The Iran problem and theocracies

One of the larger pieces of news over the last few weeks was the Iranian election. Or what passes for an election anyway. As I’m sure everybody has heard by now, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was allegedly re-elected and Mir Hossein Mousavi, was apparently not. As Mousavi seemed to have a lot of popular support this shocked many Iranians who took to the streets to voice their disapproval. The regime, led by Supreme Leader issued stern warnings and eventually cracked down on dissent with violence. This was accompanied by an attempt to control information. Not allowing journalists to properly cover events, and attempting to control and censor the internet connections to and out of Iran. Typical of a theocratic mindset. We see the same thing on a very small scale on some religious blogs. Post a sound rebuttal to some argument and it is deleted, at least at some sites. Can’t let people see that. Fortunately, the educated populace of Iran managed to skirt around some of these issues and get videos posted to youtube and so forth.

But what about the internet censorship? Apparently two companies are involved in developing the technology to help the religious leaders of Iran monitor and possibly block internet access, Nokia, and Siemens. From the article:

in confronting the political turmoil that has consumed the country this past week, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes, according to these experts.

The monitoring capability was provided, at least in part, by a joint venture of Siemens AG, the German conglomerate, and Nokia Corp., the Finnish cellphone company, in the second half of 2008, Ben Roome, a spokesman for the joint venture, confirmed.

How does it work?

Deep packet inspection involves inserting equipment into a flow of online data, from emails and Internet phone calls to images and messages on social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Every digitized packet of online data is deconstructed, examined for keywords and reconstructed within milliseconds. In Iran’s case, this is done for the entire country at a single choke point, according to networking engineers familiar with the country’s system. It couldn’t be determined whether the equipment from Nokia Siemens Networks is used specifically for deep packet inspection.

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Big Brother is alive and well in Iran. From a technology standpoint, it is kind of cool how it works, but ultimately is fundamentally at odds to a healthy democracy. Interestingly, the President of Iran has little real power. The ultimate power rests with the undemocratically selected Supreme Leader. From the Wiki:

However, certain executive powers, such as command of the armed forces and declaration of war and peace, remain in the hands of the Supreme Leader.[5] Furthermore the Supreme Leader may even dismiss the president and prevent the legitimation of any law (appointed by assembly) by the institutions under his control, the Guardian Council and the Expediency Council.

So, that’s the real problem. A shining example of how religion mixed with politics leads to a mindset critical of openness, and insidiously controlling of all. Iran needs a velvet revolution. I doubt that will happen though as this is not a threat to national identity and does not interfere with local religious practices. But it should inspire all of us to vigorously support the American United for Separation of Church and State organization.

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One Response to “The Iran problem and theocracies”

  1. sleekmason Says:

    The implications that begin with this post: http://sleekmason.wordpress.com/2009/06/28/pay-attention/ will make everything clear.

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