Proving that blogging has indeed become a worldwide phenomenon as an "online information bazaar", I just stumbled across the weblog of Mohammed Ali Abtahi. Mr. Abtahi is a Shiite cleric who recently served as Vice President of Iran under Khatami. Surprisingly enough, he also happens to run an independent site designed to provoke debate among his readers, which is not exactly what one would expect from a member of the Tehran theocracy.
If there are more voices like Abtahi's in Iran today, the prospects for that country's future are better than we think. In his online profile, Abtahi declares that "the only way to salve Iran would be to bring about reforms that would fully democratize the Iranian society." Make no mistake, while Abtahi is very much a part of the repressive regime that rules Iran, some of his comments are quite encouraging. In an interview with the AP after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Abtahi voiced his support for a secure and stable Iraq and that country's self-governance. A recent post of his addressed human rights concerns in Iran; Abtahi's response was that "real Islam devotees [need to do] as much as they can and try hard for the real achievement of human rights."
These are all encouraging sentiments coming from a leading political figure in a country whose leader has in recent weeks provoked condemnation and consternation in various international circles. Abtahi's voice comes as a welcome voice of moderation. "Let me be myself," he writes, "regardless to my official and government status." One hopes that this cleric-politician's demonstration of free expression will serve as an example to his countrymen and contribute to a better future for Iran, and consequently the world at large.
UPDATE 2/24 (6:19 PM): As a political and religious figure, Mr. Abtahi apparently enjoys a greater degree of freedom than than the average Iranian to express his thoughts online. The BBC has been covering a recent clampdown by Iran's government on citizen-bloggers. Just yesterday, it was announced that one blogger was sentenced to fourteen years in jail by a revolutionary court. Check out the website of the "Committee to Protect Bloggers", which is raising awareness about this case and the plight of other bloggers who run afoul of their local authorities.