How Twitter (and other media) is aiding American national security

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

...actually not just American but many other countries as well.

Take a look at the following ten names and terms:

Mousavi
Ahmadinejad
Khatami
Khamenei
Rafsanjani
Guardian Council
Qom
Tabriz
Montazeri
Basiji

How many of those do you recognize? Astute followers of events after the election will recognize them all, and many people will certainly now recognize at least half. Compare that to how many you may have known before the election - the average person probably would have been familiar with maybe one of these (Ahmadinejad), none of the others.

Since the election the hashtag #Iranelection has been on the very top of trending terms almost 100% of the time, people have been doing what they can do aid the protesters, and with that has come a much deeper understanding (at least compared to before) of how the political system in Iran works. Along with that as well has come the breaking down of stereotypes about the Iranian people, from something that probably resembled this:

to something more along the lines of this.

As for why this is important for national security, see this article from today from the New York Times. The biggest problem with countries like the US re: Iran is that the decades of isolation have resulted in a nearly complete lack of understanding of how the country works (is Ahmadinejad the leader? Khamenei? Rafsanjani? The Guardian Council?) and what the people there are like. As the article mentions, having an embassy on the ground is invaluable in just being able to gauge the mood of a country in a way that secondary contact with diplomats from other countries just isn't able to impart.

Note that the term "national security" doesn't necessarily mean hard intelligence gathering either. A more complete understanding of Iraq by the populace back in 2002 would have led to a much tougher questioning of a proposed invasion of a country with such distinct religious and ethnic groups. An informed populace is the best way to keep a government from doing something idiotic that results in a waste of time, money and sometimes even lives.

So far it's been eleven days since the election and as yet no one has any real idea how the situation will be resolved. It's possible that Rafsanjani may be able to work a little magic in Qom to replace Khamenei with a governing council (and Ahmadinejad would be forced to resign there too), or it could take much longer. Don't forget that the last revolution didn't happen right away either but took over a year to play itself out. And so far the American populace has been right on the money in wanting Obama to play it mostly at an arm's length for the moment, as there is no reason to make the United States the story when this election is about Iran and Iran only. A less intelligent and more fearful populace might have been after him to "do more", which would be counterproductive at best and disastrous at worst (giving protesters false hope that the US would be able to save them, then a fierce crackdown by authorities and the realization that the US wasn't going to be able to save them in the first place in spite of all the rhetoric to the contrary).

Also don't forget that Afghanistan is right next to Iran and has Persian (Dari) as an official language, so an understanding of Iran can only help there as well.

Curious about what else you could do to help? You may want to think about learning Persian, a language that is much easier to learn than you might have been led to believe. It also sounds great too.



Learning a language is no easy task but if you've been wanting to learn a foreign language for a while and have been following each and every event after this election, taking it up might be a natural course of action.

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