Iranian President Hassan Rowhani’s gentle reprimand to his country’s clerics to be tolerant towards the Internet shows his sagacity. For historical reasons, Iran has been clubbed with the conservative-theological world that includes countries practising governance based on the broad tenets of faith.
Then, there are countries like North Korea and Cuba, which have been besotted with a political culture of isolationism that informs their policy of not opening up to the world. China, on the other hand, follows a middle-of-the
Rowhani’s telling Iranian clerics to let the younger generation move with the times shows his intention of following a progressive agenda in the nation often criticised for toeing an anti-Western line.
The Internet was invented in the West and all other modern developments in information technology that have built up a suprastructure of convenient online media being used by businesses and tens of millions of people, were developed due to the inventiveness of liberal-democratic societies. Such societies use their culture and permissive mores to nurture human resources that produce goods and ideas backed by a solid research and development infrastructure.
It’s not that the clerics of Iran are thinking regressively or their anti-American proclivities have got the better of their senses. It is a problem of all conservative societies that they see social change as retrograde, at least initially. At times, introduction of new technologies and systems have been seen to promote a divisive agenda or be used in propaganda.
Social groups — here clerics — are more sceptical of heterogenetic change, meaning change coming from outside their societies. They may be partly tolerant of orthogenetic changes, which develop inside societies as a result of innovations.
It’s hard to change mindsets nurtured over centuries. But it’s not impossible to bring about change if it is managed well. The management of change is a responsibility of all leaders — business as well as political. Here Rowhani has tried to use his position to impress upon religious leaders the importance of a vital socio-technological development.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis praised the Internet. “The Internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good. A gift from God,” he said.
The Iranian president, known to be a relative moderate, has largely endeared himself to world leaders to promote his country’s interests. He knows he has a difficult job ahead. He shouldn’t sound too liberal to grate the conservative elements. And he shouldn’t be seen to be too outdated to be unable to break Iran’s international isolation•