Thursday, January 27, 2005

Sifting Through the Intel

I was thinking, with this recent incident, how much being a Baha'i cyberspace dissident is to being a dissident in a totalitarian society -- with the major difference being, of course, that no one is in any sort of physical danger. But the whole dynamic is similar: You only get told what upper echelons think you need to know, through official channels. The information that is released is worded vaguely, making heavy use of familiar buzz phrases. If you want to have a clue about what is really going on, you have to become adept at reading between the lines. Sometimes people refer to "receiving intelligence" -- which can be insider information from administration contacts, leaked or purloined documents, or based on stories from Baha'is who are in a bad situation but who must remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. Sometimes disinformation is deliberately spread, usually orally by people who have authority enough to be believed in the community at large -- and since it is "unofficial", then there is always plausible deniability. Disinformation filters through cyberspace too, which is notoriously rumor-prone. And, of course, there is "spin" where facts are twisted in a direction the poster wants them to go, and most difficult of all for me to get used to, outright lies. I 'm not just talking weaselly lies meant to get the teller out of a tight spot, but vicious lies completely invented out of thin air, and intended to wound and/or discredit the victim.

The administration collects information and keeps files on those that it thinks might cause trouble, and in an odd sort of turn-around, most prominent cyberspace dissidents do the same to the administration. Each bit of information has to be weighed and measured for its value and plausibility, whether it comes officially, unofficially, or through one's own contacts. It is difficult to get absolute proof of anything, unless one is lucky enough to get something in documented form -- even then, there can be endless arguments about what such a document means.

Some of it is the result trying to maintain a closed society, where the administration works behind closed doors and has no accountibility to the community. The Internet works as a kind of underground press where the people attempt to make the invisible workings of the administration, which has an impact on real people's lives, visible and comprehensible. And, like the underground press, what you get can be pure gold and a solid revelation of what's going on, or it can be total crap. What happens in Baha'i cyberspace is, after all, a form of politics -- with all the positive and negative things that come along with it.

So how did I get into this? At first, it just came out of my own desire to figure out what had gone wrong with the Baha'i administration. After all, this is my religion, which I committed my life to. Then, I did research for articles. But mostly it came about, just because my name is out there, and disillusioned Baha'is contact me in the expectation that I will be sympathetic. Sometimes people who are afraid to speak want me to speak for them -- and some just want to take advantage of the fact I'm well-known out there. There are times when it all just seems a big headache; there are other times when I've been able to do some solid good for somebody.

At the moment, I'm finding myself hoping there is something out in the wider world that I can get into.

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