Saturday, July 17, 2010

Tehran in Chains (book reviews)

by Azadeh Moaveni

New York Times
July 9, 2010

Do modern communications ultimately hobble or enable dictatorship? Of all the unanswered questions from Iran’s 2009 post-election upheaval — prematurely labeled in the West as the “Twitter revolution” — this remains one of the most urgent and perplexing. Technology, conventional wisdom runs, punches holes through iron curtains. An interrogator can still extract a false confession under duress. But as Roxana Saberi writes in “Between Two Worlds,” the prisoner can recant on ­YouTube immediately upon release.

For all their exhilarating potential, however, the new media can also warp a budding democratic movement, hurling it into premature confrontation with the state. In an account of the contested 2009 presidential election and its brutal aftermath, the pseudonymous author Afsaneh Moqadam argues in “Death to the Dictator!” that Iranians were at best profoundly ambivalent about technology’s role in the protests: “Cellphone cameras, Facebook, Twitter, the satellite stations: the media are supposed to reflect what is going on, but they seem, in fact, to be making everything happen much faster. There’s no time to argue what it all means.”