Hossein Derakhshan (Photo: Lisa Goldman)

Hossein Derakhshan is an Iranian-Canadian blogger whose blog, “Editor:Myself,” helped ignite what has been a surprising blogging phenomenon in Iran when, in 2001, he posted instructions about how to set up a Weblog in Farsi. Since then, nearly100,000 Iranian blogs have been created. The Iranian government, eager to control information, has tried to block Derakhshan’s blog, but it is still incredibly popular with young Iranians. For the past two weeks he has been blogging from Israel — a country that has been demonized in Iran for as long as he can remember, and one that the current president, hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has demanded be “wiped off the map.” Derakhshan is on a mission, using his blog to try to defuse the tension between Israel and Iran, and giving the thousands of young Iranians who read him a more humane vision of the people their president describes as an enemy.

Gal Beckerman: You’ve been described in many places as the “godfather” of the Iranian blogs. How did you get the title?

Hossein Derakhshan: I kind of introduced this idea to Iranians, because maybe there were a few other people blogging in Persian but nobody was reading them. I had this background in Iran. I was a journalist and people were familiar with my name and with my work, and I had enough free days to figure out how to set it up. I posted instructions about how to make a blog using free Web services that were available. That’s what I did, and it became very successful and within a few months we had two or three thousand people who were using my instructions and were blogging in Persian — which was very surprising to me, because I had no idea that Iranians would be so into expressing themselves and writing about the things web logs are for.

GB: Were the blogs much like the blogs you see in the West? Were people using them the same way?

HD: No, I guess they’re less informative, less political, compared to what happens on the American blogs. There are many, many genres in Iranian blogs but some of the very popular ones are about literature and poetry. There are some that don’t write anything original, that just cut and paste. But there are many interesting ones now, you can read hundreds of interesting Iranian blogs everyday. It’s not limited to certain famous people anymore; it’s actually mainstream now. From trendy art students in the north of Tehran to young clerics in the holy city of Qom, it’s very mainstream. There are secular, anti-religious, anti-regime people and there are also some fundamentalist-supporting revolutionary guards.

GB: What has the government’s response to the phenomenon been? I imagine they must have been worried.

HD: Because it was the reformist government that was presiding while this thing was developing, they didn’t actually crush it at the beginning. Quite the opposite; they embraced it and they helped it grow.

GB: That was during Mohammed Khatami’s reign?

HD: Yes. The government was very supportive of the whole thing. I know they lent some money to a company giving free blogging service in Persian to Iranians at the time, and it’s still operating. It’s called persianblog.com. And that was a very significant reason that blogging became mainstream — because it had the correct script and an interface and it was much easier for Iranians to work with that then it was with blogger.com or MySpace, which they had been using.

But even during Khatami [government officials] started worrying about the influence of some of these blogs. Because they had no control over them. And then they started blocking many of them, including mine. Mine was one of the first blogs to be filtered. With other Web sites, it’s been about a year now since they have been blocking them. In the last few months they have really started filtering and blocking people’s access inside Iran. They can’t shut down the Web sites themselves because they are not hosted in Iran. So they just filter them out.

GB: Do you have a sense of why your blog in particular was censored that way?

Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.