A “halal” internet has been a topic that’s been brought up in Iran several times in the past, and has once again resurfaced in the wake of the recent protests across the country. It would mean the strict control of the internet to make it coincide with Islamic law — and being an Islamic country, the government’s law is Islamic law, according to them anyway. This would be in direct contrast to the path Iran has been on in the last few years, significantly increasing in the number of smart phones and internet access among its people. That power in the pockets of the people could be seen as a threat by the Iranian government, and this “halal-net” idea has been brought up before.
One suggested method of control would be via an internet that is managed entirely by the government. A “walled garden” or closed platform internet is one that is entirely cut off from the outside world, and is strictly controlled by a central authority. This has a myriad of uses beyond governmental control, including the Amazon Kindle’s eReader system, the Verizon CDMA network and many video game consoles all often use a walled garden system. However, in the case of a government doing this country-wide, controlling every piece of information that comes in and out — it threatens to cut off the single most revolutionary aspect of the internet itself: unregulated access to information everywhere.
The protests early this year were spurred from a number of reasons — the skyrocketing unemployment rates, the suffering economy, the rapidly rising prices of oil despite its abundance, to name a few — and a number of protests followed in suit, starting in late December and ending mid-January. The protests were organized via social media services, primarily Instagram and Telegram. Both of those platforms were restricted by the government in an effort to quell the protests, and the bans have since been lifted.
Iran has tight control over their internet usage in general — the Iranian Revolutionary Guard reports to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, and they either have a hand in or directly own most internet service providers in the country. Each of these ISPs have to be approved by the Telecommunication Company of Iran and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Approximately half of the most popular websites in the world are restricted under their purview, to include Facebook, Youtube and Twitter; they also block a number of sites with western angles, like science, shopping, health, or even news.
Another method the Iranian government can use to stifle protests is to throttle their internet speeds entirely, a simple but effective tool to get the average protester to simply give up before he even knows when, where or why the protests are happening, as each page can take minutes to load. They did this during protests in 2006 and prior to the 2009 and 2013 elections. They also used this technique during the Arab Spring.
Now the talks of a “halal” internet have resurfaced, following these recent protests. You may have heard the term halal in other contexts, particularly with food. The halal MRE is actually quite popular among Muslim and non-Muslim soldiers alike.
Halal simply means that it is permissible under Islamic law. So halal food falls in line under the rules and regulations that guide those subject to Islamic law, using words like clean and unclean. It dictates how to slaughter animals and how to prepare the food. However, making something halal can also apply to finance, travel, clothing and other facets of life. “Hawala” is an effective and halal form of transporting money from one person to another, off the grid and using a strict honor system by brokers. Whether or not Halal can apply to the internet in an effective manner, remains to be seen.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.