Recent events in Iran have underlined an unmistakable trend in world politics, the so-called “spontaneous revolution” or colour revolution; the irony is that these spontaneous revolutions are highly organised and are a symptom of the modern communication age.
Iran is undergoing a convulsion due to its religious elite being out of touch with the digital revolution and the young generation’s control of it.
The Iranian crisis is a product of many things; a clash of generations, a bitter power struggle between Rafanjani and Khamenei, a venting of boiling frustrations and it proves that they are not immune to changes in humanity.
In today’s world a democratic mandate is not enough anymore; a section of society can mobilise and against a political class and wreck havoc. We saw it on a massive scale immediately after the fall of the Berlin wall in 89; live television captured the precise moment when a system collapsed.
Since then we have seen similar revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, Madagascar, Nepal, Venezuela and now in Iran. The internet has totally changed the balance of power in politics; it is the ultimate organising tool and can do tremendous good as well as damage.
Every generation since the Stone Age has been more technologically savvy than the last; a son must have said to his father “Dad I am not gonna use your stone tools, I got some iron tools” and thus began the Iron Age and the rest is history. What is happening in Iran is best illustrated by an anecdote from my childhood.
Our neighbours phone was a community amenity; we all used it without the father knowing, he repeatedly complained about the high bills and eventually got a padlock for the phone.
He thought he was really smart but was shocked to see the bill even higher the next month; he got a phone with a code and found it rose even higher.
One night tragedy struck and an aunt suffered a stroke but the key could not be found, the father pleaded with his children “please I know you use the phone, just show me how you do it, I promised not to get angry.”
The children knew their father would get angry and refused to talk, until the father picked on the youngest one, who was least experienced in the art of lying.
The child buckled under pressure and agreed to show him; this 4 year old the walked in the other room and brings out another handset which he proceeds to plug into the wall. The father realised how foolish he looked and erupted in a blast of rage.
I first encountered a computer aged 11, but my youngest siblings were born with a computer in the house so for them it is as simple as a toaster.
So the Iranian government is trying to shut down the internet, with very little success because just like the children did when I was a child, they are using proxy servers.
The internet was not invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Leigh but by the US military nearly 30 years before; they wanted a communication system that could withstand a nuclear attack.
Now the internet is the most important resource of business, the widest communication network in the world, an educational tool; but it also is a danger to the system it was made to protect.
This revolution will doubtlessly make Iran more insular and hard-line but the charade has been exposed; the unquestioned loyalty that the Supreme leader commanded is a thing of the past as Khamenei has proved weak.
His name sounds like Khomeini but his nothing of his stature; Rafsanjani seems primed for a shot at the big prize as Khamenei will step down for health reasons to save face.
As for Iran no-one knows; all we have learned from history is they do not like interference, they have seen empires come and go; from Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Romans, and the Shah.
We do not know the extent to which the internet is changing human behaviour and political dynamics but it is the one medium that cannot be fully controlled, the best we can do is live with the consequences.