Contemporary immigrants can not be characterized
as the “uprooted” (Glick Schiller et al. 1995: 48)
Such is the symptomatic contradictoriness
of exile and its narratives! (Naficy 1998: 157)
Contrasts between Iranian
migrancy and its portrayal underlie this paper. To start
with, “exile” looms large in Iranians’ accounts of their
contemporary diasporas, whereas actual diasporic contexts
include other significant forms of migrancy as well.
These views of exile often imply “absence” and contain
remarkably few references to spatial dimensions of migrancy,
despite indications that spatial dimensions shape Iranian
exilic experience. Iranian representations of exile
along these lines run analogous to arguments in social
science regarding “deterritorialization,” which feature
increasingly in discussions on the nature of new media
and transnational migration. Just as exile, transnational
migration and new media are positioned by many of its
theorists beyond the grasp of the landmarks that contain
offline phenomena. This paper takes the opposite stance,
scratching the surface of migrancy narratives in order
to “relocate Dutch-Iranian exile,” in particular with
respect to patterns of online connectivity.
The overall argument on online
connectivity in Dutch-Iranian networks proceeds from
an introduction of Iranians in the Netherlands and research
methods. The remainder of the essay addresses (online)
Dutch-Iranian transnational networks in relation to
territoriality. In the first instance, it is argued
that online interaction represents offline contexts
instead of disembodied “network society” dynamics. That
is, Dutch-Iranian sites and the hyperlinks which connect
them reflect offline community networks which are correspondingly
sparse and decentralized. What is more, hyperlink numbers
between Netherlands-based websites of Iranians are disproportionately
high in comparison with transnational ones. Additionally,
the distribution of these transnational hyperlinks follows
a national pattern. Along these lines, which indicate
territorially anchored online interaction, one may “relocate”
Secondly, the essay looks
into “modes of territoriality.” That is, Dutch-Iranian
Internet practice is closely bound up with Dutch national
space, but other factors ¾
network medium and generation in particular ¾
may alter the particulars of this relation. I argue
that portals’ online fora are more likely to attract
individual users than organizations, whereas organizations
are more likely to represent themselves through websites
than are individuals. Does generation correlate with
differential Internet practice on sites and portals?
One may conjecture on the basis of immigration process
literature that whereas first generation migrants’ life
online is often an extension of offline ethnic networks,
second generation migrants are more likely to reflect
these networks in subtler ways. They may host partially
sovereign portals pivoting on hyphenated identities.
These explorations provide new instances of “exilic
syncretism” (Naficy 1993: 192) that challenge narrations
of exile as deterritorialized absence.
I compare these findings with forthcoming work by Liza
Nell on territorially bound Turkish-Kurdish web surfing
(in an essay co-written with the present author, on
which the present paper relies heavily). The comparison
establishes that whereas network medium, generation
and territoriality are differently related in each case,
the Turkish-Kurdish one is defined by territorial bounds
as much as the Iranian. Specifically, Turkish-Kurdish
sites and surfing reflect national (Netherlands-based),
diasporic (Europe-based), and transnational (Turkey-based)
activities of offline Turkish-Kurdish communities, rather
than unbounded virtual communication. Exile articulates
locally among Turkish Kurds as it does among Iranians
in the Netherlands.
OF DIASPORIC SPEECH
Exile figures prominently in Iranians’ rendering
of their present-day diasporic conditions, despite the
fact that contemporary emigration from Iran is far from
exhausted by that category. In her study of Iranians
in France, Nassehi-Behnam distinguishes political and
religious exiles and socio-cultural and economic emigrants
(2005: 252). Graham and Khosravi differentiate between political exiles
and a majority of emigrants among Iranian refugees in
Sweden (1997: 118). Iranian traders first came to Hamburg in the late eighteenth
century and they were followed, preceding the Islamic
revolution, by other non-exilic Iranian migrations into
Germany (cf. Hesse-Lehmann & Spellman 2004:
141). Even when conceiving of exile as a category of
“experience” rather than as a political fact, it may
be contrasted to the condition of the much less tragic
Iranian “(e)migrant” (mohâjer) (cf. Fischer &
Abedi 1990: 255).
Notwithstanding considerable variety in
the make-up of late twentieth century Iranian diasporas,
the theme of exile not only dominated “most fiction
and poetry written in the early years of the [post-revolution]
Iranian emigration [but continued] to dominate the literary
scene” in the 1990s (Davaran 1996: 5). An authoritative
study on Iranians and Iranian television in Los Angeles
frames its object as “exile cultures” (Naficy 1993).
“Exiled Memories”, tellingly, adorns the cover of a
collection of “stories of Iranian diaspora” in the United
States (Sullivan 2001). But the author expresses awareness
of the fact that exile, in her case studies, is not
only just a political feature of the post-migration
situation but also a concept that involves cultural
mediation: “The Iranians to whom I spoke were only the
most recent among those who share exilic sensibility.
Iranian literature, religion, and identity have incorporated
prolonged lamentations for that from which the subject
has been separated” (2001: 263-64).
It has been observed that “[w]ithin Iranian
culture […] the medieval mystic’s sense of severance
from the original wholeness of creation has provided
the impulse for a great amount of creative imagining”
(Karimi-Hakkak 1991: 258) — Rumi’s “Song of the Reed”
stands out as exemplary (cf. Farrokh & Ghanoonparvar
1991: 282). If only for these references, Nafici is
on solid ground when emphasizing that Iranian Sufism
contains a repertoire of notions related to exile. In
addition, he claims that Sufism provides a mould through
which Iranians often experience “actual” exile. Sufi
poetry, he feels, provides “the paradigmatic worldview
and language of exile, embodying a variety of journeys,
returns and unifications” (1991: 286; cf. Sullivan 2001:
264). While Sufism may often inspire vocabulary in Iranians’
representations of actual exile, however, such imagery
does not by far exhaust them. A Sufi mould applies less
to the level of thematic structure, furthermore, than
vocabulary. In fact, Iranian discourses on actual migrancy
often contradict the structure of the mystical path.
Renderings of the mystical path often build
on notions of original alienation that accompany Islam
from its beginnings, as in the Prophetic saying (Meier
1992: 105) that “Islam began as a stranger and will
return a stranger. Long live the strangers!” A similar
motif figures in the sixth Imam’s (d.765) concept of
Shiism as the religion of “strangers/expatriates” (ghorabâ’)
among Mohammad’s community (Corbin 1971: 90, cf. 33).
Corbin’s esoteric exegesis of the phrase in question
pivots on the lowly, illusory nature of “the world”
(donyâ) (1971: 93), a theme which pervades Sufism generally. Many Sufis invoke
the prophetic hadith that “one has to die before one
dies” in accounts of mystical self-realization and Yahya
Sohravardi (d.1191) resorts to symbolic geography in
order to convey worldly alienation in his Tale of
the Occidental Exile (qissat al-ghurba al-gharbiyya).
Sohravardi’s Tale depicts “Occident” as an underworld
of physis and decline in which the main protagonist
has been lost and from which he escapes, gloriously
returning to a spiritual land of origin (Orient).
These imageries conjure up an image of man
thrown into this world disoriented, an exile, and of
life as a perilous journey. Salvation subsequently depends
upon his following a spiritual master through whom he
will overcome alienation: shed his worldly soul and
reunite with his essential self. Hence, the notion of
“Sufis’ detachment of worldly attachments” (Naficy 1998:
10). Sufi mystics’ “exile,” then, often connotes primal
“alienation” and its remedy, reunification through “detachment.”
Iranian accounts of actual exile feature
many expressions of alienation and detachment, and these
are often couched in a vocabulary of “journeys [and
longed for] returns and unifications.” But there is
another type of diasporic discourse also that is not
dominated by “alienation.” One finds an exemplary tale
of “euphoric” migrancy in Ali Zarrin’s poem Made
You Mine, America. Migrancy experience here does
not involve self realization through detachment, as
in the Sufi paradigm, but self fashioning through the
active appropriation of the new (worldly) context of
Secondly, it has been rightly noted that
notions of nostalgia, paralysis and loss are central
to Iranian narrations of exile. Here however, alienation
and detachment do not fit the larger structure of the
mystical path of self-realization, but, inversely, indicate
disintegration. The developmental perspective of the
Path gives way to notions of stasis and void, which
are widespread: “Most Iranian writers, regardless of
the language in which they write, agree that exile leads
to cultural and linguistic deracination” (Rahmieh 1992).
The paradoxical euphoria of detachment in such hierarchically
interrelated Sufi terms as “seclusion” (khalvat),
“union” (ettehâd), and “annihilation of the self”
(fanâ’), finds it opposite in “dysphoric” migrant
experiences (cf. Karimi-Hakkak 1991; Farrokh & Ghanoonparvar
1991: 282). While the attribution of such disintegrative
sentiments to Sufism is problematic, the ethnographic
record shows that they are not self-explanatory, universal
renderings of exilic migrancy either. Bowman, for example,
explains of a legendary dislocation how “the moment
of Judaism’s formation was deeply implicated in [Babylonian]
exile” [my insertion] (2002: 451).
The salience of disintegrative sentiments
emerges clearly from Iranian diaspora literature. The
name of Gholam-Hoseyn Sa‘di [Saedi] (d.1985) looms large
when it comes to the literary representation of post-revolution
migrancy as exile. His Metamorphosis and Redemption
of the Âvâres (Degardisi va Rahâ’i-ye Âvârehâ)
(1982, in Shahidian 1996) treats the plight of what
perhaps best translates as the “destitute exile” (Âvâre),
who contrasts the émigré (mohâjer). Sa‘di’s exile
conveys the sense of a lost homeland being “replaced
by a place so indescribably different that only by magical
powers of a free-wheeling fancy can its image be contemplated”
(Karimi-Hakkak 1991: 276). Exile, for him, meant “gradual
death” (Naficy 1993: 229; Shahidian 1994: 417) and he
is judged to have “died of exile” himself (Hillmann
Similar imagery of loss, paralysis and limbo
feature in Esma‘il Fasih’s famous novel of exiled Iranians
in Paris, Sorayya in a coma (Sorayyâ dar Eghmâ’)
(1985-1986), where “coma” is made to stand for “exile”
(Naficy 1993: 228), and the theme of exile appears through
the mystic Rumi (cf. Farrokh & Ghanoonparvar 1991:
282). Exile poet Esma‘il Kho‘i refers to refugees as
People in between (1987) (cf. Naficy 1998: 11)
and Goli Taraghi’s The Bizarre Comportment of Mr.
Alpha in Exile (Adat-e Gharib-e Âqâ-ye Alef dar
Ghorbat) (1991) depicts “the image of the intellectual’s
life in exile as being in a cocoon” (Karimi-Hakkak 1991:
292). Nasim Khaksar’s Last Letter (Âkherin
Nâme) (1988) renders exilic life as “limbo between
living and dying” (Papan-Matin 2004) and imagery of
void is central once more in his Between Two Doors
(Tussen Twee Deuren) (2000) — a portrayal of
exile in the Netherlands. Here as elsewhere, “Khaksar
writes precisely on the vanishing point between two
languages, countries, histories, and political systems”
(Keulemans 2000: 163).
Countering these literary images of exilic
stasis, Nafici stresses that exile “is a process of
becoming, involving separation from home, a period of
liminality and in-betweenness that can be temporary
or permanent, and finally incorporation into the dominant
host country” (1993: xvi). But another absence, that of place, marks both his and the
literary conceptions of exile. His definition suggests
that exile — at least in the middle phase — hovers over,
is territorially unbound vis-à-vis locations of exile.
Thus, according to Nafici, exile is a “dislocatory presence”
and “liminars live in a continual state of otherness
and exile from former and new attachments. Freed from
both, they are “deterritorialized”” (1998: 9).
These and other exilic figures of diasporic
speech derive from Iranian cultural repertoires as much
as signify post-revolution Iranian migrancy, which helps
explain their marginalization of other significant categories
of migrancy. Already in 1991, Sreberny-Mohammadi &
Mohammadi reflected that within “expatriate Iranian
communities concerns about “exile” are giving way to
concerns about “acculturation”” (223). Davaran mentions new diaspora literature emanating from “a
new consciousness [that] has found its conclusive grounds
in different societies” (1996: 5). Nafici’s own accounts of exilic syncretism, that he opposes
to the imagery of exile as stasis, point out how Iranian
exiles adopt American cultural forms to account for
their “dislocation” (Naficy 1993: 108). Territorial aspects
of locality, in other words, often underlie even figures
of diasporic speech. An important strand of contemporary
social science theorizing, however, argues in the opposite
and Ferguson claim that “today, the rapidly expanding
and quickening mobility of people combines with the
refusal of cultural products to “stay put” to give a
profound sense of a loss of territorial roots, of an
erosion of the cultural distinctiveness of places, and
of ferment in anthropological theory” (1992: 9). Appadurai’s
often cited statement holds that “ethnicity, once a genie contained in the bottle
of some sort of locality (however large) has now become
a global force, forever slipping in and through the
cracks between states and borders” (1996: 306). These and other formulations of “deterritorialization”
have become increasingly central to discussions of transnationalism,
transmigration and new media and indicate a larger trend
in anthropological theorization. Contemporary anthropological
conceptualization of “place” often stresses fluidity
and ongoing construction, in contrast to older conceptualizations
of place as fixed and given (cf. Ward 2003: 81-3). In
many of these analyses, the new focus on flux and constant
creation diminishes the analytical weight of place and
its making, as when we are told of the alleged “global
social fact that […] people are chronically mobile and
routinely displaced” (Malkki 1992: 24).
However, alternative accounts and counterarguments increasingly
come to the fore that cast doubt on deterritorialization
as an ultimate symbol of current globalization. They
call into question the case of academic proponents of
deterritorialization who argue “that geographical space
has, in analytical terms, ceased to be the master index
for social and cultural processes” (Wardle 2002: 494).
Cases abound of deterritorialized nation-states stretching
beyond their geographic boundaries, with leaderships
claiming their dispersed populations as citizens (Basch et al. 1994: 269-70). But Parham’s study of Internet use in transnational
Haiti, among many others, reminds of the unabated importance
of place-based social ties for sustained, as opposed
to merely ephemeral, online interaction (2004). In a
similar vein, this essay inquires whether “deterritorialized”
actually captures migrants’ Internet networking.
For many analysts
of the contemporary, transmigrants and the Internet
symbolize the latest stages of globalization. The older
modernity connoted massive, unidirectional migratory
streams and communications revolutions of the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries. In the newest phase,
online interaction also imply deterritorialization.
Temporal and spatial bounds are felt to have dominated
previously globalized social settings, while a different
logic is stated to underlie current globalization. In
the post-industrial “network society,” “timeless time”
and a “space of flows” are thought to transcend prior,
industrial time and place regimes (cf. Uimonen 2003:
277). The nation-state, more than any other territorial
principle, suffers from dilution in it: “[O]verall the
new state is not any longer a nation-state [but] a network
state” [my insertion] (Castells 2000: 14).
beyond these perspectives is a situated view of place
construction (cf. Ward 2003). Against deterritorialization
as symbol of the contemporary, it is useful to be reminded
of an enduring, spatially defined identity nexus uncovered
by geneticist Luigi Cavalli-Sforza and his team of researchers.
They “examined the surnames of over 10.4 million entries
in the telephone directories of 91 Italian provinces”
and showed that “contemporary locations of surnames
in Southern Italian provinces reflected the original
distribution of communities formed by migrations of
Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Albanians going back
as far as the eighth century B.C” (Weiner 2002: 25).
This is not to dispute the significance of recent transnational
flows and their accompaniment by reinforced identity
politics (cf. Glick Schiller et al. 1995: 52).
But the contrast between Cavalli-Sforza’s case and current
notions of global flows does highlight a failure in
much theorizing of place, transnationalism, and new
media, to recognize enduring spatial structures, such
as nation-state boundaries, that may underlie and distribute
these flows. “Being-in-a-local-setting” casts any migration
process and often implies a nation-state context as
well. In the following, I seek to establish similar
ground for online Dutch-Iranian diasporic transnational
1. RESEARCHING IRANIANS
IN THE NETHERLANDS
community comprises 28,522 persons (CBS StatLine 2005,
statline.cbs.nl). They are a small and young community
when compared with Turks (357,911), Surinamese (328,312),
Moroccans (314,699), or Antilleans (129,721) (CBS StatLine
2005). Migration from Iran to the Netherlands has mostly
been related to the 1978/9 Islamic Revolution, but economic
migrants also arrived in large numbers since the 1990s.
The (free) country of settlement context has provided
transnational Iranian groups such as the Fedayin (cf.
Sreberny-Mohammadi & Mohammadi 1987: 117) and the
Mojaheddin with ample opportunities for political activism.
Core data on the community’s life online
consisted of seventy-two Dutch-Iranian websites that
were accessed in 2003 and 2004 and assembled through
manually snowballing the web on keyword combinations
such as “Iran” and “Nederland”. Leafing through the
Google results, besides randomly discovered online locations,
provided “Startpages” that contained useful links to
additional Dutch-Iranian sites. Each hyperlink was then
checked from these starting points, to the point where
no new links could be found. I finally obtained a fairly
comprehensive sample by presenting my list of sites
to Dutch-Iranians from different walks of life and asking
them to add to it and repeating the saturation procedure.
Hyperlink structures, in addition
to websites proper, may be conceived to indicate chosen identities (cf.
Adamic & Adar 2001). The Dutch-Iranian site and
link structure as a whole thus depicts self-expressions
as well as connectivity patterns of the Dutch-Iranian
Graham and Khosravi, the two major names in studies
of Iranian online diaspora, hold that “[f]or a displaced
people in the diaspora, cyberspace can be an alternative
“territory,” where a transnational community or a virtual
neighborhood can be constructed” (2002: 228). They cite
an Iranian from California who feels that “the Internet
seems able to rescue Iranians from […] the “vacuum”
and “intellectual desert” […] of the host society” (230).
The vacuum metaphor certainly fits Iranian figures of
diasporic speech, but it will be equally interesting
to examine the other notion, “alternative territory,”
in the light of actual online interaction. And in that
light, little remains of such tropes. Connectivity patterns
actually indicate another instance of what Nafici called
“the symptomatic contradictoriness of exile and its
narratives” (1998: 157) ¾ online interaction set by offline territorial bounds versus exile as
interaction patterns of the 72 websites that constituted
the approximate domain of Dutch-Iranian cyberspace,
revealed that they clearly favored offline physical
proximity, as opposed to the random node and tie distributions
that “decentred” new media and “unbounded” transnationalism
would lead one to anticipate.
cyberspace mirrors offline communal patterns of Iranians
in the Netherlands, which feature sparsely knit networks
and remarkably little collective organization. Ghorashi
notes that contrary to the United States, which has
concentrated settlements of Iranian migrants, “the Netherlands
has a rather […] scattered Iranian population,” while
unlike Los Angeles, there are “few Iranian group or
community activities” [in the Netherlands] (2003: 10).
These offline communal features of Dutch Iranians were
reflected online in a low level of “cyberorganization
density,” which refers to website numbers in relation
to (ethnic) population size. In the absence of similar
figures for other ethnic groups in the Netherlands,
Iranian cyberorganization density may be provisionally
compared with density figures for non-Iranians’ offline
organization numbers in relation to their population
the mentioned offline features of Dutch-Iranian organization
also re-emerged online in a low level of network “compactness”.
That is, both density — the actual number of relations
(i.e. hyperlinks) out of the possible number of relations
— as well as centralization — the extent to which the
actual relations are organized around focal points —
rendered figures which are low in absolute terms. Density
measures 0.03 (150/(72*71)) — that is, low overall graph
cohesion. A social network analysis software program’s
(i.e. PAJEK’s (Batagelj and Mrvar 2004)) “degree” routine
rendered 0.16 for indegree centralization (referring
to incoming hyperlinks) and for 0.26 for outdegree centralization
(vis-à-vis outgoing links). That is, few or no sites
in the network were found which overshadowed the others
as regards link numbers.
Secondly, I explored these on- and offline structures
within a transnational perspective. Two sets of conclusions
emerge regarding transnational networks, which is to
say: hyperlinks originating from Dutch-Iranian websites
and connecting to Iranian websites in non-Dutch settings.
The first of these sets is about outgoing hyperlink
(outlink) numbers; the second concerns outlink patterns
for specific network sectors.
When excluding 83 dead links, the 72 sites render 962
hyperlinks that divide into 20 country domains (including
the Netherlands). Transnational ties predominate in
Dutch-Iranian outlink numbers, but national ties are
disproportionately strong. The United States and Iran
comprise primary outlink targets, with 304 and 243 links
respectively, while the Netherlands ranks third among
many other European destinations — that is, disproportionately
so. An average distribution of sites per country yields
about 50 hyperlinks (962/20). References to Dutch-Iranian
websites include 161 hyperlinks, over three times the average. The
point may also be argued comparatively with reference
to Iranian communities in Germany, France and Britain,
all of which are significantly larger than the Dutch
one. Despite these communities’ larger sizes, Dutch
outlink numbers by far exceed those for any other European
Regarding outlink patterns, the numerical order for
cultural, economic, political and religious elements
is broadly equivalent for national, Dutch websites and
(trans)national hyperlinks, with the exception of political
and economic data. That is, economic sites are more
important nationally (among Dutch-Iranian sites), whereas
political links are slightly more significant (trans)nationally
(among all hyperlinks). Web content, moreover, which
indicates identical ideological orientations for national
and transnational political sites and links, balances
the difference: Many national sites being explicitly
left-wing, corresponds to a majority (67%) of (trans)national
hyperlinks which are explicitly left-wing also. This
stands in contrast to minorities of (trans)national
hyperlinks which are nationalist and/or monarchist (12.5%),
interest group or democratization oriented (8.6%), conservative
Islamist (3.8%), feminist (1.9%), liberal-progressive
(0.9%), or representative of other identities (4.8%).
Another such correspondence between the national and
the transnational comes to the fore in the noticeable
scarcity of religious sites and hyperlinks on either
level. In addition, scarce religious links indicate
that the similarity of national and transnational networks
results from a projection of the national Dutch-Iranian
pattern upon the transnational diasporic stage, not
the other way around. Religious scarcity, online as
well as offline, may be interpreted in the light of
testimony as to the experience of suffocating, overbearing
Islam in Iran as a primary cause for Iranian migrants
to seek refuge in the Netherlands (e.g. Hessels 2002:
17). Contrasting the Dutch-Iranian case, French-Iranian (cf. Nassehi-Behnam 2005: 261-62) and British-Iranian
(Spellman 2004) networks have been reported to include
many religious associations.
The origins of a religious merchant colony in Germany’s
Iranian capital of Hamburg data back to the late eighteenth
century (Hesse-Lehmann 2002), and the city became the national centre of gravity for Shiism (Lemmen 2000: 64). After the Islamic revolution, the
“Islamisches Zentrum Hamburg […] played an exceptional
role as Iran’s ideological centre for the dissemination
of Iranian-type Islamism among Muslims living in Western
Europe” (Grünewald 1995). One suspects that it is in
consequence of these varied and longstanding settlements
that religious sites feature prominently in accounts
of Iranians’ German webspace (cf. Azimi & Brückner).
Had transnational realities of the Iranian diaspora
or the Internet’s alleged unboundedness applied here,
one might have expected not only significantly fewer
Dutch-Iranian hyperlinks, but also a radically higher
number of religious links. But the hyperlink
pattern indicates national-to-transnational directionality
These counterintuitive facts as to the unabated import
of national hyperlink numbers and patterns bear immediate
relevance to debates on transnationalism and globalized
new media. Digitally mediated globalization is often
held to be to the detriment of particularistic identities
such as nations (Negroponte 1995), but case studies
often suggest otherwise. A global hyperlink sample establishes
that “the organization of the world wide web conforms
to some degree to traditional national borders” (Halavais
2000: 7). Virtual transnationalism, as it emerges from
the above cases, demonstrates a similar paradox of spatiality:
the rupturing of borders in online Dutch-Iranian transnational
networks is itself patterned on a particular (i.e. Dutch),
territorial nation-state structure. Even though Iranians
in diaspora often represent migrancy as exile and exile
typically expresses a “limbo”, it is “situatedness”
that moulds Dutch-Iranian migrants’ online interaction.
MODES OF TERRITORIALITY
interact online in a variety of ways but the examined
communication patterns all reflect territorial landmarks,
which is to say: their spatial context of production
shines through. This section examines website category
and generation in Dutch-Iranian cyberspace and their
bearings on the particulars of territoriality.
fora allow different users’ instant interaction: all
that is usually required is registration. Conventional
sites often are graver regarding identity, with declarations
of intent and about pages, and more singular as to content Given
that instant interaction defines individuals’ motives
for online presence more than those of organizations,
and that the establishment of stable identities is more
crucial to organizations’ online presence than that
of individuals, one is more likely to find fora as individuals’
spaces and conventional sites as virtual extensions
of offline organizations.
Generation is one probable
factor as to social correlates of the difference for
personal and organizational links between sites and
portals. Immigration process literature generally holds
that first generation migrants are more likely to organize
in ethnic organizations, whereas second generation migrants
are more prone to develop cross-ethnic ties. Thus, whereas
first generation migrants’ life online may reveal rather
clear-cut extensions of offline networks, second generations
are likely to reflect these networks in more subtle
two main Dutch-Iranian portals, ISAN.NL
(hosted by the Iranian Scientific Association in the
Netherlands) and IRANL.COM
hosted by a Dutch-Iranian student group). Their board
members play central roles in Dutch-Iranian communal
life. There are many ways to probe the portals but the
most obvious manner was to chart discussion fora. It
was examined which percentage of messages represented
an organizational link to offline settings.
It was found
on ISAN on 8 March 2005 that only 2 out of 451 messages,
or 0.4%, represented an organization (Club Perzie
[Perzië] and Vereniging van Iraanse Vrouwen).
This compared to 191 out of 3,675 messages, or 5.2%,
on IRANL (8-18
March). Only one organization (Studentfile) accounted
for most (179) of these messages. When correcting for
this feature and taking into account numbers of organizations
instead of message numbers with organizational links,
a lower figure results: 10 out of 3,675, or 0.3%. These findings for organizational
links on ISAN
and IRANL compare to at least 25 out of 72 sites,
or 34.7%, for conventional sites. When checking for
organizational links, that is, striking differences
appear between portals on the one hand and average sites
on the other, regarding ways of relating to offline
fora could be construed as a natural habitat for second
generation Iranians who moved beyond the realm of traditional
migrant organizations. However, this assumption does
not stand up to scrutiny. Although age data are unavailable
for message posters, circumstantial data shed light
on the age factor. Eighty-four percent of the ISAN
organization belong to the first generation; this applies
to 75 percent of ISAN
members; and to 50 to 40 per cent that visit ISAN
generation does not correlate with differences in the
way that sites and portals link up with offline contexts,
conventional sites more often extending offline organizations,
and portals endowing virtual space to individuals in
particular. Despite the fact that portals such as ISAN
and IRANL do not
simply extend offline Dutch-Iranian organization, they
do reflect territoriality in other ways, which primarily
come to the fore in linguistic features of online interaction.
First, the balance of Dutch and Persian messages was
considered on these portals, secondly, the balance within
Persian language messages between postings composed
in Persian and postings composed in Roman script, and
thirdly, bilingualism. Bilingualism occurs both within
messages and within posting plus reply chains that alternate
for language choice.
To start with,
the number of Dutch and Persian messages is roughly
in balance on ISAN:
One message (0.2%) is in French; 66 (14.6%) are in English;
177 (39.2%) are in Dutch; and 189 (41.9%) are in Persian.
A similar pattern occurs on IRANL, where one message (0.02%) is in Arabic;
364 (9.9%) are in English; 1,534 (41.7%) are in Persian,
and 1,573 (42.8%) are in Dutch. Residual messages on
each portal, 18 and 204 respectively, are mostly extralinguistic.
The primacy and similarity of Dutch and Persian are
perhaps obvious, given references to things Dutch in
the names of “IRANL” and “ISAN”,
but easily underestimated as well. The bias towards
a “minor” language such as Dutch is curious given the
absence of geographical restrictions as to participation
in these portals. Yet, the linguistic pattern of their
postings corresponds precisely to the geographical reality
of first and second generation “Dutch Iranians”.
Persian messages, posters are left with the option to
write in the Persian or the Roman alphabets. Remarkably,
only 66 of ISAN’s
messages (14.6%) are composed in Persian, as opposed
to 123 (27.2%) in Roman script. On IRANL, 845 messages (22.9%) are composed in Persian,
as opposed to 689 (18.7%) in Roman. These findings contrast
a global pattern for Iranian blogs, the vast majority
of which are linguistically as well as scripturally
Persian. In other words, there is a Roman
script bias, in spite of the global blog pattern and
the fact that script traditionally defines Persian as
much as grammar. Script choice on ISAN and IRANL
does converge, however, with posters’ larger Roman script
environment, and the fact that many second generation
Dutch Iranians are said to command Persian speech but
as an indicator of territoriality, several messages
on each forum are bilingual. Persian-Dutch bilingualism
applies to 17 messages, or 6.7%, on IRANL’s
“students and minorities” forum, for example (21 March
2005). But besides messages, many more of the “posting
plus reply” chains feature Dutch and Persian language
switching. That is, replies will in many cases not adopt
posters’ language choice but change linguistic code
— this applies to 27 chains, or 45%, on ISAN
(21 March 2005). Linguistic marks of online interaction,
in other words, portray these portals as hosts for a
hyphenated identity. Contradicting narrations of exile
as absence and loss, they are instances of what Nafici
calls “exilic syncretism” (1993: 17). It is nation-state
bounds only, which render intelligible these virtual
expressions of Dutch-Iranianness.
interviews with Turkish immigrants in the Netherlands
identifying themselves as Kurdish, conducted in the
spring of 2004, provided Nell’s core data on territorial
bounds to Kurdish-Turkish web surfing. The sample includes twelve first,
six “in between”, and three second generation Kurds.
Seventeen out of these 21 respondents claimed to use
the Internet frequently. Only 14 professed to visit
websites relating to the (ancestral) country of origin.
These 14 respondents, and the 25 websites they mentioned,
are covered here.
Although the sample is too
small to be representative, the interviews do bring
out clear patterns of territorially anchored web usage.
In both the Iranian and the
Turkish-Kurdish cases, conventional sites often extend
offline organizations online, whereas portals are much
more individualized. For instance, only
7 out of 93 Turkish-Kurdish portal members who posted
hyperlinks on their profiles included references to
offline organizations, whereas 10 out of 25 conventional
sites constitute offline organizations’ official online
However, network medium relates
differently to generation and modes of territoriality
in each case. Network medium and generation do not correlate
in Dutch-Iranian cyberspace but they clearly do among
Turkish Kurds. The Turkish-Kurdish second and “in between”
generation visit web portals that do not count as extensions
of offline organizations (such as KOERDISTAN.NL),
whereas the first generation merely participates in
discussion portals that are part of offline organizations’
official websites (such as TKP.ORG.TR).
Network medium relates differently to modes of territoriality
in the sense that in Dutch-Iranian cyberspace, linguistic
features of portals’ discussion fora express hyphenated
identities — as opposed to straightforward extensions
of offline organizations — and broadened Dutch-Kurdish
(i.e. non-Turkish-Kurdish) identity that centers on
the Netherlands in the case of Turkish Kurds.
In order to specify broadened
Turkish-Kurdish identity, it first needs to be established
that irrespective of network medium, Internet usage
shows Turkish Kurds’ multi-layered identities in the
Netherlands. They surf sites hosted from the country
of settlement (the Netherlands), the diaspora, or transnationally
(in Turkey), and often simultaneously. Each type of
surfing reflects distinct, territorially marked identities.
Surfing on immigrant websites,
that target a broadened Kurdish ethnicity or
common (former) nationality, reflects Turkish
Kurds’ settlement in the Netherlands. For example, KOERDISTAN.NL — the most popular website (mentioned
five times) —is a forum for Kurds (as opposed
to Turkish-Kurds) in the Netherlands: its “netiquette”
explains that the site is Dutch-Kurdish and members’
input should be either Dutch or Kurdish.
The portal’s “events” section announces Kurdish social,
political, and cultural activities, such as Newroz
(new year) celebrations, in the Netherlands.
Another category, surfing
on diaspora sites, highlights ethnic or intra-ethnic
Kurdish identities that are linked with regional or
national spaces of origin. Being an immigrant or refugee
in Europe defines common ground in diaspora surfing.
For example, Kerkuk-kurdistan.com mostly treats news
from Iraq. At the same time, the site pays abundant
attention to news about Swedish politics; about Kurds
in Sweden; and to announcements of Kurdish events in
Sweden, whence the site is hosted.
In transnational surfing,
lastly, the common (former) nationality provides
the basis of identification and sometimes enables Kurdish
(intra) ethnic identification (this applies to sites
such as BIRNEBUN.COM, that target Kurds from Anatolia).
of these layers, immigrant sites, also indicated broadened
Kurdish identity in the Netherlands in relation to generation
and network medium. Three out of seven immigrant sites
are portals, visited by second and “in between” generation
Turkish Kurds in the Netherlands. The portals address
settlement in Dutch society while emphasizing a Kurdish
rather than Turkish-Kurdish identity. In sum,
the broadened immigrant portal identity in addition
to variation in the (hosting of and) surfing on Kurdish
sites by Turkish Kurds in the Netherlands indicates
how national boundaries, or territorially fixed authority,
canalize and mould their Internet practices.
modes of territoriality blend together in a larger picture
of Iranian hyperlink structures and Turkish-Kurdish
Internet usage reflecting territorial referents of locality,
region, and nationality. Explorations of online Dutch-Iranian
networks in the Netherlands indicated that Dutch-Iranian
cyberspace mirrors offline communal patterns. Turkish-Kurdish
web surfing shows geographical, cultural, and political
diversity mirroring their offline world. Territoriality
in Iranian and Turkish-Kurdish online interaction in
the Netherlands, as it appears from these cases, underscores
the view of virtual space as anchored in offline contexts
rather than as a self-contained, disembodied universe
that could be justifiably labeled “deterritorialized.”
of geographical space defines common ground between
theories of new media and transnationalism and an Iranian
genre of migrancy representations. In that respect,
the views of exile as void and of diasporic Internet
usage as deterritorialized contrast online interaction
patterns in Dutch-Iranian networks.
I have analyzed
“figures of diasporic speech” to argue that prevalent
Iranian representations of migrancy as exile beg cultural
interpretation. First, exile is one mode of modern Iranian
migrancy only; secondly, exile builds on long established
Iranian cultural paradigms; and thirdly, the rendering
of exile as void characterises Iranian exilic representations
but not the ethnographic record at large. In the margins
of these arguments, I have sought to amend the familiar
view that Sufism provides a mould through which Iranians
experience exile. Sufi paths often depict primal alienation,
detachment from worldliness, and self realization through
reunification with the divine, which contrasts the view
of exile as self fashioning through the active appropriation
of worldly contexts of migration. More importantly,
dominant Iranian representations of exile emphasize
alienation as in the Sufi theme but unlike the Sufi
path that develops toward self realization, center on
permanent void, absence, and loss.
absence, and loss” do not usually make up the vocabulary
in which theoreticians of deterritorialization couch
their points, it shares with dominant Iranian representations
of exile the minimization of geographical space. Theories
of transnationalism and new media carry the lead and
produce key terms such as “displacement,” “fluidity”
and “flow.” My argument has not been with these notions,
but with the implication, or explication in many of
the studies in which they feature, that a new global
condition transgresses “situatedness,” nation-state
bounds in particular.
In that perspective, Nassehi-Behnam is to be saluted
for her studies that move beyond many of the clichés
surrounding Iranian exile, and her statement that the
Iranian diaspora “comprend une population qui, au moins
dans sa grande majorité, n’est pas totalement déracinée.
La communication n’a presque jamais [cessé] d’exister
entre la communauté d’exil et le pays natal” (1988:
217). But even the latter remark stands out as a euphemism
in the light of Dutch-Iranian online interaction. My
findings show hundreds of hyperlinks that connect Iranians
in the Netherlands to Iran. More important, the statement
overlooks the new local attachments that shape exile.
Notwithstanding exilic discourse of deracination or that
of deterritorialization theorists on displacement, online
networks of Iranians in the Netherlands, far from transcending
time and space constraints, reflect their offline networks.
This comes across, for instance, in the paucity of their
religious sites. Furthermore, national patterns of interaction
retain disproportionate weight when considering these
in the perspective of transnational linking. Nation-state
bounds also shine through linguistic features of Dutch-Iranian
portals — the
balance between Dutch and Persian messages, the balance
between Roman and Persian script usage, and bilingualism
— that serve as
hosts for a hyphenated identity. Exile, that is, is
structured by local relations. While there are variations
between Iranians and Turkish Kurds in the Netherlands
as to the ways in which factors such as generation and
network medium affect modes of territoriality, the overall
importance of territorial space in both cases suggests
that territorial bounds retain their grip well beyond
the particularities of Dutch-Iranian exile.
Seven of these 14 belong to the first generation; on
average, these seven have been in the Netherlands for
18,5 years. Five of the 14 respondents are women. The
youngest respondent was 18 years old; the oldest was
54. The average age of the 14 was around 33 years. Seven
respondents (or their parents) had migrated to the Netherlands
for political reasons; two came as labor migrants, four
as a consequence of family reunification, and one for
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the author via email: <M.E.W.vandenBos@uva.nl>