To write and to live in the shadow
The first blog was started in Iran in the beginning of 2001. Since then, the blog culture within the country has grown and there are over 70,000 blogs by Iranians, both inside and outside the country. What are these blogs about? The blogger Marzieh Rasouli describes the phenomenon as a kind of a guerilla network.
I have been a blogger for seven years. When I first started writing, nobody viewed my weblog, but now I have as many visitors as I need to be satisfied. Many things have changed since then; I have had days full of incidents: newspapers I worked for were banned by the government over and over again; I was told off by the Morality Police for not observing Islamic dress code. All my friends have left Iran one after the other. I protested, chanted and fled from the police during the 2009 election protests. My roommate was arrested during a night attack; a year later when I was going to travel to Istanbul to see my friends who came to visit me from London, they seized my passport and barred me from leaving the country; in late 2011, I was arrested on charges of participating in 2009 illegal gatherings and cooperating with foreign media (specifically BBC) for which I spent 42 days in prison including 21 days in solitary; my father was hospitalized; my brother got married and we moved to a new home at my mother’s insistence.
My life was sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter and I wrote about everything that happened to me in my weblog. As time went by, my weblog became fuller. It turned into my autobiography which contained not only important but also ordinary things in my life; for example, the day when I made some jam for the first time and messed up on it or the day when I suspected that a bag left in the bus had a bomb in it but there turned out to be no such thing.
Blogging makes time pass faster and helps me find friends I can share joys and sorrows with. I feel less lonely when I spend time in my weblog. When writing in it, I feel as if what happens to me happens to others too. When I write about the experience of being in solitary—an experience I can never talk about in official media—it seems like I am holding my viewer’s hand and step in the cell again, where we will count days together and await freedom.
This is no unique experience but something which living conditions in Iran might bring to anyone. Something the media regard as a red line and ignores for fear that they would be accused of showing a negative portrayal of the situation, propaganda against the state and cooperating with enemies, charges that can lead to a ban on them. We are a relatively large crowd who narrate the story of our lives regardless of all red lines. We do not care if they do not say a single word about us in the state TV or in newspapers; we find one another through personal pages, and then get closer, make friends and influence each other. Every aspect of our life in Iran is mingled with politics; however, it is still called life, full of things that form life. Even though the government prohibits us and keeps meddling with our Hijab, drinking, partying and hobbies, and despite the fact that the police brings about insecurity instead of safety, we find the way we should live and never try to hide it.
Using filter breakers, we access weblogs and social networks. We show we are not in the minority by writing about all basic, natural things we have the right to but are considered to be illegal, unconventional and obscene by the government. Both the government and we know that we are living a dual life and writing is something we do to remove the borders of this duality. Perhaps the ten-year popularity of blogging among Iranians results from this very dislike we have for our dual life. We do not want to be absent in official documents, so we ourselves make documents, turn into documents, push back the borders drawn by the government and continue to act despite being filtered, although these documents can potentially be used as a testimony against us in Iranian courts and during interrogations.
You can see every type of people in Persian weblogs: those who are politically or socially active in their weblogs, a homosexual man who has never let people know about his sexuality, a woman describing the domestic violence she witnesses, a man who wants to leave university but is under pressure from his family to continue his studies, a pregnant woman with a lot of dreams for her baby, a cook putting new recipes in her/his weblog, a mullah being bullied in the street for being a mullah, etc.
If there was no weblog, many experiences would remain personal within the cage of our bodies. If there was no weblog or social network, part of the Iranian contemporary social history would never be depicted so accurately. We are now a large crowd addicted to writing and reporting. If stories and narratives are censored in newspapers, books, cinema, television and theatre, it does not matter because weblogs and social networks, where we will face fewer red lines, are always there. That’s why when compared to books or newspapers, many accounts or weblogs have more visitors or followers. A girl living in remote parts of Iran is blogging for more than 20,000 visitors, while the readers of a national newspaper may barely reach 10,000 people. Upon muting the voice of an official reporter, thousands of citizens and journalists raise their voices and, as a weapon against oblivion, writing goes on livelily and tirelessly.