Iran's Forbidden Images

September 22, 1994

King Canute of Denmark failed to beat back the tides. The theocrats ruling Iran will fail to beat back the airwaves.

Iran's parliament has voted to ban satellite dish television antennas, already in use by thousands of Iranians, because Asian and Western programs corrupt Islamic values in the eyes of the guardians. It is "cultural occupation" in the eyes of Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Mostafa Mirsalim, who ought to know.

Those Americans able to analyze our own television fare without succumbing to addiction must agree with him. There's a lot of trash out there, much of it subversive of any values.

No one knows the subversive power of new communications technology better than the minions of Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and president, Hashemi Rafsanjani. Their leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, overthrew the police state of the late Shah of Iran with tapes of sermons smuggled from Paris. They don't want anyone doing that to them.

Censorship of the printed word is a hallowed tradition in many cultures. There is much to fear on printed paper. Dictators have always tried to control what their people see, lest they ingest unapproved ideas. Books can be confiscated. Papers can be blacked out. Writers can be intimidated. But even with this old technology, censorship invariably fails in the end.

Now, those who would filter out unapproved thoughts and ideas must contend with short wave radio, satellite-beamed television, faxes, PCs, modems, micro-tapes, VCRs, direct-dial telephones and even the printed word.

What they always fail to realize is that the only effective antidote to a blasphemous word is an inspiring word, to a wrong idea is a better idea, to a false doctrine is a refutation, to infamous words is noble language, to false value is true value, and to squalid image is uplifting image.

Some members of Iran's parliament actually voted against the dish ban on the ground that the technology will be overtaken and the ban cannot cope effectively with impurity. They know a thing or two. Catching a beam from a satellite and hurling it back into the void before contamination is a neat trick. No one can do it for long.

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