Hossein Derakhshan, known by the nom de blog of Hoder, at a very young age designed the code to make blogging possible in the Persian language, and so became the godfather of the vast Iranian blogosphere. Initially a critic of his country’s Islamist regime, he left Iran for Canada, and eventually obtained Canadian citizenship.
In the early days of blogging, Hoder was a sort of online celebrity. He received countless invitations to speak at conferences across the world. He was always treated with some deference by those seeking to advance or understand web interactions. His blog, Hoder.com, built up an audience in both English and Farsi.
I met Hoder at the BlogNashville conference in May 2005. He must have been around 30 at the time, but he looked and acted younger. Hoder struck me as modest and generous in spirit, insightful about the brave new world of web 2.0, but surprisingly naïve, if not ignorant, when it came to the geopolitical realities of the world.
He was not a friend of the US government. Because he fit the 9/11 profile – young Muslim male – he had been treated roughly in crossing the border from Canada, and the humiliation still stung when we talked. He was, like all bloggers, free with his opinions. It seemed to me most of them had been arrived at in a similar manner: from personal anecdotes.
Hoder’s opinions and behavior seemed to grow more erratic in later years, at least from my distant perspective. He became a rabid supporter of the Iranian regime’s nuclear program, explicitly advocating the need for the ayatollahs to develop nuclear weapons. Hoder.com degenerated into one long tirade on the subject.
His explanations had to do with the relentless imperial ambitions of the United States. We wished to conquer Iran whether it was Islamist or secular, he wrote. Since the country was ruled by Islamists now, and this was unlikely to change, the argument sounded spurious. Hoder seemed to be defending, in vehement language, the despotic regime he had long criticized.
In 2007, as a result of a libel suit by an anti-regime émigré he had attacked in his Farsi blog, the hosting company shut down Hoder.com.
In 2006, Hoder had attended a conference in Israel – which, he acknowledged, meant he would be unable to return to Iran in the foreseeable future. Yet in the fall of 2008 he traveled to Teheran. On 1 November of that year, predictably, he vanished into the grim dungeons of the Iranian religious mafia.
He has been there since. Only recently, after wasting in silence and shadow for nearly two years, has Hoder received what passes for justice in his native land: 20 years in prison. The cryptic language with which the prosecutors described his crimes made it clear that the trip to Israel featured prominently – but so did his supposed profanation of Islam’s “sanctities” and his criticism of the mullahcracy.
The question of Hoder’s motivation in going back to Iran is unanswerable. Maybe he thought he had won enough credit with the ruling despots by endorsing their thermonuclear dreams. Maybe he imagined he was too well known to be treated like an ordinary Iranian: that is, abusively.
It doesn’t matter. Hoder is an innocent abroad, but his mistake has been repeated by much more knowledgeable and sophisticated persons: to underestimate the malice, ambition, and craving for control of those who hold power in Teheran.
Let’s hope our government joins that of Canada, and of all the free nations of the West, in registering a demand for the freedom of this harmless soul. I won’t hold my breath.