Middle East is burning. Syria is only one of the last pieces of this raging domino which exploded unpredictably from the inextinguishable flames of Tunisian and Egyptian revolution, both capable of overthrowing the existing regimes and reaffirming some old principle: the infinite potential of masses and the spontaneous political unmanageability of peoples, completely opposite to the automatic violence of authorities, which the more it ends, the faster it updates. (G. Agamben, Means Without End: Notes of Politics, Bollati Boringhieri, Torino 1996).
Though I cannot analyze in detail each of the countries in rebellion in the Middle East area, I would suggest some quick reflection about how and how much the net is playing a key role in creating political dissent and giving birth to cultural movements struggling against the strongest political regimes of our times.
It’s been some time since I have a feeling that the concept of necessity produces beauty as well. These peoples are showing an unexpected and unprecedented awareness in using the net that overcomes the meaning of need itself, seen as the zoomorphic capability of optimizing the resources – in this case, paradoxically, net resources – in order to survive.
It is yet not possible – not here, at least – to express an exhaustive opinion about the kind of approach Middle East peoples are using with Internet.
Nevertheless, it is worth to consider that, unlike Western countries, these young countries cannot take the access to the net for granted: both for political (censure of many Internet platforms) and technological-geographical reasons (huge deserted areas, poor infrastructures and low-fi. And yet none of these factors seem to stop their curiosity, anonymously satisfied through the use of daily updated proxys and a phone word-of-mouth reaching even the most distant places and the individuals less exposed to the net’s influence.
Do not forget, for instance, that Iran is the third country in the World for number of bloggers, after Usa and China. Moreover, the first movement to ever deal heavily with the net in the Middle East area took place there, creating the so-called Green Revolution that followed the contested presidential elections of 2009.
The way the net has become an important tool of inside organization, planning of events and meetings among activists, and the way it keep the the world informed on the occurrences by overcoming both censors of traditional media and net itself seems to be still a worthy matter for discussion.
In 2009 I was in Teheran, and it seemed to me the use of the net was mostly aimed to the outside. SMS, word-of-mouth for in loco organization, Internet seen as a sort of reversed funnel where to throw every information in and defuse the anechoic chamber the regime was trying to lock people in. In the meantime, the echoes of deep linking and blogging, even before mass media, were revealing to the lazy TV amateurs the veil of Maya on the violent repression of the Iranian Green Movement. Meanwhile, the group hacker anonymous was supporting the revolt (http://www.anonymousiran.org/)
Now as then, the regimes in power affirm reformist revolts are somehow guided by Western Countries. Avoiding to expatiate on ghost cablegrams, issues too recent and burning to be known even to the most active of Julian Assange, in this statement lies something true. While on one hand the net is no doubt the tool through which a certain Middle East culture looks for spaces to expand, on the other the net is also the location through which Western popular culture virally filtrates, reaching even those countries that are institutionally trying to refuse it.
Then, in this sense, some of the requests by young Middle Eastern peoples have something to do with the absorption of Western culture through the net. What to say, for example, about the video of an Iranian girl dancing to the rhythm of tecno-pop music before her webcam, probably imitating the gestures of a Western friend of the same age? We are likely to perceive it, and maybe she feels the same, as a more or less conscious cry of protest towards the regime ruling her country and her life. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFZWV4teWcE&feature=related)
What to say then about the life-style of young people living in the Iranian metropolis, about the use of alcohol, about the dress style, about the illegal projections, about the concerts in abusive rehearsal studios, and about the forbidden literary reading? Maybe in Iran the fracture between a public space where Islamic laws are in force and a private one where satellite TV and net have the upper hand is the socio-political element allowing to include Western culture in its urban tissue and at the same time to exclude it as much as one likes.
How much the girls’ dances before their webcam or mobile phones exceed the limits of private and become a primitive need to get possession of the public space, albeit virtual, thus immediately assuming a political value?
In that action there is probably the same need to be affirmed which we would retrieve in a similar performance of any Western girl, yet the feeling is that the same behaviours transferred to a place like Iran go beyond the individual sphere, though not denying it, and become part of a more political and collective context.
Maybe those acts of protest reminding of nihilism that we saw in Western countries, in Iran become positive examples of people who act by knowing what they are doing is an action to be shared with others, a step forward to a social transformation and an alternative political asset.
The diffusion of new media and their capability to be integrated and mutually crossbred are indeed playing a key role in the formation of new socio-political scenarios. I do not claim the liberating power of technology, but I see a potential instrument to the creation of new political and social participation forms in it, even different from the now obsolete Western version of democracy inevitably taken as model, though silently, by Middle East revolutions.
The intra/inter mediality matter is maybe one of the most interesting under this point of view, especially in order to investigate the relation between mass media and one-to-one media. No doubt M. McLuhan’s reflection on how and how much old media react and adapt to the new ones can still take us to interesting paths (M. McLuhan, Gli strumenti del Comunicare, Il Saggiatore, Milano 1964). If on one hand citizen journalism creates problems in terms of abuse of cognitariat, on the other citizens’ direct participation to the creation of information turns the passive perception of TV into a bomb ready to explode before the spectators’ comments and the real time information launched in the web by the interaction among its users.
In this sense the work by Al Jazeera has been perfect, and in this very days the mass mediatic diffusion of posts and twitters coming from Syria seem the best way to keep oneself informed on the current situation in Daraa where the attempt of repression by the regime of Bashar al-Assad is each day more and more violent (http://blogs.aljazeera.net/live/middle-east/syria-live-blog-april-26).
Yet what are the ways through which mass media filter inevitably the high amount of information in the net? This is still to be explained: how the different media, according to their political tendencies, handled the diffusion of the cablegrams shared by Wikileaks is a clear example of it.
However, Syrian counter-information runs independently through the largest online platforms, like Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/SyrianDayOfRage, http://www.facebook.com/Syrian.Revolution) or Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/user/DayOfRageTV) and Twitter ( http://twitter.com/#!/RevolutionSyria). It is also easy to find news and information on the Tunisian (http://twitter.com/#!/FreeTunisia), Egyptian (http://twitter.com/#!/Sandmonkey), Yemeni revolution (http://twitter.com/#!/yemen_updates), and so on.
Anyway, It is also important to remember that the mass media mythologem made the Egyptian revolt start from a Facebook post (http://ibnlive.in.com/news/facebook-post-that-sparked-egypt-revolution/142328-2.html) feeding a sort of “logistic hypothesis” in this sense, and with it the illusion of a well-spread diffusion in the country’s net. Yet once again the essential element seems to be media hybridation and the creative and cooperative use these peoples are making of them.
Nonetheless, other factors such as urban one in the Egyptian case are not to be underestimated. Tahrir square, a strong symbol where the protest never ended has in fact allowed a sort of spontaneous coordination that soon stopped relying on the net. In fact, from a certain point on, the exchange of information through the most popular social networks (http://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2011/01/29/foto/il_manuale_della_rivolta_egiziano-11813576/1/index.html?ref=search) was mostly considered a danger.
The Arabian-Middle-Eastern revolt seems to remind us the potential new communication media provide for the modern “global village” (cfr. M. McLhuan, Bruce R. Powers, The Global Village, Oxford University Press 1989), and metaphorically reveals the work of thousands of Western activists and hackers battling for the net to become a place where to express freely, in an atmosphere of “collective intelligence” (cfr. Pierre Lèvy, L’intelligenza collettiva. Per un’antro-pologia del cyberspazio, Feltrinelli, Milano 1996) capable of being decisive creatively and originally under a political aspect, by waking us up from the prolonged torpor the democratic system seems to passively fall into. Western democracy is too slow, both for the new temporal dimensions new technologies force us to live in, and for the desire of decisional and interactive possibility by a more and more consistent part of young Western citizens.