Commentary: Martyrs – popstars of the internet age


Published in “Die Welt” on December 27 2009
Source (German):

By Daniel-Dylan Böhmer

What has happened to the twitter revolution? Last summer, the media prophets wanted to make us believe that the regime in Iran will be defeated by cell phone cameras and internet forums. Nothing of that kind has happened. The youth has been blogging, the powerful have been beating – and everything remained the same as before. After all, the internet is a news medium – not a democracy machine.

Photo: AP/AFP

On the festival of Ashura that is taking place these days, the protest seems to mingle with the archaic rituals of Shiite Islam – the bloody passion in reminiscence of the downfall of caliph Hussein who was defeated by the overwhelming power of the caliph of the Sunnis.

Just like then, the opponents rally around the martyrs, the young idealists who fell victim to the regime’s brutality. One of them now is probably the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hussein Moussavi. Are figures like him the pop stars of the protests, or symbolic figures for the opposition’s powerlessness?

Of course, martyrdom plays a special role in Shiite-dominated cultures – however, not in Shiite cultures only, but also in completely non-islamic and non-religious contexts. Think of Christian religious stories, or of Sacco and Vanzetti.

Martyrs symbolize the victory of truth over violence: Even if the rulers win on the battle field, their downfall will eventually come. The brutality of the mullahs of all things shows that they are morally defeated and therefore can not survive. This is the message of this story. The story can not make revolutions, however, it can nourish resistance, keeping it alive under ground for a long period of time.

However, the internet is only as good as the stories it has to spread. It is a news system, not a democracy machine.


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