Why are the events in Iran after the election receiving so much attention?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

It's now the 5th of July, which means that it has been almost a full 17 days since the election took place in Iran on June 12th. Though mainstream media coverage has fallen by quite a bit since then, there is still quite a bit of attention being paid to the events as they happen by those watching online, especially on Twitter where the hashtag #Iranelection has been on the trending topics every single day (aside from a few hours here and there), and that's even after the unfortunate death of Michael Jackson.

In the United States right now it's still the 4th of July, but nevertheless #Iranelection is still holding up with the Independence Day-themed tweets:


Some on Twitter though are a bit taken aback at #Iranelection staying on the trending topics all this time, either through complete lack of interest (nothing can be done about that) or from a view that Iran is receiving much more attention than a number of other topics, such as poverty in Africa. I had a bit of a discussion on Twitter on that last night.

There are a number of good reasons though why Iran is receiving this much attention, and at the same time deserves it. Here they are in no particular order.

The problem in Iran is clear and easy to understand. Problems are easy to understand when there are clear good guys (the people of Iran that want their votes to count) and bad guys (Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and their supporters) that can be identified. Some may bring up Mousavi's past in the 1980s to show that the matter isn't so black and white, but it really isn't about Mousavi so much as the people of Iran being able to choose who represents them, so it actually is quite clear. The people of Iran were used to give legitimacy to a candidate they did not choose, they are opposed to this, and we can help by continuing to pay attention to events as they occur.

Iran surprised the hell out of many. Nothing was more surprising for many than to find out that Iranians do not all look like this, as many in the West had thought before the election:

but instead something more along the lines of this.

The fact that most Iranians are modern, friendly towards the West, chill, interesting, well-dressed, well-educated, technologically proficient etc. etc. seems to have surprised a great many, and this complete 180 degree shift in the way Iranians are shown in the media I believe has fascinated a great many.

This election is a single event; poverty is a long-term struggle. There's actually no real bias in attention being paid to the events in Iran compared to poverty in Africa or any other part of the world, because if you think about it even if the people of Iran are able to achieve a government that represents their wishes, poverty in Iran will be no more interesting a subject for those on the outside than before. Poverty in Mongolia, poverty in Bulgaria, poverty in Argentina, poverty in Iran...problems to be solved for sure, but these simply don't get the attention that an event like this gets because there is no quick solution to poverty, whereas with Iran there is a quick solution - removing Khamenei and Ahmadinejad from power. The goal actually is to turn Iran into a boring, well-run country. Iranians at the moment would simply love to be bored by their government.

Also note that events in other countries do receive quite a bit of attention when they happen - Myanmar is a good example, as was the "election" in Zimbabwe.

Finally, a bit of solace for those that would like more attention to be paid to other issues as well: think of the aftermath of this election in Iran as a training ground for online activism. What happens once can be repeated again, and there is no reason to think that those watching online won't be eager to help the people of any other country that is having their voices silenced by a repressive government. Some countries are simply too repressive for most on the outside to do anything (North Korea), some don't really have a clear consensus on who is good and who is evil (Honduras), but every once in a while an event like this happens where individuals can make a big difference (remember #CNNFail and how it resulted in better coverage from CNN after a few days), and that's when the internet explodes and we see what we are seeing now.

Final thought: don't forget that it took Iranians over a year to overthrow their government last time, so this is a long-term struggle. In spite of the diminished coverage in the mainstream media it's good to see that attention is being maintained on Twitter and many places online.

And yes, the situation is still very fluid. No reason whatsoever to give up now.

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