Insider news & Analysis in Iran

On Wednesday, Fox News reported that a video game featuring a purportedly accurate depiction of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution had been banned by the clerical government after being characterized as “anti-Iranian” and “pro-America propaganda.” Fox News had previously reported upon the development and April release of the game, titled “1979 Revolution: Black Friday.” The lead designer and Iranian expatriate Navid Khonsari has reportedly received praise for translating the real historical event into a playable scenario that reflects the real-life accounts of dozens of people who were present during the revolution.

But Hassan Karimi, the director of Iran’s National Foundation for Video Games asserted that the game’s depiction of events is inaccurate, demonstrating “hostile intentions and objectives of the developer.” He added that “games like this can poison the minds of the youth and young adults about their country by means of false and distorted information, and also damage their spirits.”

The game was available for only 48 hours before Iranian authorities announced plans to block any websites selling it. Iranian citizens responded by obtaining copies of the game via less mainstream means, including torrent downloads and on-the-street sales, but authorities have made an effort to monitor such activities and to threaten businesses with shutdown should they sell physical copies.

Khonsari and his company iNK Stories are undaunted, however, and are developing plans to sell a version of the game for smartphones and tablets via the App store, which cannot be blocked in the same way as traditional online retailers. Thus the game promises to open a new front in the ongoing war between Iran and information communication technology. Previous focal points for that conflict have included social networking sites like Telegram, which Iranian authorities recently ordered to either move their user information to servers inside the Islamic Republic, or face an official government ban.

However, as the 1979 Revolution game demonstrates and the widespread use of Twitter and Facebook have demonstrated in the past, such bans have limited effects, since so many Iranians are technically capable of circumventing them, and also politically willing to defy the orders of censorship authorities.

Still, the growing range of actual and threatened bans underscores the fact that the Iranian regime is in the midst of efforts to tighten its control over domestic society and dismiss the notion of expanded relations or cultural understanding between the Islamic Republic and its traditional Western enemies. Various examples of this crackdown have emerged in recent weeks, including the now infamous sting operation called Operation Spider II, which led to charges being levied against 29 individuals linked to an online modeling network that violated Iranian religious law by doing such things as posting images of women without their mandated head coverings.

While the illegality of such things certainly strikes many foreign observers as rather ridiculous, there have been other instances of social crackdowns and propaganda statements that seem even more bizarre. For example, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday that the Iranian soccer federation had suspended goalkeeper Sosha Makani for six months over a series of offenses that included wearing yellow pants that were alleged to be reminiscent of the American children’s cartoon character Spongebob Square Pants.

The AP report specifies that athletes and other celebrities are frequently subjected to extreme scrutiny by Iranian censorship authorities, and are used as an example of the punishment that might await any activity that is deemed to be at odds with Iran’s hardline Islamic ideology, or sympathetic to Western lifestyles.

The persistence of this scrutiny and the broader crackdown on perceived deviation from Islamic identity further undermines the notion that the country is on the verge of a moderate shift in the wake of the national elections that installed many more allies of President Hassan Rouhani in the Iranian parliament and Assembly of Experts.

This point was emphasized in an editorial that appeared at Counter Currentson Wednesday. It recounts the results of those elections but argues that “there is no hope that the elections’ outcome obliges the ruling clergy to make any changes to secularize the Islamic regime.” Furthermore, the article argues that the appearance of moderation within the Rouhani administration is primarily a consequence of last summer’s nuclear agreement in which the regime “secretly made agreement with Washington to sacrifice Iran’s nuclear rights in exchange for survival of their repressive regime in Tehran.”

Such commentary goes hand-in-hand with the ongoing reports of internal repression and propaganda, in order to support the argument that the entire notion of Rouhani’s moderation was a narrative designed by the Obama administration to sell the nuclear agreement to Congress and the American people. This accusation emerged in full force after last month’s New York Times profile of White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, the self-admitted author of that narrative.

And the accusation may develop further in light of the release of a book by New York Times author Mark Landler detailing the lack of White House transparency regarding back-channel negotiations with the Iranian regime, which were conveyed through the Arabian country of Oman, and which began in 2009, fully four years before the election of the so-called moderate Rouhani.

In the midst of these revelations, the Obama administration’s defense of the moderation narrative apparently hinges upon the idea that expanded economic and diplomatic contact between Iran and the US could still encourage a moderating trend. Evidence for this appears comparatively hard to come by, however. On Wednesday, EuroNewssuggested that the Islamic Republic might be considering taking one modest step in the direction of Western behavior, by rescheduling its weekend to span Saturday and Sunday instead of Thursday and Friday, so as to avoid 300 million dollars in weekly losses attributed to this misalignment with the Western world’s schedule.

But apart from having no bearing on the ongoing efforts to keep more substantive aspects of Western identity at bay, this report fails to cite any sources close to the Iranian regime, which might substantiate the claim that that regime holds any interest in breaking with its hardline traditions.

 

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