Reviewed by Sharon Givoni
Two years after the release of his controversial book My Israel Question, Antony Loewenstein has just released The Blogging Revolution, which is essentially an account of bloggers around the globe who live and write under repressive regimes – many of them risking their lives to do so.
According to Loewenstein, the internet has become the only space for many citizens to express their hopes, fears and desires and a refuge for dissent on many issues, including women’s views and discussions on sex, drugs, gender, politics and religion.
Loewenstein has travelled widely in the process of writing this book and has written it as a result of his firsthand investigations with private parties, some of which risked their lives in order to share their views on their country’s rulers and their opinions on western democracy.
These parties included writers, bloggers, dissidents and journalists – from politicians and citizens in Iran and Egypt to people writing from internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus. One of the book’s most eye-opening discoveries is the way the internet is threatening the traditional role of governments.
The book arose out of Loewenstein’s frustration that so much of the western media was ignoring the voices of the non-western world, as if, he says “indigenous voices didn’t deserve to be heard”.
He wanted to show that the internet and blogs, in countries often deemed “enemies” or “allies” of the West, gave a unique insight into the culture and worldview of nations such as Egypt, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and China. His view is that the western world ignores these nations at its peril.
According to Loewenstein, one of the biggest surprises in writing this book (which he did in the course of only six months) is that “in a country such as Iran, regularly demonised in the West, bloggers are actively debating the current direction of the state under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad”.
He says that both conservatives and reformists actively use the internet to discuss religion, in forums usually ignored by western media. He also believes that it is far easier to simply frame the nation as run by fundamentalists determined to destroy Israel something, he claims, that is both inaccurate and dishonest.
Loewenstein hopes that one of the outcomes of the book is to prove that journalists don’t always have to be complicit enablers of those in power.
The book, which was launched last month, has already generated a great deal of public and media interest, especially people who were unaware how powerful the web can be in societies with only state-based media.
Sharon Givoni is a Melbourne-based writer and lawyer.