Muslim Enlightenment: How do we know when it happens?

This paper is an expanded version of a presentation by the author at International Conference of Critical Thinkers for Islamic Reform, Oxford University June-11-13, 2010

Every once in a while a new study surfaces in the United States or some other western country, indicating that the attitude towards Muslims is not only negative but is trending worse over time. A tiny minority in some of these countries even believe that Muslim civil liberties should be curtailed. The response of established Muslim organizations as well as some individual Muslims, generally, is outrage sprinkled with accusations of Islamophobia.
A prime example is the protest in London and elsewhere against the Danish Cartoonists or the murder of Theo Van Gogh the creator of the 10 minute movie “Submission.” In Pakistan, several people died during demonstrations against the cartoonists, and in London one could hear crowds of protestors chanting slogans such as “Behead those who insult Islam” and “Europe is the cancer, Islam is the Answer.” Such behavior not only lends support and credibility to the critics of Islam but, rightly so, brings into question the peaceful nature of Muslims–and as a result Islam.
This further gives rise to frequently asked questions such as: Why are such violent reactions as described above rare among Jews and Christians? How many people in this century died because somebody drew a cartoon of Jesus or burned a Bible as a political statement? How many Christians or Jewish coverts to Islam have had their lives threatened by their former congregants? Why do many Muslim countries not allow churches to be built? Why are Jews and Christians not allowed in Mecca whereas Muslims have no problem visiting almost all the holy places belonging to Jews and Christians? Why are many subjects such as archeological research related to the Quran and Islamic history viewed as “off limits” or if not proscribed, why does one rarely see scholarly works critical of the Quran by Muslims unless the author has been branded “mahareb” or the one who turned away from Islam?
Many Muslims in an attempt to answer these questions resort to apologetic tactics combined with poor excuses in the hope that the problem will go away quickly. All this brings us to the question of this commentary–at what point in time will the Muslims be enlightened enough to accept responsibility for their behavior and condemn these actions en masse? In addition, what factors are needed to bring about this enlightenment and how will we recognize that Muslims have embarked on this journey when it begins?
There are several examples throughout history to look at for clues. The best way, perhaps, is to consider the period of Christian enlightenment. By some accounts the age of reason or enlightenment in the West is pegged around the 18th century although some believe it started earlier in the 15th century and sprang up as a consequence of Luther’s Protestant movement. However, many believe the greatest contributing factor to what made Christian enlightenment possible was the attack on religion. Paul Hazard the 19th century French Scholar states that the aim of the Enlightenment was to ‘put Christianity on trial’. Similarly, Peter Gay Professor of History at Yale (The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (1969), described the Enlightenment as a ‘war on Christianity, and liberation of man from the tyranny of myth.’
When analyzing the Christian example these questions come to mind. Are the right factors in place for an Islamic enlightenment? Considering recent events, particularly after September 11, it is difficult to argue Islam and by association Muslims are not on trial. Muslims have been involved in many high profile indiscriminate attacks in the west not mentioning thousands of Muslims killed and tortured in Muslim countries at the hands of Muslims. It was Muslim terrorists, who bombed a train in Madrid Spain; who held a school hostage in Russia, killing scores of children or attacked a subway in London resulting in 55 people dead.
For Karl Popper, enlightenment is “the effort of men to free themselves to break out of the cage of the closed society, and to form an open society.” It would be short sided and mistaken to assume that the majority of Muslims have an aversion to western globalization and structural changes required for modernity and an open society. However, Muslims have to face the fact that in the twentieth century some of the most oppressive and inhumane societies happen to a be in Muslim countries; the Taliban being a good example. Today, there are still Muslim societies that consider the West the greatest threat to their existence and root their survival in opposing an open society. The philosopher, Henri Bergson who coined the term “closed society” in his writing in 1932, suggested that the reason societies are unable to evolve into “open”, is because religion acts as a mental habit binding human intellect. Some societies are just simply incapable of freeing themselves from the chains of their “cultural constraints.” One can see examples of these mini societies in some Muslim enclaves in Europe and elsewhere where repression of women and forced marriages are the norm.
Karl Popper goes further in ‘The Open Society and its Enemies.’ He states that ‘closed’ societies are profoundly inimical to the idea of human freedom. A fact demonstrated over and over again in recent years in Muslim countries, which are not only slow to adopt new technologies but even try to ban the use of the technological tools of an open society such as Internet, Twitter, and Facebook . When leaders of a closed society feel threatened, technologies such as the Internet and cell phone services are often the first to be shut down, even before the expulsion of reporters. This reinforces the fact that these countries view the open society as a menace, as it encourage an informed population supporting what Kant defines enlightenment to be, “the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance and error–a mental liberation and human self-knowledge no less.” Open societies morph bigotry into tolerance and then to acceptance, marginalize the self righteous and are less susceptible to be tainted with self destructive dogma.
But what completes enlightenment and prevents its corruption according to the seminal 7 page essay by Kant (What is Enlightenment) in 1784 is Critical thinking, a “declaration of independence” for the open mind. Critical thinking interrupts conversation with cultural norms and moves towards independence in pursuit of intellectual freedom and enlightenment. Without a critical mind according to Kant we become “placid” and “dumb cattle” who cannot think for ourselves. Man becomes incapable of using “his understanding without direction from another”, gravitates towards accepting other’s ideas as his falling into the trap of religious emulation and blind following. “I need not think” Kant writes, “if I can only pay.” Enlightened man is not subject to any authority without the use of critical faculty and reason, will not surrender to ignorance and misguided. This brings us to the sad state of critical thinking in Muslim countries. Any critical analysis of the Quran or Islam is generally frowned upon by the Muslim establishments. Up until a few years ago the few critical publications by Muslims had to be published under pseudonyms because of the real threat of physical harm by fellow Muslims that accompanied such writings. There is not a single skeptic organization similar to the internationally known organization “Committee for Skeptical Inquiry” ( in a Muslim country. All archeological work that relates to the Quran or the Islamic theological past is either forbidden, destroyed or conducted undercover. The results are invariably not published widely. Kant correctly reminds us that the enlightened is not afraid of “shadows.” How long would Nietzsche have survived had he been living in a Muslim country today writing “God is dead?”
Considering the factors necessary for the enlightenment to take hold as outlined above namely: attack on religion, open society and critical thinking, Muslims have barely begun the journey. Although some might argue that the attack on Islam is in full swing, there has been little progress in opening Muslim societies or embarking on any form of self criticism; one of the vital ingredients of critical thinking.
However, there is hope. It took 16 centuries before the process of Christian enlightenment started and a few more centuries until as Gay describes in the “Revolution of Reason” gave way to critical thinking and open societies. Muslims are approaching the mid 14th century, according to Islamic calendar and traversing through one of the most spectacular technological era in human history that leaves little room for closed or uninformed populations. Therefore, by all indications Muslim enlightenment is not only inevitable but will come to fruition faster than it did for our Christian brothers.
How will we know that we have reached the shores of enlightenment? The answer is simple; when the large demonstrations by Muslims turn into protests against miscreants like Ben Laden and Anwar Al Awlaki. When talk of enforcing Sharia law is reserved to a few outcasts without the general support of Muslims. When there is no talk of oppression of women in Muslim countries and women are afforded equal opportunity. When burning a Quran is not worthy of news anymore and Muslims can study the book with a critical eye and without the fear of persecution. When the news of rigged elections in Muslim countries is studied in history and not as contemporary events and no Muslim can arise and declare himself representative of God on earth. When Muslims can freely condemn superstitious practices and realize salvation is through self reliance and not through reliance on a hidden Imam at the bottom of a well, as some believe. When Geert Gildner can express his opinion freely while Muslims will engage him in a lively civil discourse. When the right to choose ones path to hell is considered sacred and not interfered with. When synagogues, churches and other non Muslim places of worship can be built in Muslim countries without government opposition. When Muslims can convert to any religion without fear of being murdered. When centuries of traditions (hadith) and Quranic exegesis are openly questioned by Muslims without fear of reprisal and ultimately the final test could be when in a Muslim country a Jew or Christian candidate has equal opportunity to participate in presidential elections.

Fereydoun Taslimi

Now we know why flying saucers rotate!

“A NASA probe orbiting Earth has confirmed two key predictions of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which describes how gravity causes masses to warp space-time around them. “…

 The experiment used four ultra-precise gyroscopes housed in a satellite to measure two aspects of Einstein’s theory about gravity. The first is the geodetic effect, or the warping of space and time around a gravitational body. The second is frame-dragging, which is the amount a spinning object pulls space and time with it as it rotates.”

Saif al-Islam Qaddafi’s friends in high places are typical of the links between wealthy dictators and Western politicians. – By Anne Applebaum – Slate Magazine


Friends in Embarrassing Places

Saif Qaddafi’s connections with the British establishment are typical of the links between wealthy dictators and Western politicians.

By Anne ApplebaumUpdated Monday, Feb. 28, 2011, at 8:09 PM ET

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the Libyan protests.

Saif Qaddafi. Click image to expand.Saif al-Islam QaddafiEvery British newspaper worth its salt has written about Saif al-Islam Qaddafi this week, but the Sunday Times had by far the best graphic illustration. A photograph of Col. Qaddafi’s second son—clad in a white jacket and tasteful silk tie, with a carefully pressed kaffiyeh draped elegantly over his shoulders—occupies the center of a large box.

Photographs of his British friends and business partners cluster in a circle around him: Nat Rothschild, scion of the banking family, who gave a party for Saif when he completed his doctorate on "civil society" and "global governance" at the London School of Economics; Sir Howard Davies, director of the LSE and one of Tony Blair’s economic envoys to Libya; Lord Peter Mandelson, a former Blair adviser, Cabinet minister, and European commissioner, who now advises "companies hoping to expand markets overseas"; Prince Andrew, who promotes British trade abroad; and, last but not least, Blair himself.

Saif was popular. He went to parties in St. James’s Palace and sailed in yachts off Corfu. He was also rich. Thanks to his contacts, he became the conduit through which British companies invested in Libya—and through which the Libyan Investment Authority invested in British companies. At least that was what he was doing until last week, when he appeared on Libyan television vowing that his father’s bloody regime would fight "to the last man, the last woman, the last bullet." Suddenly, the acceptable face of Libyan tyranny became unacceptable. Underneath that Western-educated veneer, it seems there had lurked a ranting psychopath.

Saif was not the only dubious character to inhabit the space where money meets politics in London, the city that has become the true capital of global capitalism. Any list of, say, people with whom Prince Andrew has recently dined will reveal dozens of similarly polished thugs: more Libyans, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and of course the ubiquitous Saudis.

Money, even foreign money (and particularly that Saudi money), has always been able to buy access to Western statesmen. But in the last decade or so, the proportions have subtly shifted. The democratic West has become relatively poorer, while a clutch of undemocratic "emerging" markets have become richer. To put it more bluntly, Western politicians, ex-politicians, and even aristocrats have become much, much poorer than the very, very rich businessmen emerging from the oil-and-gas states of Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. Twenty years ago, no retired British or German statesman would have looked outside his country for employment. Nowadays, Blair advises the governments of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, among others; Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor, collects a paycheck from Gazprom, the Russian energy behemoth.

True, there is a legitimate argument for maintaining contacts with dictators: Blair helped persuade Col. Qaddafi to give up his nuclear weapons program in 2003, and in the last 10 days he has twice called the dictator and asked him to stop shooting his people. It hasn’t helped, of course, but it can’t hurt to try.

But there is no justification for taking dictators’ money or befriending their offspring, especially not while simultaneously playing politics with their parents. This is not just a British problem, either. Frank Wisner, the U.S. envoy sent by President Barack Obama to negotiate with Hosni Mubarak in the early days of the Egyptian revolution, also works for Patton Boggs, a law firm that has worked for the Egyptian government. The administration was reportedly angry when he unexpectedly opined that Mubarak "must stay" just a few days before Mubarak fled Cairo. But should anyone have been surprised? Meanwhile, Michèle* Alliot-Marie, the French foreign minister, has just lost her job because she went on holiday in Tunisia during the revolution, hitched a few rides on a private plane belonging to a friend of the Tunisian president, and helped her father do a business deal there. When she got back, she tactfully suggested that the French help their friends in the Tunisian police put down the riots.

Fingers crossed, Alliot-Marie is the first of many: If Western governments want to have any credibility at all in the post-revolutionary Arab world, they need to stop hiring people, even as "envoys," who are already in the pay of current or former Arab dictators. Blair should resign immediately from his role as an informal negotiator in the Middle East; Prince Andrew should be told to stay home. The Wisners of the world should be sent back into retirement. Finally, for good measure, the legions of former public officials now in the pay of Chinese, Russian, or Saudi businessmen should be kept far away from their previous places of employment, just in case. Come the revolution, you can be sure they will turn out to have embarrassing friends, too.

Saif al-Islam Qaddafi’s friends in high places are typical of the links between wealthy dictators and Western politicians. – By Anne Applebaum – Slate Magazine

Christian author’s book sparks charges of heresy – CNN Belief Blog – Blogs

Christian author's book sparks charges of heresy

Rob Bell is under fire for his latest book before it even hits the shelves.

March 1st, 2011

Christian author’s book sparks charges of heresy

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Rob Bell, a pastor and author who has achieved rock star status in the Christian world, is preaching a false gospel, his critics say. And some of those critics are Christian rock stars in their own right.

The pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bell has authored a book called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, which ignited a firestorm of controversy over the weekend, weeks before it arrives in bookstores.

On Saturday, in a blog post on the popular Christian website The Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor blasted Bell’s new book, out March 29, for teaching "false doctrine":

I’m glad that Rob Bell has the integrity to be lay his cards on the table about universalism. It seems that this is not just optimism about the fate of those who haven’t heard the Good News, but (as it seems from below) full-blown hell-is-empty-everyone-gets-saved universalism.

Universalism, in its broadest terms, preaches that everyone goes to heaven and that there is no hell. Critics say it represents a break from traditional Christianity, which they say holds that heaven and hell are very real places. In most Christian circles, universalism is a dirty word.

Taylor’s post was quickly tweeted by several prominent pastors, including John Piper and Mark Driscoll, connected to the Gospel Coalition, a coalition of theologically conservative evangelical churches, and a full-blown theological controversy was on. By Monday, Taylor’s response post had racked up a quarter million hits.

Other bloggers, meanwhile, are calling Bell an outright heretic.

Bell is not the first prominent Christian pastor to be recently accused of wading into theologically troubled waters. Bishop Carlton Pearson, once a mentee of famed Pentecostal televangelist Oral Roberts, has been run out of two churches and branded a heretic for preaching what he says is a gospel of inclusion with broad universalist themes.

Last year, Brian McLaren – a popular Christian author and a former pastor – was accused of breaking with Christian orthodoxy and delving headlong into universalism in his book A New Kind of Christianity.

But it’s rare that theological arguments become top ten trending topics on Twitter, as Rob Bell did on Saturday.

“To be honest, it was a pretty rough weekend,” Taylor said in a phone interview. The 34-year-old heads the editorial content for Crossway, a Christian publishing company in Wheaton, Illinois.  Taylor he says his blog expresses his personal opinion not the opinion of the coalition.

"We’re talking about the big things here, things that have been historically defined as orthodox, " he said. "I have a high degree of confidence in what God is saying and what we can understand."

Though many things that separate Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians, “this isn’t one of them," Taylor said. "We’ve historically agreed on many things, the person of Christ, heaven and hell. This isn’t a peripheral academic debate. What Rob Bell is talking about gets to the heart of Christianity.”

Taylor has not read Bell’s forthcoming book in its entirety. His blog post was in response to the description released by Bell publisher HarperOne and a promotional video that features Bell.

"Rob Bell hasn’t sinned against me personally,” Taylor said, which is why he did not go to Bell before making his comments public. Instead, Taylor said, Bell’s book represents a clear example of false teaching.

In the promotional video Bell refers to the nonviolent Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, and asks, "Gandhi’s in hell? He is?"

Christian author’s book sparks charges of heresy – CNN Belief Blog – Blogs

Spinning the Revolution – By Christina Larson | Foreign Policy


From Glenn Beck to the Taliban, everyone’s got something to say about the Egyptian uprising.


One curious thing about events that catch most of the world by surprise: With a bit of clever reflection — call it 20-30 hindsight — it’s incredibly easy for ideologues of all stripes around the globe to see what they want (or what they say they’ve predicted). And after the Egyptian revolution, there has been no shortage of people claiming, "See? I was right all along!" Some of these views reflect cultural or political biases, but some are just downright ridiculous.

Take conservative American talk-show host Glenn Beck, whose success as a pundit of outrage depends upon identifying and hyping the next threat to Western civilization. He sees in Egypt’s revolution the invisible workings of an Islamic caliphate bent on ruling much of the Middle East. "When I say that there’s a caliphate — that it is a desire of the Islamic extremists in the Middle East — that is not a conspiracy theory," he said on his talk show last Thursday. "They want a caliphate. Look it up … so don’t talk to me about crazy conspiracy theories." In Beck’s version of the coming Armageddon, the world is divided between good and evil and really evil — that is, between his listeners, the "uber left," and the "Islamicists." The revolution in Egypt, or rather, the alleged rise of the caliphate, therefore only proves his long-held contention that American values are under siege — and the worst is yet to come.

Given the extended news cycle focused on the Middle East, Beck added an extra note of alarm on Monday. He connected activists in Egypt using online organizing tools with Google as an "instigator of a revolution" with an American "government partnering covertly with media organizations, search engines, social networking so they can bring change that the Washington elites have designed." In other words, revolution in Egypt may serve the purposes of the Islamic caliphate, but it’s actually the product of a plot hatched inside the Beltway. Talk about strange bedfellows.


Meanwhile, others in Washington were more than happy to take credit for having launched a master plot to liberate Egypt. Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz — one of the architects of the American invasion of Iraq and President George W. Bush’s "Freedom Agenda" — sat down with the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page editor on Saturday to discuss why the fall of Mubarak ought to be filed under a neoconservative "Mission Accomplished" banner. "The people who have said for years that somehow Arabs didn’t care about freedom are just dead wrong," he told Paul Gigot in an interview for Journal Editorial Report, broadcast on FOX News. The Bush freedom wave might have taken a while to catch on, but now he sees it knocking down dominoes everywhere. "Look, when the tide of freedom is sweeping, we should love it. And when it’s headed in the wrong direction, then we’ll have a lot more credibility to say, whoa, this isn’t freedom anymore."

Wolfowitz’s former colleague and ideological soul mate, former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, meanwhile fired off a quick piece for the National Review Online that didn’t beat around the bush: "Bush’s insight is being vindicated now on the streets of Cairo," he wrote. "Meanwhile, the American foreign-policy establishment’s wily foxes, who perceived the regimes of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the Gulf as embodiments of stability, are not looking too astute." By contrast, Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo and subsequent outreach to the Muslim world were summarily written off: "When addressing the world’s Muslims in his 2009 Cairo speech, President Obama dealt cursorily with democracy."


The heated news cycle also provided an opportunity for the Afghan Taliban’s message machine, which on Monday released a statement online laying out how "developments in Egypt have a clear message for the invading Americans and their surrogates in Afghanistan." The fact that Egypt receives significant aid from the U.S. government was conflated, metaphorically, with invasion. And the ousting of a leader who accepted "all-sided American and Israeli assistance in financial, political, and intelligence fields" was taken as evidence that, in the Arab world, any relationship with the United States is tantamount to the kiss of death.


Setting aside conspiracy theorists and professional ideologues, the state-run presses of authoritarian countries have also scrambled for creative — and counterintuitively reaffirming — ways to interpret Egypt’s revolution. A commentary in the state-run China Daily, for instance, focused attention on Beijing’s first-order obsession: the maintenance of social stability. "The nationwide protests have taken a heavy toll on the country’s social stability and economic activity. … An immediate priority for the military is to crack down on violent crime and terrorism, and rapidly restore social stability. Extremists and terrorists will waste no time in exploiting Egypt’s current upheaval to pursue their own agendas." Another state-run paper, Global Times, ran articles exploring how the conniving West was busy deciding Egypt’s fate.

That’s not to say that other independent voices within China haven’t also — quite daringly — voiced alternative interpretations. A Feb. 14 editorial in Century Weekly, the news and finance magazine led by iconic editor-in-chief Hu Shuli, suggested instead that: "Autocracy creates instability; democratic deliberations lead to peace. Support for the replacement of an authoritarian regime would only serve short-term interests. Only the establishment of democratic institutions in the Middle East will form a fundamental basis for long-term stability."


For its part, Russia Today, the state-run English-language TV network, turned to longtime Washington-based political activist and conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche to help interpret events in the Middle East. Speaking on Jan. 31, before President Hosni Mubarak had stepped down, LaRouche empathized, in a way, with the Egyptian leader as yet another victim of global economic mismanagement. "The Egyptian government is playing a very crafty role, in trying to live out the storm, in hopes of coming back to some kind of stability," he said. "The problem the Egyptian government has is that economic crisis does not give it, or any other nation right now, much of an option for stabilizing their situation." LaRouche has long fingered flaws in the global financial system as the cause of sundry social ills.

Meanwhile, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev seized the moment to fire shots at his Kremlin successors. In an interview published on Wednesday Fen. 16 in the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, he described Russia’s current ruling class as "rich and dissolute," adding, "I’m ashamed for us and for the country." As he told a Russian radio station on Tuesday: "If things continue the way they are [in Russia], I think the probability of the Egyptian scenario will grow."


In Iran, the hard-line newspaper Kayhan envisioned America in the director’s chair as the sinister force manipulating the hapless Mubarak regime: "What has been implemented by the army is a precise scenario, whose playwright is America," one article read. "Egypt’s army was instructed to keep a theatrical distance from Mubarak, Omar Suleiman, the police and the security forces, in order to show that it is distinct from the regime. In actual fact, it has been instructed to hijack the popular revolution." As ever in Iran’s eyes, America is once again controlling events behind the scenes — and subverting the popular will of Arab countries.


Perhaps the most opportunistic — and vexing — messaging, if only because it’s the most influential, has been that of Barack Obama’s administration. As the situation in Egypt unfolded, the White House and State Department issued somewhat different public interpretations of events. And, like most every other world leader — except the prime minister* of Denmark, who presumably felt he had little diplomatic influence with Mubarak to lose — Obama resisted pressure to call publicly for Mubarak to step down. But once the Egyptian president was out the door, Obama was quick to hail his exit. "The people of Egypt have spoken. Their voices have been heard and Egypt will never be the same," he said in a live television address on Feb. 11. Granted, Obama was right to acknowledge that it must be Egyptians who decide their future. "By stepping down, President Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people’s hunger for change."

Spinning the Revolution – By Christina Larson | Foreign Policy

My Computer Store – Free WiFi for Iran umm..


Reportedly, Senator John McCain wants Predators to provide with uncensored Wi-Fi coverage to the people of Iran. I don’t know if this is even technically possible, but its so preposterous and fantastically cool that I love the idea:

During the Cold War, we provided the Polish people and dissidents with printing presses. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are the modern-day printing presses. They are the way to spread information and keep the hope of freedom alive amongst the Iranian people

Of course, the Predators—or whatever other method—could be taken down with missiles or fighter planes, but the basic idea is spot on: Give everyone free access to information at any cost.

Free dissemination of information is one of the keys to the independence and freedom of citizens everywhere. Actually, I wish there was some kind of global Wi-Fi system—one that will allow any citizen in the world to access information freely, without intervention of dictators and authoritarian figures in China, North Korea, Iran, or Cuba.

Maybe some crazy nerds with loads of money could work on something like that. You know, like Paul Allen putting a buttload of money, Steve Wozniak leading a new space-based Wi-Fi hardware standard, and John Carmack providing with cheap rockets to launch satellites. [AFP]

My Computer Store – Free WiFi for Iran umm..

Iranian Activists: Fight for Iran is Battle Over Access to Technology | National Security Network

“we need a Satellite to provide free internet access to Iran”

Iranian Activists: Fight for Iran is Battle Over Access to Technology


Press Release 23 March 2010

 Iran Green Movement iran Technology

Washington, D.C. – After the 2009 political upheaval in Iran, both the strength of the Iranian government and momentum of the Green movement remain unclear. Both have endured, and both continue to be major forces in Iranian politics.

The Century Foundation (TCF) and the National Security Network (NSN) convened the first of several advisory groups to examine these issues and formulate recommendations on a way forward for Western governments concerned both with human rights inside Iran and the larger geopolitical situation around Iran. The group included eminent Americans and Europeans as well as Iranians with ties to the Green movement.  This first meeting focused heavily on the role technology can play in connecting Iranians to each other and the world and articulated several recommendations, including:

•    Increase Iranian public access to the internet by sanctioning companies that assist the Iranian government in Internet filtering, surveillance and eavesdropping.
•    Build free, secure email access for activists to use inside Iran. There is no major secure free email in Iran.
•    Facilitate the provision of high-speed Internet via satellite. The regime deliberately has slowed the internet to reduce the time in which Iranians can communicate and read the internet.
•    Dedicate a hardened satellite to host Iranian channels. This would enable effective Persian news services, such as the BBC Persian and Voice of America to escape the Islamic Republic’s routine jamming efforts. This is one of the most important measures that can be under taken.
•    The full recommendations can be found at the end of this release as well as at &

"Technology is the very most important thing," said one Iranian activist who is a professor in Tehran. "Lack of access to technology is the biggest problem the Greens have now." The Iranian activists emphasized that the current crisis could turn on the degree to which each side has access to the internet. The recommendations-which will be passed along to government officials and members of Congress-also emphasize that the United States should embark on a clear policy to liberalize the power of digital technologies.

"Such a policy focused on technology would be a much more effective strategy to eventually bring political reform to Iran, rather than broad-based U.S. sanctions that are likely to harm the Iranian people. While direct U.S. assistance could taint the Green movement and prompt the regime to impose an even more severe crackdown on civil society, there are measures the U.S. government could take to make it easier for Iranians to communicate with each other inside Iran and with the outside world," said Geneive Abdo, who convened the working group and is the editor of Echoing concerns from Iranian dissidents, Abdo continued that "The Iranian activists believe it is time for the United States to broaden its approach to Iran and pursue several policies at once. They emphasized that the options for dealing with Iran should not be two stark choices of a military attack or fullylegitimizing the regime, but a third way — gradually empowering civil society in order to reform the Islamic republic."

Co-convener Heather Hurlburt, Executive Director of the National Security Network, added:  "These recommendations show that there is a rich mine of options for dealing with Iran — and a deep bench of talented people thinking hard about the problem — beyond the sterile Washington debate on sanctions.  If Iran policy is to succeed now where it has failed before, we need to listen to their voices."

TCF – NSN Advisory Task Force on Iran: Initial Recommendations

The project at The Century Foundation and the National Security Network are convening a year-long advisory task force comprised of North American, European, and Iranian participants, well-connected either to their respective countries’ policy-making on Iran or, in the case of the Iranians, to civil society and the Green Movement.  The group aims to improve understanding of the political crisis inside Iran, particularly the state of the regime and the opposition, and to focus attention on policy steps that will be most effective in helping Iranians to reform their political system without empowering the regime against either its own people or other nations.
At the group’s first meeting on February 19 in Washington, D.C., a number of prominent Iranian activists focused the group’s attention on the high importance of information technology, and the regime’s success in using it to limit and control free expression and activism. They emphasized the important roles Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube play for Iranian dissidents to communicate with each other and obtain information about events inside Iran, which are often misrepresented in the country’s state-run media. Yet, Western thinking about sanctions and other actions that would help dissidents has not been focused in this area-and, surprisingly, some Western companies are playing a role in jamming and surveillance of the activists’ communications.  
The Iranian activists unanimously agreed that the United States should embark on a clear policy to liberalize the power of digital technologies. At the same time, they said they opposed more broad-based U.S. sanctions and expressed great concern with moves intended to "help" the opposition that might give the regime excuses to claim foreign interference and deepen an already repressive crackdown on civil society.  As a solution that would help the opposition without tainting it, they recommended a list of measures that the U.S. government could undertake in order to combat the coercive actions of the Iranian government while also making it easier for Iranians to connect to the outside world through the Internet and satellite television.  
Executive Branch Recommendations

Increase Iranian Public Access to Unfiltered Internet

•   Sanction companies that assist the Iranian government in Internet filtering, surveillance, and eavesdropping.

Support Tools that Allow Iranians to Communicate Freely In and Outside Iran

•    Provide Skype credits. This Internet service allows Iranians inside the country to establish secure means of communications with those outside the country. By purchasing Skype credit, as low as $30 dollars, users would be able to contact the outside world freely without fearing government’s eavesdropping efforts.
•   Build free, secure e-mail access for the use of activists inside Iran. There is no major secure free e-mail in Iran. Yahoo Mail provides very little security. Gmail provides more security, but is still vulnerable to key loggers. The Iranian government banned Gmail access recently, thus disabling access to Gmail’s relatively better e-mail services.
•   Encourage/permit tech companies to support Persian-language online advertising. This would give Iranians abroad another private-sector tool to target those inside the country and allow websites promoting human rights or help to distribute information to make a small amount of advertising money needed in order for them to pay for their costs.
•    Fund/permit Persian-fluent web developers to partner in building websites for civil society. There is a need for developers to build Persian websites. There are a number of web developers outside Iran who have good command of Persian and are willing to build such websites. Payment to such developers inside Iran can be capped at $30,000 a year per organization in order to limit abuses.

Legislative Branch Recommendations

Use Sanctions, Technology to Counter Satellite Jamming The Islamic Republic sends jamming signals to commercial satellites, disrupting their broadcasts. Many commercial satellites are reluctant to host Persian- language television channels fearing their satellites might get attacked. These satellites can be jammed because uploads and downloads are sent on a fixed frequency. Newer commercial and military satellites, however, are built to resist such jamming with noise filtering and anti-jamming equipment.

•    Levy sanctions on foreign and Iranian companies actively involved in helping the Iranian government’s satellite jamming. Prominent Western satellite firms are helping the government block Iranians’ access to foreign news networks such as the BBC, VOA, and German television, and providing satellite services to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Broadcasting (IRIB), such as IntelSat and EUtelSat of France.
•    Dedicate a hardened satellite to host Iranian channels. This would enable effective Persian news services, such as BBC Persian and Voice of America, to escape the Islamic Republic’s routine jamming efforts. This is one of the most important measures that can be undertaken by the U.S. government in order to ease the free flow of information to Iran.
•    Facilitate the provision of high-speed Internet via satellite. The regime deliberately has slowed the internet to reduce the time in which Iranians can communicate and read the internet.  Making alternative satellites available-aside those used by the regime-could allow Iranians to have high-speed Internet.
•    Broadcast digital content via satellite to millions of users in Iran. This is less expensive than the two-way satellite connection discussed above. One-way content delivery would permit the transmission of popular websites, such as YouTube, to users inside the country.  

Increase Iranian Public Access to Unfiltered Internet

•    Exempt from sanctions export of software, hardware, technology, and services to overcome the Iranian government’s means to block or filter internet access.  Currently, companies such as Microsoft and Google block downloads by Iranians, fearing they might violate U.S. sanction laws. For example, GTalk and Google Earth are not available to Iranian users. The government can easily access such technologies through its proxies abroad, but citizens cannot.


Iranian Activists: Fight for Iran is Battle Over Access to Technology | National Security Network