Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Religious Cyber Activism: Video Calls Iranian Youth to an Internet Battlefield

Introductory Note: The guest post below is the third in an occasional series of guest editorials by friends and colleagues whose opinions I value, and which are based on a solid foundation of knowledge, both "academic"/scholastic and experiential. As is the norm with all editorial pages, here is the requisite disclaimer that, "the opinions expressed in the editorials are solely those of the author, and they do not necessarily represent the views of the blog administrator or other guest contributors to Views from the Occident." I encourage readers to engage with the guest editorialists, and with me, in the "Comments," as opposed to responding via the e-mail listserv. The purpose of these editorials is to expand the points of view published on Occident, and to encourage the exchange of views.

The editorial below translates and discusses a video that a reader (who wishes to remain anonymous) made me aware of. The video, which begins with images of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), is a call to battle. However, this battle is not on a physical battlefield, it is an electronic one. "Narrated" by clips from speeches given by Iran's supreme leader, al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei, the video meshes images of fighters (and "martyrs") of the war with discussion of the upheaval that the country has undergone since the contested presidential elections in June 2009.

As guest editorialist Emaun Kashfipour writes, the video urges Iranian youth to participate in defense of Iran on all fronts, including the cyber front. Web sites shown include not only Khumayni, Khamenei, and other Iranian Islamist revolutionary leaders, but also the famous poet Hafiz and 'Imad Mughniyyah, the commander of the paramilitary wing of the Lebanese Twelver Shi'i political movement Hizbullah (Hezbollah) who was assassinated by unknown parties in February 2008. The party is a regional ally of the Iranian government, from which it receives financial and political backing.

The use of the Internet and other communication networks has become an integral part of the political and ideological strategies of social actors in almost every country. Cyber activism, combined with on-the-ground campaigning, was an integral part of the last United States presidential election. In the Middle East, governments and opposition political parties (where they are allowed) maintain web sites, TV stations, and traditional print media through which they spread their messages, propaganda, and ideology. At the most radical extreme, jihadi-takfiri activists, both inside groups such as Al-Qa'ida Central and outside of them, have also called for their supporters to join a "cyber war," which they describe as an integral part of their global jihad against "Crusaders" and "apostates." Non-violent Islamist (Muslim political) groups such as the Egyptian and Jordanian Muslim Brotherhoods and Muslim social networks, such as Sufi orders and Salafi da'wa networks, also see the Internet as one of the most promising fields for the expansion of their message.

Mr. Kashfipour's guest editorial is below (the caption at the bottom was written by me, not Kashfipour):

Emaun Kashfipour is an undergraduate student studying journalism and government and politics at the University of Maryland. He is a college journalist at The Diamondback, the university's award-winning, independent student newspaper. Kashfipour is fluent in Farsi.

Video Translation:

"We are confronted with a soft war, with a soft rebellion, from the enemy. You young students are the officers of this battlefield; the young officers are in the arena. The young officer acts on orders and accurately perceives the arena; with his body and his spirit, he analyzes the arena. This is the part of the student. Truthfully, the young officers have benefits, they have work, they are in the arena, they see the state of things, and they do a fundamental job.----- War is a complicated matter; the management of a war is a very heavy and very complicated matter.Our youth have taken on this job in many different fields; this actions, this wisdom... it is something very extraordinary. It is the arena of the budding of these talents and abilities. There were many young youths who went to the battlefield and were able to do great things."


This video compiles speeches of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatullah al-Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei, in which he encourages Iranian youth to take up figurative arms in what he calls a "soft war" that the country's enemies brought upon the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is a modern adaptation of a saying of the founder of the republic, Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Ruhullah Khumayni: "You're important responsibility is to use those pens which are in your hands."

The video was added well after the post-election conflict in Iran and most likely refers to the attention "Western" media outlets have given to the conflict and the online presence of reformist groups in Iran. As many of the images reflected in the video point out, the video is encouraging Iranian youth to support the government online.

An online presence that calls itself the "Iranian Cyber Army" shows the willingness of many supporters of the Iranian government to respond to this call. The Iranian Cyber Army has hacked high-profile websites such as (a prominent reformist website) and the micro-blogging website Twitter (it was quite an accomplishment even though they only had control of it for a few hours).

"Logos" of the Iranian Cyber Army, whose use of English suggests that they are not native speakers/writers (that, or their grammar is poor). The flag is emblazoned with the name "Husayn," a reference to the third Shi'i Imam (historical religious/temporal leader) who was killed in 680 C.E. during a failed rebellion against the Umayyad caliph Yazid bin Mu'awiya (Yazid I), connecting the Cyber Army's religio-political ideology with Twelver Shi'ism, which the Iranian government claims it embodies.


Saheb said...

Always impressed by what various political groups can create in terms of propaganda videos. This one was well made in my opinion in terms of just keeping you interested. I am not sure how you can call someone to the battlefield when the internet is heavily censored and monitored but it is an interesting "call" nonetheless.

Interesting post.

Christina said...

Great idea to have these guest contributions.
We wouldn't know about this entire area otherwise!
I'm going to read through the post carefully, but I am happy to see such analysis of interesting material coming to light!
I find this subject fascinating.

Glad the Iranian government is invoking Hafez! Very wise, as he is immortal for all Iranians, regardless of political views.

I'd like to see Maulavi prominently brought in to their publicity campaign as well.

[This is the prosaically-named "Rumi" to contemporary Western readers of the miserable translations of his Sufi poetry in the West....! The translators conveniently remove any references to Islam or the Prophet Mohammad and market Maulavi's beautiful lines extolling tolerance as an excuse to promote their own agenda, which I guess generally falls under the banner of "diversity". I won't read any of these modern translations, myself. Not one word, they seem so fake]

That's off the topic, but I look forward to studying this post and the video closely when I have more time.
Thanks for making this available to widen our horizons.

Hafiz said...

Good job man. It's interesting to see how cyberwarfare is becoming part of the disputes and conflicts. One wonders whether Ayatollah Khamenei's call will result in other groups, or whether this group was directly formed as a result.
Also, have there been any cyber attacks from any Al-Qaeda inspired or affiliated groups?

Alexander said...

More on the "internet battlefield" here.