Joseph Braude has an interesting piece in TNR arguing that the rise of the internet and blogging may be harming rather than helping the cause of reform in Iran, in part by moving political and cultural debate out of the public sphere and into a relatively private sphere:
The Internet may actually impede political change in Iran as much as it facilitates it. While 100,000 or so Iranians post their passions to the blogosphere, 4,900,000 other users are evidently doing something else. It is well known, for example, that Iranians massively consume Western entertainment--sports media, pop music, and other elements of global culture that the regime in Tehran bans from the public sphere. This injection of hours of hi-speed fun into Iranian homes makes daily life under a theocracy less different from daily life anywhere else--and probably less difficult to tolerate. The advent of Web use in Iran might be less of a net gain for dissidents than many Iran watchers expect because the revolutionary change Iranians want has already arrived. And the truce between the reigning mullahs and their subjects may well have been fortified, rather than undermined, as a result.
The trouble with the rise of the Internet in Iran is that rather than unite the two groups against the regime, the new medium may instead isolate them from each other. The ranks of Jeffersonian idealists are less likely to be swelled by fans of Jefferson Airplane and "The Jeffersons" if the latter crowd can at last enjoy its new media risk-free--without sticking their necks out in a political movement inspired by the former. As far as the shallow side of youth culture is concerned, the cause of reclaiming Iran's public space from its self-appointed guardians of public virtue--who ban hand-holding in parks and foreign films from movie houses--is less urgent in the twenty-first century than in the twentieth: Internet dating, movie downloads, and other gifts of the global village have effectively stocked private space with countless Western trimmings.
But if the Internet played a role in counteracting the Islamist agenda in Israel, it has probably been a blessing to Islamists in Iran: that is, a boon to the status quo. The Iranian government seems to have figured out how to use the medium to its advantage: Over the past four years, the regime's strategy of social control over the Internet has switched from sweeping security crackdowns to the more subtle practice of technological filtration, accompanied by the periodic jailing of some bloggers. No other Muslim country, to my knowledge, has gone through a similar evolution. Back in May 2001, Tehran police shut down more than 400 cyber cafés in advance of the country's June elections. Four years later, the government has replaced such clumsy measures with more targeted efforts against specific kinds of Internet use. According to OpenNet Initiative, a collaborative partnership among Harvard Law School, the University of Toronto, and the University of Cambridge, the regime has adopted "one of the world's most substantial Internet censorship regimes." And it's what the government is--and isn't--censoring that's particularly noteworthy: "Currently, Iran's filtering focuses on Iran-related, and particularly Farsi-language, content. Non-Iran specific sites, such as news, human rights, and foreign government pages, are subject to less filtering, though pornography, sex, gay, and some proxy and circumvention Web sites are subject to censorship with varying degrees of effort." In other words, the sites that could really hurt the government--those maintained by Iranian political dissidents--are heavily censored. By contrast, foreign sites that allow Iranians to participate at a distance in Western culture are less likely to be blocked.
Meanwhile, Iran's public sphere is becoming less, rather than more, permissive. In the summer of 1998, I observed a relaxing of restrictions on public displays of affection, Western music, and other hot button issues of domestic concern--a shift that was widely discussed and commonly credited to the reformist president. Today, those concessions are being rolled back; for instance, Iran's new president has banned Western music from all radio broadcasts. Hardliners are freer than they were several years ago to mold public behavior according to their ideals--perhaps because liberals are freer than they were several years ago to experience global culture at home according to their whims.
I doubt that optimism about Iranian blogs is cooling enthusiasm for action against Iran, which is how he frames the piece - more likely it will be taken as evidence that the Iranian people are stockpiling their hugs and puppies to welcome us as liberators. But aside from that, I think that the basic point is an intriguing and important one. I don't know nearly enough about the Iranian blogosphere to say whether or not he's right, but as a think piece it's provocative and worth a read.