Iran is Exporting its Cultural Revolution

And Communications App 'Telegram' is Offering a Helping Hand

A few years ago, our band KIOSK - which is banned from performing in Iran - was invited to perform at a festival in Germany. At the time, the festival's organizer was involved in various cultural exchange programs with Iran. He told me that during one of his trips to my homeland, he brought up the idea of hosting a festival in Europe on contemporary Middle Eastern music with the participation of an official from the Iranian Ministry of Culture. The official asked the organizer if the festival would feature bands based outside of Iran as a way of determining whether music that is not "approved" by Iranian authorities would be played. When the organizer said yes that indeed, he was planning to invite KIOSK, the Iranian official replied that the ministry forbids any musicians from Iran from participating in such a festival.

At first, the German organizer entertained the idea of excluding KIOSK from the European festival, but as he thought about it more, decided against it. He could not understand how an authority from the Iranian regime in Tehran could impose his country's values and regulations on a festival that is not even being held in his country? The festival was being held in Germany and was being funded by Germany - where freedom of speech is respected and upheld.

Sadly, this is but one example of the Iranian government trying to impose its values beyond its borders. The government forces visiting female members of foreign delegations to wear "Hijab," arguing that it is the law of the land and that no visitor is an exception. At the same time, Iranian film makers and actors, scholars or artists who are invited to festivals and events outside Iran are monitored by the government and can get in trouble upon their return if they are not dressed "properly according to Iranian laws." They can even be banned from working for shaking hands with members of the opposite sex when they go on stage to receive a prize for their work or to give a speech.

In a recent incident, the Iranian authorities insisted that the French government should not serve wine at the reception dinner they were planning in honor of Mr. Rouhani's visit to France. When the French refused to comply, the Iranians had a solution: cancel the dinner and have breakfast instead! Again, Iranian authorities were trying to impose their laws and regulations on sovereign territory where they have no jurisdiction.

Last week, the Iranian Secretary of Communication announced that Telegram, a messaging app that is popular among Iranians, has agreed to hire Iranian agents to monitor content, looking for possible "immoral" conversations. There was no clear definition as to what officials deemed to be immoral, a designation that puts many Iranians at risk. Iranians already live in a state of fear. Recently, a cartoonist was sentenced to prison because she shook her lawyer's hand in the courtroom. What will happen when someone posts to Telegram a cartoon or comment that is critical of the Iranian government? Is that for Telegram to report? The company isn't even based or run in Iran; it is based in Russia. How far of a reach will such companies allow Iran to have?

Ever since the 1979 revolution in Iran, the idea of "exporting the revolution" has been a fantasy for Iranian officials. But how elusive of a fantasy is it really? It now seems that Iran is able to exert more control over the private lives of Iranian citizens inside Iran and is somehow being allowed by the international community to do so. In light of such clear violation of civil liberties, the reactions of those in dealings with Iran and those of individuals living in free societies will have a world of impact on the lives of Iranians inside Iran. It will also show the rest of the world what they really stand for, liberty or profit.

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