Hossein Derakhshan: Iranian Bloggers Speak Out

A group of Iranian bloggers has published a collective statement about Hossein Derakhshan’s arrest in Tehran. It’s signed by Omid Memarian and Sanam Dolatshahi, among others.

From On Hoder’s Disappearance and Possible Detention (eyeranian.net):

Derakhshan’s own position regarding a number of prisoners of conscience in Iran has been a source of contention among the blogging community and has caused many to distance themselves from him. This, however, doesn’t change the fact that the freedom of expression is sacred for all not just the ones with whom we agree.

We therefore categorically condemn the circumstances surrounding Derakhshan’s arrest and detention and demand his immediate release.

Hossein Derakhshan Arrested

This is old news that was reported by an Iranian source a few weeks ago but not confirmed elsewhere. Today Iranian blogger Khorshid Khanoom/Lady Sun writes that she has word that Hossein Derakhshan, aka Hoder, was indeed arrested in Iran on November 1. From her English-language blog, Lady Sun:

I am quoting this news from Nazli Kamvari, a friend of Hossein Derakhshan and an Iranian blogger living in Toronto, who has been directly in touch with Hossein’s sister and just wrote about this news in her Persian blog.

My understanding is that Hossein’s family has been under pressure from the authorities not to talk about Hossein’s arrest and not to get a lawyer for him. So, it is understandable that they are not talking to the media. But we at least can assure both the Persian and global blogosphere, who were previously in doubts about Hossein’s arrest, that he’s really arrested.

Hoder Shutdown, Shakedown

Hoder.com temporary banner
Hossein Derakhshan’s blog, Hoder.com was shut down on Friday by his host, Hosting Matters, over allegations of defamation brought by the lawyers of Mehdi Khalaji, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). WINEP’s advisory board includes neo-conservative poster boy Richard Perle, and until 2001 counted Paul Wolfowitz as a member of that board as well. Hoder, to say the least, is not fond of neo-cons. I have no doubt that whatever Hoder said was delivered in the most biting way possible, and not everything he writes is necessarily verifiable, something for which he’s become somewhat known.

My understanding is that the gist of the situation is that Khalaji claimed Hoder made false statements about him, and as such demanded a specific post about him be removed. He also demanded $10K in damages. According to Hoder, Hoder removed one post at his host’s requests, but then Khalaji’s lawyers continued to insist that all posts mentioning Khalaji are defamatory and must be removed. Hoder’s host then wrote him this email:

While we do not agree with the assessment as it relates to
the latest post you have made, we do not have the time, interest, or
resources to invest in continually dealing with his complaints and to review
your site. Please remove that post and refrain from mentioning this person
in any form on the site you host within this network.

This is incredibly disturbing – the host recognized that Khalaji/Khalaji’s lawyers were wrong but still allowed Khalaji’s bullying to force their hand.

Hoder’s site is now temporarily hosted on Blogger, and he provides the letter from Khalaji’s lawyers (PDF) and the email exchange with Hosting Matters as supporting documentation.

There’s been a lot of buzz today on this, with a good, legalese post by Pars Arts contributor Nema Milaninia on his group blog, Iranian Truth. Also, Iranian.com has some coverage, with posts by Hoder himself, a critical letter/short piece by Kianosh Saadati, and a blog post by Jahanshah Javid.

Who’s in the wrong here? It’s hard to pinpoint the blame, so maybe everyone. Hoder claims free speech, but is defamation a constitutional right? Since when is it okay for journalists, a capacity in which Hoder has worked, to write without a little fact-checking? And in a time when Iranian-American scholars are being held under trumped up charges of espionage while visiting family in Iran, accusations like the ones that fly around on Hoder’s blog become more grave than just political bickering. However, Khalaji’s lawyers were overzealous and it was wrong to press for removal of all other posts after the one that was removed at first. And it was wrong for the host to shut him down, though I’m not familiar with the terms of service.

What do you think? Did Hoder deserve what he got, or is Khalaji in the wrong for suing him?

Update (8/14): The original Hoder post that was removed is in Persian, here. To clarify, regarding Hoder’s fact-checking, specifically in this instance, I can’t conclusively say he didn’t do so but meant that the language he frequently employs in his posts, such as calling someone “the filthiest traitor I have ever seen in my life” as he does Khalaji, in my mind is combative, unprofessional, and undercuts his credibility. It’s important to note that doesn’t mean he doesn’t fact-check, but just means I think he’s excessively vitriolic – an important distinction and one I neglected in this post, which was unfair to Hoder.

On Praising Khomeini

Khomeini Mural
Despite the fact that he is a friend of mine and was one of my inspirations to begin blogging, I cannot disagree more with Hossein Derakshan’s recent praise for Khomeini (the text is in Persian, with a small English excerpt). While the post might be sensationalist and most likely written for the purpose of getting attention, there some things called out by Hoder that I think he gets right. First, he touches on Iranians’ generally excessive admiration of ancient Persian emperors. I think it’s relevant to ask ourselves: if we were not Iranian but rather of another culture with no prior interaction with Iranians, how would we view the former Persian kings? Would we, for instance, praise Darius and Cyrus for slaughtering thousands of people in order to colonize surrounding territories? To the extent that Derakhshan writes that the praise we give the former Persian empire is ridiculous, closed-minded, and egocentric, I believe he is correct.

However, suggesting that we should praise Khomeini because he successfully pulled Iran away from Western quasi-colonialism is foolish. That type of analysis is reactive rather than affirmative. It looks at what evil exists in the world and falsely concludes that its polar opposite must be good. In other words, instead of determining the value of something based on abstract moral or even religious principles, we would be judging something based on how it contrasts with the thing we dislike the most. In this case, we would be looking to colonialism and the “Western” model, submit that it is evil, and therefore accept everything contrary to it. This is the same reactive impulse utilized by many advocates of “Islamic democracies.” Khaled Abou el-Fadl tackles this issue perfectly in his discussions on Islamism:

[Many Muslim scholars] challenge asserted moral values, including the norms of democracy, as false universals, but offer no moral alternatives. Their opposition conforms to the reactive state of modern Islamic discourse. Much of this discourse is formed by the experience of colonialism and imperialism, and is hostage to a traumatized condition in which obsessive concerns with autonomy are coupled with a disregard of the need for constructive self-definition.

Derakhshan’s commentary on Khomeini functions precisely the same way: it does nothing to create a sense of self-definition or value of the Iranian, but mimics a system of values based purely on the importance of autonomy and Iran’s reaction to colonialism. This is precisely the way that the killing of thousands of Iranians, the suppression of fundamental human rights, and the subversion and manipulation of popular support committed by Khomeini are (unjustly) justified. If we perceive this regime from the perspective of the “other,” the same way that an outsider would see Cyrus and Darius, then we reach something closer to this conclusion: Khomeini was nothing more than a megalomaniac who systematically utilized violence and repression to achieve his private dreams and ambitions. In other words, Hossein got it wrong.

[Photo: Sydney Morning Herald]