Of Twitter and Cassettes

Global Watch
By CHRISTOPHER COLLINS  |  June 24, 2009

There has been plenty of breathless reporting on the goings-on in Iran. And rightly so. The protests surrounding the recent presidential election are historic — the heavy use of Twitter and social networking technology a breakthrough.

But Jo-Anne Hart, an adjunct professor at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Relations, says there was something predictable about the whole thing. There are, she says, some striking parallels between the current unrest and the tumult that led to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah and the ushering in of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

First off, the idea of using high-tech tools to move information in and out of Iran isn't so new to the country. Turns out that 50 years ago, this generation's parents were doing the same thing. Using the latest gadget of their day, the cassette tape, revolutionary minded Iranians during the sixties and seventies smuggled in recordings of the movement's exiled leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, and duplicated the tapes to spread his message of revolution.

And that's not the only recycled trend that Hart identified. Half a century ago, Iran experienced something called a "mourning cycle." Protesters killed demonstrating against the Shah were mourned in further protests, which led to more death and more protest. The cycle escalated tremendously, only to be halted by an overwhelming show of force by the Shah, who was later deposed by an angry nation. As we went to press this week, opposition figures in Iran were planning — you guessed it — protests to honor those killed in recent clashes with the government.

Of course, that's not to say that regime change is inevitable this time around. But Hart sees a powerful echo of 1979. "Iran," she says, "is undergoing the most fundamental challenge to the current Iranian government we've seen to date."

  Topics: This Just In , Elections and Voting, Politics, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini,  More more >
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