The facts happening in these days in Iran have been and still are evident to anyone. After the alleged rigging of ballots, the President Ahmadinejad was elected once again in Iran the last mid June. This unleashed formal protests coming from the defeated candidate Moussavi which then let loose more violent and widespreaded acts of protest on the streets of Teheran and in the main cities of the Country.
As dreaded, the Iranian police did not stay inactive, but reacted with unequalled violence and repression, arresting lots of young people, torturing them and killing an undefined number of people in the streets. This repression continued on the Net, since it was the place elected by some brave bloggers to widespread news on the development of the events, skilfully using also some social networks like Twitter and Facebook. The press agencies worldwide were at first interested in the events, but then gradually moved their attention away, when the news flow coming from Iran slowed down, mainly due to the closure of some blogs that were afraid to be tracked through an IP and then be charged of capital crime (!!!).
Many outraged reactions follow each other on the Net, together with petitions and causes to be followed in the well known way of social networks (even if its real effectiveness is now doubtful). I think other words of comment are now useless. They would sound banal in a situation that we – people from the West world (and certainly Italians) – do not even try to understand since we have never, never found ourselves in a such situation of repression.
I decided therefore to use Digicult as spokeman and create a short-circuit between some artistic and creative news and an important political event, i.e. the crisis in Iran. I wanted to make Digicult a small instrument of support, anyway without changing its roots and its cultural and editorial aim. Moreover I discovered the project Persepolis 2.0: it is a re-editing project by the graphic novel Persepolis created by the Iranian Marjane Satrapi which has had a lot of international success and offers a geographic and editorial comparison between the Iranian Revolution of 1979 (which is part of the original history) and what is happening nowadays in the Country. For this reason I decided first of all to support the project as requested, i.e. copying the Html code of the graphic tables on Digicult’s homepage (all readers are kindly requested to do the same) and secondly to widespread it through Facebook. Last but not least I tried to get an interview for this edition of Digimag. It is an interview made in 24 hours, just before the publication of the newspaper, but it honours us and we hope it can be another small anchor to help the struggling Iranian people.
Marco Mancuso: First of all, I would like to know something more about your idea and your project Persepolis 2.0. Of course, it started to protest after the police riots against post-election uprising protest movement again Ahmadinejad, but I think you had have the idea to spread the word of what is happening in your country using both the Internet/social Networks and the easy impact of a worlwide famous graphic novel like Persepolis. Do you want to tell me more about the genesis of the project?
Sina & Payman: The idea came out of an intense desire to do SOMETHING. We both live in a country where political protests are illegal and in any case we are a bit cynical about the effectiveness of demonstrations or petitions. So the day after the first intense crackdown (June 20th), we brainstormed ways to help in an effective way. We quickly realized that our friends in the US and Belgium (where we grew up) did not really understand what was going on in Iran and so that whatever we do should address this gap in understanding. The decision to use Marjane Satrapi’s image was based on two reasons. First, Persepolis is an iconic work that has been seen by millions, thus enhancing the effectiveness of our project. However the second and more important reason was that her images of the Revolution of 1979 mirrored so well the events that were happening in 2009. In both cases millions of Iranians demonstrated all across Iran against political and social repression. We worked on this from 6pm until 3am for a week straight and then launched it last Saturday.
Marco Mancuso: Which is your background? Are you graphic designers? and, how did you work technically on the graphic novel, using the same characters, the same identical original iconography
Sina & Payman: We are both marketing managers. I focus on word-of-mouth marketing for global startups while Payman focuses on global marketing for large brands. Technically it was pretty easy, we used Photoshop to replace the text with our own and Illustrator to place the images together. The hardest part was choosing the images to faithfully reflect the events of that week.
Marco Mancuso: Did you contact also the original author Marjane Satrapi? Will you work also on other chapters, focussing on other moments, of Iranian post-election protest?
Sina & Payman: We do have permission to use her images, and we are now working on other ways to help educate non-Iranians about what is happening in Iran
Marco Mancuso: You ask to the Internet activist community to spread the project Persepolis 2.0 on the net. Which backdrops did you receive from the Net until know? I know you’re starting collecting stats about the domain, so how do you want to use them?
Sina & Payman: Since launching the site 6 days ago there have been more than 50,000 unique visitors from 150 countries. This propagation has taken off completely on its own via Facebook. Though there have been articles published about Persepolis 2.0 in the mass media, they have generated very little traffic compared with from Facebook. We have received a large volume of emails from all over the world asking how they can best support Iranians, and we’ve also received many emails from Iranians within Iran thanking us for helping get the word out. Moving forward, we look to leverage the publicity that Persepolis 2.0 has received to inspire “regular” people worldwide to produce creative expressions of solidarity… there’s a reason why artists and writers are considered so ‘dangerous’ for a corrupt establishment.
Marco Mancuso: What is happening in Iran now is something so terrible and against human rights, that it’s very uneasy to tollarate and accept for us. I could not imagine what it means if you are Iranian born like you. So, which are your feelings at the moment, what could really happen in the near future in Iran according to you? How is strong the hope looking also at the next big national strike of the next week?
Sina & Payman: Iranians of my generation have been defined by an event (The Revolution of ’79) that they never experienced. The ruling class in Iran has until now has repressed any attempt to create a freer society and this has led to a generally apathetic mindset. However the hope preceding this election and the mass demonstrations that followed have infused us all with a sense of hope that this regime may indeed evolve more quickly than we ever believed. I think the majority of Iranians aren’t advocating regime change, just more social, economic, and political freedom with less corruption. So even though the street protests have been ‘crushed’ with thousands still in jail and being tortured, public faith and trust in the regime has largely collapsed. All this is to say that the national strike and other measures like it will affect the regime and eventually will lead to a more free Iran. How many years did it take for there to be an African-American named Hussein in the White House? Much sooner than anyone expected. I believe the same thing will happen in Iran, for if the regime wants to maintain power they will have to eventually respect the desires of their population, 70% of which is under the age of 30.
Marco Mancuso: During the last days, we saw the power of social networks and internet technologies. Some blogs were the only source of news from Iran, some social networks like Twitter or Facebook were also important for the young people in Teheran to communicate with the World outside their country. In the same time, we’re now reading how the government is able to close many blogs, to stop the access to Internet, and in fact there are not so many news of what is happening there from some days. We read also that all the people that posted some news on their blogs, will be targeted through their Id account, if the didn’t hide it and the risk is the capital law. So, are you in contact with some of these young people in your country, can you help them in some way? And, do you think that it will arrive a moment in which all the country will be closed to the Internet and it will be quite impossibile to know what will happen in Teheran?
Sina & Payman: I don’t think Iran will ever become North Korea. The population is incredibly technologically-advanced, liberal, with strong ties to countries all over the world (in my state alone, California, there are more than 2 million Iranians, many of whom regularly travel to Iran). And if the government closed the Internet completely then they themselves wouldn’t be able to communicate and do business with the outside world. I believe the best thing that I can do personally is to help educate my non-Iranian friends and to advocate for solidarity with Iranians because seeing the world supporting them has a profound effect on the organizing ability of strikes, protests, etc in Iran. We are a very emotional people, quick to joy and also despair. That there were millions of people in the streets (in ’79 and ’09) is evidence of this. Thus the Internet and its social communication tools will continue to feed us information but at the same time will be a medium for misinformation by the government, as we see now on Twitter
Marco Mancuso: What I really hate is the big ipocricy of the Western World, its system of mass media and finally also its system of “pre-setted” Internet websites and social networks, to be interested in some news, to cover the event, only when the fact is really new. After few days, the interest flow down, the news website and social networks stop speaking about that item. How, in your opionion, the Internet or some peer to peer technologies, or open source codes and free software could really used to help in such politcal repressive situations and how web platforms or social the social networks, could be used outside the mass media market, to be really an help for your brother in Iran, for instance
Sina & Payman: I completely agree with you. These events have shown the world the inherent flaws of traditional mass media systems, and it has been depressing for Iranians to see news of Michael Jackson to dominate the front page now whereas we really felt like the world was behind us. That said, there is a place for mass media; it can serve as a large “seed” to spur word-of-mouth. Indeed it was word-of-mouth that inspired mass media to cover the protests in Iran. This the more people talk about Iran (or other repressive situations) the higher the chance that mass media covers it. After all, we must understand that mass media is a business, and so we can effectively leverage it by motivating genuine interest among people via social networks, blogs, etc. It’s also worth noting that the Internet and the cross-cultural communication it supports gives us hope and more importantly has the power to make fundamental changes in the world.
Marco Mancuso: Ok, here I don’t want to make you any questions more. I really would love that you want to use this space of this answer to say what you want, to leave also a message to the people that will read this interview….
Sina & Payman: I just want to thank all the people who have written us to express solidarity with Iranians and who have asked how they can help. Italians have been especially active in offering us assistance. Moving forward please think of your own creative ways to help educate the world about what is going on Iran and to express support directly to the people in Iran. The more creative the greater the chance that it “goes viral”, but even if it doesn’t just educating one person and inspiring them to action would be worth the effort. After all, what happens in Iran affects the entire Middle East and what happens in this region affects the entire world order. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 sparked dozens of Islamist movements. Imagine if this same Iranian regime was motivated to become more open and free because of people’s efforts all over the world, imagine what the effect would be on other repressive regimes…