North Korea, Iraq and Iran – the countries George W. Bush accuses of forming an “axis of evil” – are some of the world’s most secretive states. But they’re online.
Send me an e-mail, ok?
The Taliban banned television for the Afghan people, but the leadership including Mullah Mohammed Omar reportedly watched international channels, as US bombs fell on Kabul.
The people of eastern Europe’s Warsaw Pact and the former Soviet Union, before the fall of Communism, listened faithfully to radio programmes sent from antennae on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
But television and radio were just the start.
It’s a fact that modern media frustrate the leaders of closed societies, and the Internet is the latest threat.
There is always the option of "screening".
If parents can purchase special software to prevent their children from surfing into porn-sites, it is possible for dictatorial regimes to limit the surfing range of their subjects. "Surf our shores, or nobody’s," they say.
But it’s hard applying such standards nationally, on each and every personal computer in a country. There are complicated ways of blocking out pages, though. The People's Republic of China even blocked out DW-WORLD's pages in Mandarin, thank you very much.
But curious citizens get online anyway, and hiring a webmaster to create original content is a lot easier than blocking them out. That’s exactly what some of the world’s most repressive regimes have done.
Their efforts offer propaganda more for a foreign audience than for a domestic one. Clearly, that’s why they e-publish in English.
Take, for example, the three countries US President George W. Bush named in his State of the Union address Tuesday evening – Iraq, Iran and North Korea. "States like these, and their terrorist allies," he said, "constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."
Well, that’s not all they do. They also produce web content.
The country known to itself as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but to most everyone else as North Korea, stands accused of running a secret nuclear programme, trying to build weapons of mass destruction.
It attracts almost no tourists, and those who do visit report that the kim-chi is luke-warm, the electricity even in hotels is unreliable, and the propaganda is unrelenting. If you’re curious, though, skip the cool kim-chi and candlelight and check out the propaganda at www.english.dprkorea.com.
This is a truly sleek site. The government of Kim Jong Il, the Stalinist known to his people as "Dear Leader", certainly cannot be accused of skimping on the website, though through failing agricultural policies and prohibition of free enterprise it has kept much of the proletarian citizenry in artificially-imposed famine conditions for years on end.
Click on the link to "well-known people’s sayings" to find inspiring quotations like this: "Defended socialism means victory, and abondoned socialism means death." Certainly for many North Koreans, this has been tragically true.
But there really is some good surfing here, to the press releases for example, where we find out that Peruvian leftists have predicted that Kim Jong Il will be re-elected president in North Korea’s next election. Indeed, prophetic.
There are music downloads, such as "Song of General Kim Jong Il" and what appears to be a longing plea for reunification with democratic, capitalist South Korea, "Korea is One". For those moved by the spirit of it all, the site claims to have a karaoke function, though it's not clear how it works.
Saddam Hussein’s website makes no mention of his orders to kill many of his own countrymen with chemical weapons. See for yourself at www.uruklink.net/iraq/epage1.htm.
It does, however, remind readers that he is married with three boys and two girls, while providing a basic rundown of the Iraqi president’s political exploits since his 1937 birth in Tikrit, seat of Saladdin Province.
Iraq has been subjected to long-running sanctions, and there’s an international debate about whether Saddam himself is responsible for his people’s abject poverty, or whether the United States and its allies should bear the blame. The website sheds no new light on this matter.
But it does provide Saddam’s personal spin on the Gulf War, which ended in a rout of his elite Republican Guard yet left him in power in Baghdad. He "led his country in confrontation the aggression launched by 33 countries led by US. which waged war against Iraq, the Iraqis' confrontation of which is called by Arabs and Iraqis as the Battle of Battles (Um Al-Ma' arik), where Iraq stood fast against the invasion, maintaining its sovereignty and political system."
His grammar, not ours.
Aside from an archive of Saddam’s speeches and a single press release, there isn’t much to see here.
Not surprisingly, Iran’s president beats Iraq’s in the content war. Seyed Mohammad Khatami flaunts his credentials as a modern man and tolerant ideologue at www.president.ir.
He is known as a reformer, so far as his Islamic republic’s revolutionary clerics will allow him to be. Also not surprisingly, the clerics do not have a website.
Khatami’s website cuts straight to the chase. He was outraged by Bush’s accusation Tuesday evening. A link at the top of his front page characterises Bush’s remark as "intervening, warmongering, insulting, a repetition of his past propagation, and worse than all, truly insulting towards the Iranian nation."
Though the site contains interesting links to places like the state archive of historical documents and Khatami’s views on religion and politics, the surf is rough. Twice during our effort, links failed and a sign blamed trouble with the "local server".
It is slow and, most disappointing of all, the chat function didn’t work. Neither did the guestbook. So much for dialogue between civilisations.