Narrow vision of Iran’s protests is a Western media catastrophe | Aysha Taryam - GulfToday

Narrow vision of Iran’s protests is a Western media catastrophe

Aysha Taryam

@ayshataryam

Editor-in-Chief, Gulf Today News and Media.

Editor-in-Chief, Gulf Today News and Media.

Demonstrators gather in Manhattan to protest Mahsa Amini’s death in New York City. File/ AFP

Iran’s governmental regime has for decades enforced laws that are not only restrictive but ones that are also inhumanly implemented. Freedom of speech along with freedom of expression in almost all its forms is practically nonexistent. Protests have long been forcibly silenced with the aid of media blackouts.

In 2021 Iran saw the election of its new president Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline ally of the current supreme leader Ali Khamenei and seen as a frontrunner for his succession. With this new government came in full force the fist of the “Gasht-e-Ershad,” which translates as “guidance patrols” and is widely known as the “morality police”. It is a unit of Iran’s police forces tasked with enforcing the laws on Islamic dress code in public. The latest victim of this brutal enforcement is Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who after being detained by the ‘morality police’ for violating the law on headscarves succumbed while in their custody. Her demise has sparked protests in Iran and around the world demanding that the government end the reign of the ‘morality police’, a revision of the Iranian regime’s Islamic laws and justice for Amini.

The international media has been covering the protests with great zeal and rightfully so but as with much of this coverage we have yet again come to witness the narrow focus of the Western gaze. Yes, it is a worldwide responsibility for the media to keep its cameras rolling and its coverage live, aiding in the plight of an oppressed and unjustly treated people, but it is also the media’s responsibility to zoom out and understand that its rhetoric and analysis should encompass a wider perspective all the while considering the impact of their reporting.

The Western media has casually named the worldwide protests over the outrageous killing of Amini the ‘Anti-Hijab Protests,’ with no regard to what such a naming would have on the hundreds of millions of Muslim women around the world who choose to cover their hair as a symbol of their religious faith. The manner in which the Western media packages and sells the news, be it unconsciously or with full knowledge of the consequences, has long played a negative role in portraying the majority of moderate Muslims who practise their faith in its true essence of peace and tolerance. Once again, we witness the erosion of this beautiful religion of peace at the hands of the media in the West. It seems nothing was learned from the racial profiling and emotional damage that the media has caused after the September 11 attacks of 2001 whose effects Arabs and Muslims in general still feel reverberating through most airport security checkpoints around the world. Muslim names, dark skin, long beards and headscarves are targets of unjust, racist and humiliating consequences of a media’s narrow coverage of news from the Middle East that the world must put up with for generations.

By painting the suffering of the Iranian people as a rage against Islam the Western media is not only misrepresenting these brave protests but demeaning them

The so-called ‘morality police’ is a work of fiction that extremist governments have created to control their people, it has no background in the Islamic faith and never existed historically in any form since the dawn of this religion. It is and has always been a weapon for the collective mentality to control and silence individual expression.

Sadly, Amini is not the first female to fall victim at the hands of the Iranian regime. In 2009’s Iranian presidential elections the world witnessed the final moments of Neda Agha-Soltan’s life broadcast through a cellphone camera, a student of philosophy and a music teacher, who was protesting the integrity of the elections and was shot in the chest; she was 26 years old.

By painting the suffering of the Iranian people as a rage against Islam the Western media is not only misrepresenting these brave protests but demeaning them. The Iranian people are not protesting the ‘hijab’ or their faith, they are and have been for years protesting for freedom of expression of this faith, a freedom that is practised in Muslim countries around the world. The media need not cast its eyes away from this truth, the truth of a people’s true desire for freedom, and must be held accountable for the consequences of its categorical representation of the plight of oppressed people.

The coverage of such injustices should not create new ones. Muslim women around the world who choose to wear the hijab or dress modestly should not because of the Western media’s rhetoric suffer being viewed as oppressed, they should not be judged for their choices or painted as a target for harassment. The hijab is not a symbol of an oppressive regime as the media would like the world to associate it with, it is a symbol of respect for a faith Muslim women around the world wear with pride.

Muslim women have the freedom of choice, taking away this freedom is non-Islamic, it is dictatorship in Islamic clothing.

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