While Iran's leader blogs, his authorities clamp down

ON BLOGS

August 20, 2006|By TROY MCCULLOUGH | TROY MCCULLOUGH,SUN COLUMNIST

How's this for irony: While Iran continues an orchestrated clampdown on "dissident" bloggers, the country's president decided to start a Web site of his own.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched a blog recently (ahmadinejad.ir), which can be read in Arabic, Persian and English, and is apparently aimed at gaining the attention and support of the outside world. His initial autobiographical post veers into anti-Western diatribe and is about typical of what you'd expect from a man who questions whether the Holocaust happened and continues to call for the destruction of Israel.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press and Reuters report, Iranian authorities are arresting bloggers and censoring blogs with increasing zeal.

Once boasting one of the most active online cultures in the Muslim world, Iran now appears intent at maintaining control over its citizens' online activities at all costs.

Empowered by Ahmadinejad's election in 2004, authorities have blocked access to thousands of blogs and news Web sites, and have arrested as many as 50 bloggers over the past two years, the Associated Press reports.

"It's the classic Iranian battle of freedom against controls," Isa Saharkhiz, a member of the Iranian branch of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told reporters. "The crackdown on bloggers is part of a growing censorship policy by the state."

Early last week, after coming to the attention of several prominent American bloggers, Ahmadinejad's blog went offline for a time. The site apparently crashed under the pressure of a sudden increase in traffic after it was highlighted by several prominent American bloggers.

Some people, however, have entertained an alternative explanation for the blog's sudden collapse: It's not impossible that Ahmadinejad had somehow offended the easily incensed authorities in charge of monitoring such things.

Could it be possible that Ahmadinejad fell victim to his own crackdown?

1984 Security

The influential site Boing Boing hasn't been shy lately in registering its distaste for the latest travel restrictions put in place after British authorities uncovered an apparent midair bomb plot.

In a post on Monday, author Mark Frauenfelder offered a technique to allow air passengers departing from Britain to overcome the book and magazine ban: Frauenfelder suggests that people print the text of books - "from Project Gutenberg, or ones that have been released under a creative commons license" - onto iron-on transfer paper and then place the text onto a very long piece of cloth that you can pass off as a piece of clothing.

"If airport security says your long strip of printed cloth doesn't count as a garment you can either wrap it around your head like a giant turban," Frauenfelder wryly continues, "or you can print it on a narrow scarlet sash and tell them that it's an emblem of the Junior Anti-Sex League and proceed to wind it several times round the waist of your overalls, just tightly enough to bring out the shapeliness of your hips."

For those of you not paying attention, that last bit was an Orwellian reference.

troy.mccullough@baltsun.com

Listen to Troy McCullough's podcasts at baltimoresun.com/onblogs.

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