Cyrus on: PRI’s The World (Dec. 31, 2009)

Dear Friends,

I’ve been informed that my piece on how Internet tactics have changed by both the Iranian government and the opposition, particularly since Sunday’s Ashura protests, will be airing today.

It will be available on any of these stations (and their Internet streams):

NYC – 3 pm Eastern – WNYC – 820 AM – www.wnyc.org
Washington, DC – 8 pm Eastern – WAMU – 88.5 FM – www.wamu.org
Los Angeles – 12 pm Pacific – KPCC – 89.3 FM – www.kpcc.opg
Boston – 4 pm Eastern – WGBH – 89.7 FM – www.wgbh.org
San Francisco – 2 pm Pacific – KQED – 88.5 FM – www.kqed.org

You can also likely find it on your local public radio station, and The World’s site later in the day and also on my site if you miss the broadcast.

Also, don’t forget about The World’s Tech Podcast, hosted by my boss, Clark Boyd. It comes out every Friday.

Lemme know if you hear it!

Happy New Year to all!

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Media Appearances: Radio Free Asia, CNN, Brian Lehrer show

In the last 24 hours, I’ve been quoted in three major news outlets.

The first was Radio Free Asia:

伊朗的用户本身也对此行动表示振奋,在美国的伊朗问题专家和新闻人Cyrus Farivar 表示,“我在推特上搜索关于伊朗消息时,可以看到许许多多中国网民推出的贴上了#cn4iran 标签的话题。他说中国和伊朗的情况有很多相似之处,他认为,中国人也和伊朗人民一样,热烈地珍惜渴望一个自由表达的环境。但他认为官方对互联网的控制要比伊朗严格许多,这也是中国网民的不幸之处

I can’t read this, but here’s what Google makes of it:

Iran’s actions by the users themselves have also inspired, in the United States, Iran experts and journalists Cyrus Farivar said, “I was pushing special news search on Iran, you can see many Chinese netizens launched labeled # cn4iran label topic. He said China and Iran, there are many similarities between the situation, he believed that the Chinese people and the Iranian people, like a warm desire to cherish the freedom of expression environment. but he believes the official control of the Internet than in Iran strict many, this is unfortunate with Chinese netizens.

On CNN, here’s what I said:

“It’s clear the government has been definitely restricting the Internet in a much more controlled way,” said Cyrus Farivar, an Iranian-American freelance journalist who writes about technology issues. “They’re definitely paying attention and, at the very least, trying to intimidate people.”

“There’s this kind of global attention being paid across different countries and cultures and languages,” said Farivar, who noted the emergence of a Twitter hashtag — #CN4Iran — THAT appears to have been started by Chinese supporters of the Iranian protesters.

Despite their best efforts and good intentions, supporters outside the country won’t decide the outcome of the most recent round of protests, Farivar said. The actions of Iranians on the ground will.

“I think it’s naive to think that just because you’re changing your location to Tehran [on a Twitter profile] that you’re confusing the Iranian authorities,” he said. “That would make them seem less intelligent than they are.”

and finally, on today’s Brian Lehrer Show, where I was on with WSJ reporter extraordinaire Farnaz Fassihi.

Turmoil in Tehran

Update (January 1, 2010 6:20 pm Pacific Time): I’ve just finished a new post to include news of the last 72 hours.

In case you’ve been hiding out in a post/continuing holiday stupor, Iran is going nuts.

Like a lot of people, I’ve been glued to Twitter and various websites, trying to get a handle on what’s going on in Iran. I’ve been interviewed by Radio Free Asia and CNN in the last 24 hours to provide my thoughts. And I’ve been twittering up a storm myself, passing along useful links when possible.

So, here’s what’s been going on:

Dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri passed away in Qom on December 19, 2009.

The important seventh day of mourning for Montazeri coincided with the annual Shi’ite holy commemoration of Ashura, December 27, 2009. As a result, many dissidents, reformists and other anti-government protesters took to Iranian streets in a renewed and continued uprising against the June 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Around 10 people have been reported killed during the chaos, including Seyyed Ali Mousavi Habibi, the nephew of reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hussein Mousavi. Opponents of the government have called it an “ordered murder,” while Tehran police have described it as a “terrorist incident” and Keyhan, the state newspaper, has suggested that Mousavi himself orchestrated the killing. The government is apparently keeping his body for “further investigation.

The other leading opposition candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, was reportedly attacked after leaving a Tehran mosque on December 28, 2009.

Hundreds have been reported arrested, including the sister of Nobel laureate and human rights attorney Shirin Ebadi, as well as Ebrahim Yazdi (whom The Daily Show interviewed in June 2009), and many journalists and leaders of the reformist movement.

In addition, Reza al-Basha, a 27-year-old Syrian working for Dubai TV has also been confirmed arrested. The Agence France Presse is also reporting the arrest of a British citizen.

Tehran has accused the US and the UK of “interfering” in Iranian affairs, and summoned British envoy Simon Gass to the Foreign Ministry office in Tehran. The government also turned out thousands of supporters of its own in cities across Iran.

The Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Larijani, called for “the harshest punishment” against the Ashura protesters.

Yesterday, President Barack Obama said: “Along with all free nations the United States stands with those who seek their universal rights. We call upon the Iranian government to abide by the international obligations that it has to respect the rights of its own people. We call for the immediate release of all who have been unjustly detained within Iran. We will continue to bear witness to the extraordinary events that are taking place there. And I’m confident that history will be on the side of those who seek justice.”

Some Iran watchers view these protests as a key turning point. Prof. Abbas Milani of Stanford University described this moment as the “hour of reckoning” for the reform movement.

Despite the fact that there’s been a new wave of attention towards Iran online — including Chinese netizens using #cn4iran — and protests worldwide, I agree with The Telegraph‘s (UK) Will Heaven, when he writes: “There has been no revolution in Iran,” adding “There’s nothing wrong with spreading awareness outside Iran, but it’s horribly naive to think that supporting illegal activity in a foreign country has no ethical dimension. It’s equally foolish, of course, to kid yourself that you’re on the front line.”

So, what’s next?

Well, if there are any seventh-day mourning ceremonies for those who were killed on Ashura, then that will fall on January 3, 2010. Further, January 16, 2010 is the 31st anniversary of the day the the Shah fled Iran, and January 29, 2010 will mark the 40th day of mourning for Ayatollah Montazeri. Further, the 40th day anniversary for Ashura will be February 5, 2010, exactly during the celebration of the “Ten Days of Dawn,” marking the return of Ayatollah Khomeini to Iran in 1979.

December 21: Cyrus on PRI’s The World

Dear Friends,

I’ve been informed that my piece on the Internet legacy of the late dissident Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Montazeri, will be airing today.

It will be available on any of these stations (and their Internet streams):

NYC – 3 pm Eastern – WNYC – 820 AM – www.wnyc.org
Washington, DC – 8 pm Eastern – WAMU – 88.5 FM – www.wamu.org
Los Angeles – 12 pm Pacific – KPCC – 89.3 FM – www.kpcc.opg
Boston – 4 pm Eastern – WGBH – 89.7 FM – www.wgbh.org
San Francisco – 2 pm Pacific – KQED – 88.5 FM – www.kqed.org

You can also likely find it on your local public radio station, and The World’s site later in the day and also on my site if you miss the broadcast.

Also, don’t forget about The World’s Tech Podcast, hosted by my boss, Clark Boyd. It comes out every Friday.

Lemme know if you hear it!

Happy Holidays to all!

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Montazeri.com vs. Montazery.com: Ayatollahs wage war on Internet (AFP, Dec. 2000)

Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri has passed away. All the major news outlets are covering the death of this intellectual, dissident high-ranking cleric in Iran.

However, I’m obviously fascinated with Montazeri’s small role in Iran’s Internet history. As best as I can tell, this is the first example of the Islamic Republic’s getting involved in the Internet directly and going after a particular person directly, even through cybersquatting.

Back in 2000, the Agence France Presse covered this interesting episode.

Montazeri.com vs. Montazery.com: Ayatollahs wage war on Internet
Friday 15 December 2000 – Agence France Presse

PARIS, Dec 15 (AFP) – Dissident cleric Hossein Ali Montazeri, once in line to be Iran’s supreme leader, this week dropped a political bombshell by publishing his memoirs onthe Internet and provoking a cyber war with the leadership in Tehran.

Montazeri, 79, who had been chosen to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic republic, has been living under house arrest in Qom, south of Tehran, ever since he was forced to resign weeks before Khomeini’s death in 1989.

A fierce opponent of Iran’s current supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Montazeri in recent years has from time to time managed to make his opinion known through his sons.

But he struck a hard blow on Monday when he published a 600-page memoir on an Internet site based in Britain, which his sons verified as his work.

The document, published in Persian and available at www.montazeri.com, provides important testimony to some of the most dramatic moments of the revolution and the war with Iraq.

Authorities in Tehran have so far not publicly reacted to Montazeri’s memoirs but on Thursday a counter-site — www.montazery.com — appeared on the internet and described itself as representing the office of Khamenei.

Most noteworthy on the first site are Montazeri’s remarks on how he tried in 1988 to prevent the summary execution of thousands of opponents to the Khomeini regime.

He states that Khomeini ordered the executions after the opposition launched a fierce offensive against Iranian troops from bases in Iraq.

“All those against the revolution must disappear and quickly be executed,” the cleric quotes Khomeini as saying in a written note.

Montazeri said he decided to intervene to prevent the killing of 2,800 to 3,800 men by writing a letter to Khomeini in which he appealed for compassion.

“I told myself ‘I am after all the Imam’s successor and I took part in this revolution’,” he says in his memoirs. “If an innocent man is killed, I am also responsible.”

Cyrus in The Economist: A mobile payment system: That will do nicely, sir

The Economist, December 9 2009:

Street traders can now accept credit cards—so long as you trust them

THE economy might be cashless but people still use the stuff, if only to reimburse a colleague who bought their lunch or pay for a newspaper from a street vendor. Now a new device called Square that was launched on December 4th will enable individuals and small businesses to accept electronic payments by turning any device with an audio-input jack—such as a computer or a mobile phone—into a credit-card terminal.

Square consists of a small plastic cube, slightly larger than a sugar lump, with an audio plug attached. The cube has a slot through which the magnetic stripe of a credit card can be slid. When the cube is plugged into an iPhone, it reads the card number and sends it (in the form of an audio signal) to a piece of software on the phone that then encrypts it and authorises the payment over the internet. (If the phone has no internet connection, the data can be stored until one can be established later.) The customer signs for the transaction using a fingertip on the phone’s touch-screen.

Once the transaction has been approved, the funds are transferred into the bank account of the phone’s owner. The customer can chose to receive a receipt by e-mail or text message. If he chooses e-mail, the receipt will include an electronic map showing where the purchase was made, along with a facsimile of the signature. Customers can even take a photo of the product to remind themselves what it was they bought.

America lags behind East Asia, where people commonly use mobile payment systems to buy items at train stations and convenience stores with the swipe of a mobile phone. But Americans are accustomed to using PayPal to make secure online payments, and some people use Obopay to transfer money via text message. Square is trying to simplify the process and tap into this new market.

Currently, only 100 Squares exist. They are being tested by small retailers, including clothing and coffee shops, in San Francisco, St Louis, Los Angeles and New York. But Square could, in principle, be used by almost anyone (including consumers) to make and receive secure payments easily. For now, the device only works on the iPhone. But because it uses the audio jack, it should be fairly easy to make it work on other devices, too, such as BlackBerry and Android handsets and desktop and laptop PCs.

Jack Dorsey, one of the co-founders of Twitter, who is also a co-founder of Square, reckons that it will enable new businesses to be set up quickly. He says, “I can buy [an iPod touch] for $200, get the app and I’m in business. I don’t need a contract with AT&T or anything. I’m in business.” He says the Square hardware will be free and the software will probably cost about $1. Square will make money by taking a cut of every transaction processed.

Square can only accept credit cards affiliated with American banks, but that may change over the coming months. Future versions of the software will also support foreign currencies and the ability to include a tip in the payment.

Dear Switzerland: WTF?

Dear Switzerland,

You welcomed me with open arms as a child immigrant from 1997-1998. You unknowingly shaped my life in immeasurable ways. I attended your schools and played in your community bands. In short, I love the cheese and wine you produce, not to mention your beautiful landscapes. I’ve even made a lifelong friend.

I get that you have this image of yourself of being all progressive and such. Sure, you helped broker the peace between the United States and the United Kingdom after their help in the construction of ships like the CSS Alabama, an process that lead to the creation of the League of Nations, hosted in Geneva. You also host many of the world’s premier international institutions and are held in high esteem worldwide.

I mean, ok, you didn’t give women the right to vote until 1971, and heck you didn’t join the United Nations until 2002 (despite the fact that you host a large portion of UN organizations), but whatever.

And, while I knew this was probably coming, I was a bit surprised when I heard today that you decided to ban new minarets. You’re freaked out by Muslims, even though they’re roughly five percent of your population.

But I was even more baffled when I read this in The New York Times:

Of 150 mosques or prayer rooms in Switzerland, only 4 have minarets, and only 2 more minarets are planned. None conduct the call to prayer. There are about 400,000 Muslims in a population of some 7.5 million people. Close to 90 percent of Muslims in Switzerland are from Kosovo and Turkey, and most do not adhere to the codes of dress and conduct associated with conservative Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, said Manon Schick, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International in Switzerland.

So you’re freaked out by four minarets across 40 thousand square kilometers of territory? Really? Are you that insecure? You do realize that that’s an average of one minaret per 10,000 square kilometers, right? (That’s like the size of Lebanon.) Further, apparently NONE of them do the call to prayer. You do know that, right?

Was propagandist crap like this really necessary?

Sadly, I guess it worked.

When I make classic Swiss fondue with a caquelon that I bought in Geneva a few years ago, I’ll give a thought to how I hope you’ll one day change your mind.

Bisous de la Californie,

-Cyrus

November 29: Cyrus on CBC’s Spark

Dear Friends,

I’ve been informed that my piece on the world’s first custom-designed Islamic search engine, IMHalal.com, is airing this week on CBC’s Spark!

It will be available on CBC Radio 1 at the following times:

Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. (12:00 NT)
Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. (4:30 NT)

If you find yourself outside the reach of the CBC’s antennae, feel free to listen to it online, here, or of course, via podcast.

Newsweek: 118 Days, 12 Hours, 54 Minutes

I’m a little behind, but I just read Maziar Bahari’s account of his 118 days in an Iranian prison in Newsweek. It’s frightening to say the least, and confirms similar accounts I’ve heard by others who have had the pleasure of Evin Prison’s hospitality.

Robert Mackey in The Lede blog writes:

Mr. Bahari’s account of his 118 days in captivity offers a fascinating insight into the government’s attempts to understand and stifle the dissent that followed the election. It is often a harrowing read, but his description of being pressed about the meaning of his appearance on “The Daily Show,” in addition to being absurd, points to the apparent difficulty his interrogators had in distinguishing between the work of spies and the work of journalists. Mr. Bahari, who calls his main interrogator “Mr. Rosewater” because of the cologne he wore, recalls:

I saw the flicker of a laptop monitor under my blindfold. Then I heard someone speaking. It was a recording of another prisoner’s confession. “It’s not that one,” said the second interrogator. “It’s the one marked ‘Spy in coffee shop.’ ” Mr. Rosewater fumbled with the computer. The other man stepped in to change the DVD. And then I heard the voice of Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

Only a few weeks earlier, hundreds of foreign reporters had been allowed into the country in the run-up to the election. Among them was Jason Jones, a “correspondent” for Stewart’s satirical news program. Jason interviewed me in a Tehran coffee shop, pretending to be a thick-skulled American. He dressed like some character out of a B movie about mercenaries in the Middle East—with a checkered Palestinian kaffiyeh around his neck and dark sunglasses. The “interview” was very short. Jason asked me why Iran was evil. I answered that Iran was not evil. I added that, as a matter of fact, Iran and America shared many enemies and interests in common. But the interrogators weren’t interested in what I was saying. They were fixated on Jason.

“Why is this American dressed like a spy, Mr. Bahari?” asked the new man.

“He is pretending to be a spy. It’s part of a comedy show,” I answered.

“Tell the truth!” Mr. Rosewater shouted. “What is so funny about sitting in a coffee shop with a kaffiyeh and sunglasses?”

“It’s just a joke. Nothing serious. It’s stupid.” I was getting worried. “I hope you are not suggesting that he is a real spy.”

“Can you tell us why an American journalist pretending to be a spy has chosen you to interview?” asked the man with the creases.

Also, for the record, Jason Jones is Canadian, not American.