Revolutionary Guards’ soft power: from “cyber repression” to “humanitarian action”

By Hamid Tehrani, Global Voices Iran Editor and I&D Guest Blogger

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has been celebrating its soft power over the past two months by dismantling several sites it accused of being anti-religion, pornographic, and conducting anti-national security activities. (1)

It seems the Revolutionary Guards Corp was so pleased by its conquest of the virtual world that it launched a Web site (2) where it names the sites this military ideologically motivated organization has dismantled and hacked. The Web site also reveals photos of arrested people who were allegedly involved with these sites.

The Revolutionary Guards Corp accused some Western countries of supporting these anti-religion sites and cyber dissidents who, they claim, are planning a soft overthrow of the regime. The Corp has also warned that the Internet is not out of its reach anymore.

Several Iranian bloggers and Western media members pointed out that this virtual, well-organized attack is a sign that a new era has dawned where the Iranian cyber world is less secure, and repression is more frequent and real.

Some Iranian bloggers also write that this well-publicized action, which was covered several times on national TV, is just the tip of the iceberg, and that it aims to make people scared and tarnish the image of the blogosphere among Iranians. Some bloggers have also demanded that those arrested for running the sites should have access to legal defense as their rights have been violated by mistreatment and torture.

It seems all these thoughts, doubts, and speculations have some roots in reality and that imprisonment for Iranian bloggers, filtering of Web sites, and censorship are hard facts in the country.

But the Western media have chosen to ignore one very important fact, one not discussed much in the Iranian blogosphere–that the action by the Revolutionary Guards involved not only hacking and jailing.

Some of the pornographic sites shut down were not ordinary, normal ones. They exposed naked Iranian women and girls who were filmed without their knowledge, and even some of the victims in these films were sexually violated.

Hacking and dismantling these sites has nothing to do with either censorship or freedom of speech. The action of the Revolutionary Guards, by ending the virtual existence of these sites, can be considered as a humanitarian action because it upholds the honor, private life, reputation, and existence of its people. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for an Iranian citizen in Iran to hire an international lawyer to complain against a foreign-based hosting company.

The Revolutionary Guards frequently use soft-overthrow conspiracies and threats to justify their actions. Soft overthrow can be considered a sad reaction to the George Bush regime’s changed mantra, and the former American Government’s $75-million investment in soft power to achieve this goal.(3)

Bush’s soft power rhetoric not only failed to empower Iranian cyber activists or NGOs but it became an excuse for the Iranian regime to step up pressure on Iran’s civil society.

Now that Bush is gone, the Iranian regime is being courted by the Obama administration’s offer to help in Afghanistan. The Revolutionary Guards Corps flourished with its soft power, and instead of haggling over half measures such as filtering, it wiped off sites and blogs. Cyber dissidents are worried about what their next move will be, and do not know to whom they can pray. But at least they have Bush to curse.

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