Excerpt from the Introduction to Media, Power, and Politics in the Digital Age: The 2009 Presidential Election Uprising in Iran by Yahya R. Kamalipour.
It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.
-- Helen Keller
As a successful author, lecturer, and activist of her time, the legendary Helen Keller was both blind and deaf. Apropos her above comment, how true it is of our short-sighted politicians and self-centered world leaders who refuse to change in spite of monumental challenges taking place in their very eyes, including globalization, technological advancements, information flow, global interconnectedness, increased public awareness, and enhanced education.
For over a century, Iranians have relentlessly pursued—sadly, without much success—their quest for the institutionalization of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law in Iran. Since the 1906 Constitutional Revolution, which was derailed by Russia and, again, the 1953 revolution that was derailed by a CIA-British coup, their historical quest has remained a lofty aspiration and continues to reemerge in various historical contexts, including the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the 2009 contested presidential elections, which resulted in sustained and often bloody public protestations. After the release of June 12th election results in favor the incumbent candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and public endorsement of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, believing that the elections were rigged. The officially declared election results were viewed as inconclusive and unfair; hence a huge number of unsatisfied Iranians took to the streets of Tehran and other major cities in mass proclaiming “Where is my vote”? Their initially peaceful and sustained demonstrations turned bloody after the Iranian government forces attempted to crush them by force, which resulted in killings, beatings, and arrests, and jailing of hundreds protestors. The unfolding events quickly captured people’s attention everywhere and remained, for at least two weeks, the top media news story around the world. As of this writing, and seven months after the elections, the “Green Movement” or “Green Wave” continues to gather momentum within and without Iran.
In retrospect and in view of Western countries historical miscalculations and repeated mistakes, such as the derailment of the 1953 democratic movement, headed by Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, and their continued meddling in the internal affairs of Iran, let’s hope this time they will have the fortitude and foresight to allow Iranians to determine the political destiny of their own nation.
MEDIA AS AGENTS OF CHANGE
Media experts, foreign policy experts, commentators, and academicians have often outlined the benefits of new media technology for consumers and confidently predict that the global information revolution will result in political, economic, and social democratization in the developing and underdeveloped countries around the world. This hopeful outlook, however, requires certain pre-requisites, including education, infrastructures, cultural basis, access to technology, and adherence to the time-tested and successful political, economic, social structures, and diverse media outlets, as evidenced in the developed nations.
In his article, elsewhere in this book, Ibrahim Al-Marashi quite keenly observes that “The crisis in Iran was not merely a domestic conflict between reformists and a conservative establishment, but represented another greater battle for information”. The reality is that most people make decisions, vis-à-vis political candidates and even consumer products, based on what they hear, read, and see in the media. In today’s digital age, it is clearly evident that we now possess an array of highly sophisticated communication and telecommunication technologies that span the entire globe and, indeed, can be used to engender such basic and vital human values as human rights, freedom of expression, mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, and the rule of law. Alternatively, with the concentration of global media in the hands of autocratic governments and a few self-serving global corporations, it is possible to use the media to brainwash, agitate, fuel conflict, and create a divisive and polarized political and cultural environment within and without nations.
During the post-Iranian election demonstrations in June 2009, the video footage of the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, which was captured by cell phones and distributed widely via the Internet and subsequently published in the global media, drew international attention and rallied public opinion and sentiments toward the liberal movement, commonly known the “Green Movement”. In fact, several essays in this book focus on this particular phenomenon and the power of the new digital technologies to bypass the physical geographical boundaries and governmental restrictions and censorships altogether. Indeed, the heart ranching post-election events in Iran illustrate that the new digital media have empowered the traditionally voiceless and marginalized people.
In his Noble Prize speech (2009), the United States President, Barack Obama, referred to Neda indirectly by saying that “…And that's why this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity; for the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard, even in the face of beatings and bullets; ...”
All political and religious leaders around the world have the responsibility to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its entirety, including emphasis on “…faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women” (UN).
CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS BOOK
This volume brings together a collection of 24 original essays by 32 contributors from 15 countries throughout the world. Each original essay (not previously published) is written by a leading media scholar, media professional, author, and researcher familiar and in tune with the events in Iran and elsewhere. The contributors’ areas of expertise include the Middle East, international communication, new technologies, mass media, journalism, religion, history, socio-political studies, and cultural studies.
Yahya R. Kamalipour, PhD, Professor and Head, Department of Communication and Creative Arts Purdue University Calumet.
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