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Recent Nazi Inclinations in the Virtual Domain of Iran

This piece was written by Liora Hendelman-Baavur (Ph.D), a research fellow of the Center for Iranian Studies (CIS), who also teaches at the Department of Middle Eastern and African History at Tel Aviv University.

On November 18, 2010 the Iranian news website Tabnak exposed a Persian pro-Nazi internet forum, operating under the virtual domain assigned to the Islamic Republic (irannazi.ir). The forum’s content, which advocated Adolf Hitler’s fascist ideology, generated acute interest in local and international media. The media was especially concerned with the involvement of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which is responsible for the registration and approval of websites that operate under Iran’s domain (Framce 24, Nov 18, 2010; gooya, Nov 18, 2010; RFERL, Nov 22, 2010; Reuters, Nov 22, 2010; The National, Nov 24, 2010).

Three days later, on November 21st, the news site Rooz associated ‘Ali Mohammad Ramin, the deputy Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance in charge of the media since November 2009, with the operational permit granted to the pro-Nazi forum (irannazi.ir). According to Mohammad Reza Yazdanpanah, the reporter for Rooz, Ramin also heads the “World Holocaust Foundation” in Iran and “he is the leading official advising Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on issues related to the negation of the Holocaust” (Rooz, Nov 21 & 22, 2010).

Whereas in the past, similar websites were filtered and removed from Iran’s global network, during the past year and a half it seems the Islamic Republic has not acted with the same level of vigilance against racist manifestations of Iranian ultra-nationalism in its virtual domain. Many Iranian pro-Nazi virtual communities are advocating an ideology of racial supremacy that denigrates Arab-Muslims and Muslims of other non-Aryan ethnic groups, a position which stands in diametric opposition to the pan-Islamic legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution. Moreover, some of these groups openly support the establishment of a secular Iranian state based on naional socialism that will exclude Islamic laws.

Following the extensive web-coverage and attention irannazi.ir has received online, its temporary blocking in Iran and hacking disruptions on some of its pages, the administrators inserted several cosmetic changes to its page headings. During the course of one week, d7aad79ed795d7a0d794-d79ed7a1-1-d790d7aad7a8-d790d799d7a8d790d79f-d7a0d790d7a6d799-d7a0d795d791-2010between November 18th and 25th, the forum’s banner (displayed on the right), was modified at least three times. The original title, “Association of Iran’s Nazism,” was changed to the “Association for the Study of World War II and the Third Reich” and then changed again to the “Forum of World War II and the Third Reich”.

Hitler’s portrait and the flag of the Nazi party were also removed from the forum’s banner and replaced by military images from the Second World War. The red background of the banner was replaced by a brown header, as well. Despite these cosmetic changes to the site’s appearance the content of the forum remained the same, even on November 24th when the forum administrators announced their intention to close the site and relocate their online activities.

Since its launch in mid August 2010, many members of irannazi.ir have adopted virtual aliases affiliated with institutions of the Third Reich, like the Gestapo and the Wehrmacht, or with leading figures of the Nazi leadership, such as Himmler, Goering and Goebbels. The forum’s member list has also featured members with aliases of controversial political figures such as Mussolini, Stalin, Bismarck and Ahmadinejad.

In addition to virtual pseudonyms, in their personal profiles, members have also employed images of the Nazi leadership and symbols of the Nazi party, like the spread wing eagle holding a laurel wreath swastika, and dominant tones of black, red and white. The volume of online activity of the forum’s members (or user groups) was also characterized using organizational ranks associated with the political hierarchy that prevailed in the National German Workers Socialist Party.

The forum’s sudden media exposure dramatically increased global public interest in the irannazi.ir site. On November 23rd, just five days after Tabnak‘s initial report, the site’s registered users increased from 293 to 920, a 65 percent jump in registration. Since the majority of its members were newly registered most of them were inactive until the site’s closure on November 27-28, and approximately half of the forum’s 2,600 posts belonged to the four most active members, including the administrator, identified as Babak and by the pseudonym Germanizer. According to the internet information company, Alexa, nearly 80 percent of the forum’s visitors were located in Iran and the rest mainly in England, Germany and the U.S. (Alexa, Nov 23, 2010). If the details they provided are indeed accurate,  personal profiles of forum members revealed that most of them are men between 22 and 27 years old.

It is important to note that the irannazi.ir forum is only one of many different websites operating in the virtual domain of the Islamic Republic. Operation in this specific domain name does not necessarily indicate that the authorities are behind this site or approve of its content. This forum is not a representative example of the diverse growth and application of the internet in today’s Iran. Since 2000, the number of internet users in the Islamic Republic increased from 250,000 to 33.2  million. Furthermore, the role of the internet during Iran’s post-election demonstrations in June 2009 was a potent reminder of the multi-dimensional impact of the global web in the Islamic Republic.

However, the Nazi inclination of the irannazi.ir forum is not an isolated case in the Iranian context either. Previous websites that identified themselves with Iran’s neo-Nazi party (like neonazi.ir; nazism.ir) were removed from the network. The blog of Sumka, Iran’s National Socialist Workers Party (sumka.blogfa.com), openly proclaimed to be anti-Muslim and anti-Arab. More precisely it stated: “We are relentless enemies of Arabs and Muslims. We […] also hate Jews. We are extremely Anti-Arab”. Sumka‘s overt blog was also filtered by the hosting service Blogfa. Yet admiration for the German leadership of the Nazi party and promotion of Hitler’s ideology as well as hatred of Zionism/Judaism/Israel continue to find expression in the Iranian blogosphere. Blogs such as “Nazism Site in Iran” (nazismsite.blogfa.com) and” Adolf Hitler the great leader”  (greathitler. blogfa.com), are still hosted onBlogfa. Such blogs, forums and websites are often interconnected, i.e. they are maintained and replicated by the same sources, and their traces even appear in discussions of an Iranian forum of fans who support the German soccer team Bayern Munich (fcbayern.ir).

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Moreover, the online discussion site hitler.ir, which has operated under Iran’s virtual domain since April-May 2009, contains far more extensive material than what could be found on irannazi.ir. The recruitment poster of hitler.ir (displayed on the right), clearly points out its specific target audience. The verbal caption beneath the figure of the SS soldier states: “Are you a fan of Adolf Hitler? Are you anti-Zionist? Do you oppose the written history by the victors of World War II? If so, please assist the association of Adolf Hitler!” This discussion forum also provides bank account information through which funds can be transferred to support its continued activities.

The hitler.ir site is part of a group of websites openly identified as neo-Nazi (realhitler.com; hitlertruth.com; hitlernews. com; justice-for-hitler.com). The administrator of this group of websites identifies himself as Hamid Reza Nikbakhsh, a twenty year old Shi’i-Iranian from Ahvaz who acknowledges his responsibility for managing several neo-Nazi associations in Iran. He also takes credit for publishing several books and translations from German into Persian, like Artesh-e bein-e almelali-ye hitler(“Hitler’s international army”), which are available for purchase online.

In a broader context, racist content and hate messages are not a new phenomenon on the internet. Such material has been circulated electronically by neo-Nazi groups in America and Europe beginning in the early 1980s, even prior to the proliferation of personal computers and widespread access to the internet. Despite an apparent recent increase in Iranian manifestations of racist nationalism and Nazi Inclinations on the internet, it is presently still a marginal phenomenon on both the Iranian and international network.

Nevertheless, if the Islamic Republic is tolerating the  activity  of  pro-Nazi forums on its virtual domain, while systematically filtering and censoring political opposition and dissidents, this could indicate a tacit legitimization of the propagation and development of an un-Islamic ultra-nationalistic concepts in Iran. Finally, although manifestations of cyber-hate deserve critical scrutiny, extensive publicity of such sites unfortunately increases their popularity and generates further interest in them domestically and internationally.


 

Author

Reza Akhlaghi

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