elements linked to the British secret service were flying in in droves'..." (CNN) might have been met with skepticism.

But it, and other 'official' statements might have been all the information that leaked out: apart from tales of people whose accuracy could be questioned because they didn't like the existing regime.

This 40-second, up close and personal look at the last moments of one of those "British" agents - or one of their fellow-travelers - casts a different light on the foreign minister's words.
"Youtube frames of 'Neda', a young Iranian woman whose face is engulfed in blood, are a horrific image of what some are calling the Tehran spring. They also show the genie unleashed by citizen journalists.

"Identified on the photo-sharing Web site flickr as Neda Agha Soltan, the young woman shown on cameraphone footage falling, apparently shot, on the edges of a protest at Iran's disputed elections has drawn a passionate response worldwide...." (Reuters India)
It's the Information Age. Journalists, educators, entertainment media decision-makers, and other traditional information gatekeepers no longer have a near-monopoly on determining what the world sees and hears.

I don't know if we're seeing the start of an Iranian revolution. I am quite certain, though, that we are in a world that's changed a great deal since Iran's 1979 revolution.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.