Citizen Journalism in Iran – Pictures of Insurgence
Published in “Frankfurter Rundschau” on January 6 2010
Source (German): http://www.fr-online.de/in_und_ausland/kultur_und_medien/feuilleton/?em_cnt=2187368&em_cnt_page=1
By Haideh Daragahi
From the numerous films, pictures, and stories that have been e-mailed to me from Iran recently, I have picked three pictures that in a special and impressive way shed light on reasons and contents of the current revolt. All three are examples for a new phenomenon: The “citizen journalism”. It was created after professional journalism was prohibited in Iran and foreign reporters were expelled following the rigged elections in June 2009.
The first picture was taken during a public execution in the southeast of the City of Sirjan, where an enraged crowd attacked the security forces and took down the two convicts who were already hanged and unconscious. On the right side of the picture, one can see the rope, and in the center there is a body, covered with a piece of cloth, that is held by helping hands and brought to safety.
Public executions by hanging or stoning are part of the Islamic Republic’s intention to normalize violence and brutalize human relations. The introduction of the Sharia in 1979 has reduced the (criminal) jurisdiction to the retaliation of a crime, i.e. to the principle of “an eye for an eye”. Thieves are punished by amputation of their hands, and if someone lost an eye as a result of somebody else’s action, the insurgent will be deprived of his eyesight.
Murder is punished not so much as a social crime than as a family matter. If the “blood community”, meaning the family, of the victim refuses to settle the issue by payment of “blood money” (the amount of which is to be set by the state), the Sharia judge will ask them to remove the stool on which the convict stands during the execution.
The picture that shows people actively rescuing two convicts who were sentenced to death is the most visible sign for self-empowerment. The people are no longer willing to accept the cruelties of the law of retaliation. They reclaim their dignity, setting a proud example for the civilized societies in USA, China, and all other countries of the world where death penalty is still legally practiced.
The second picture was taken on December 27 in Tehran. It shows a woman wearing a white face mask to protect herself from tear gas, defiantly forming the victory sign with her fingers. On her face and mask trails of blood can be seen. Her attitude is typical for the millions of Iranian women who took to the streets of the major cities during the past six months. During the protests, they were seen in the front lines, in the clashes with security forces they often successfully intervened, preventing arrests of the men.
Their current activities can only be explained on the backdrop of 30 years of humiliation and deprivation of rights. Day after day, they endured the humiliating coercion to wear headscarves. These women had to accept that they are obliged to live together with three other wives of their husband, since a man is allowed to marry up to four women. Apart from that, Shiite laws allow any man to contract “temporary marriages”.
Given that he has enough money to pay an Imam who legitimizes the temporary marriage. If, however, a woman decides in favor of love without marriage, she will be stoned to death. At the age of nine, girls are regarded as old enough to get married. If a woman leaves her husband, she is neither entitled to alimony, nor will she have the right to the custody of her children.
For each journey, and each time she starts a job a woman needs to provide a written agreement of her male legal guardian or her husband. The blood money that has to be paid in case a woman is killed is only half of the amount that has to be paid for a killed man. Her share of the inheritance is half of the share for a male heir, her testimony counts only half of that of a male witness. Thus, Iranian women in a secular state would have a lot to gain – and nothing to lose.
The third picture, also taken on December 27, shows a young man holding on to a lamp pole in order to more effectively kick a policeman who is running from the riotous crowd. His anger reflects 30 years of political repression, economic deprivation, and social and personal humiliation. For too long now, the citizens of Iran have been treated as if they lived in an occupied country.
A small clerical elite controls power, wealth, and the mass media, depriving the rest of the population not only of the right of free political and artistic expression, but also rules issues of everyday life, such as the choice of music, drinks, or t-shirt design. They do not allow young lovers to walk down the streets holding hands. Homosexuality is punished by execution, even if the convicts are minors.
All citizens have lived through the shrinkage of income that resulted in tens of thousands of street children, hundreds of thousands of prostitutes, millions of heroin or opium addicts in the country today. Therefore, nobody should be surprised about the death-defying courage of today’s citizen journalism.
For thirty years, Western media have been superficially reporting from Iran, ignoring the developments that have lead to the current situation. Those who attribute the present situation to the rigged elections instead of recognizing the fact that the frustrations of the past 30 years are breaking free today, just add to the public perplexity. Electoral fraud, something that occurs in Western democracies as well, is no sufficient explanation for the force of the current disturbance.
Western politicians know all too well that a radical political change in Iran will change the political structure in the Near East and the long-established relations with the existing governments, and they tolerate the superficial coverage, refusing to do more than talk about the human rights violations of the past six months. With this attitude, they join the so-called reformist faction [in Iran] that is part of the elite itself, and, as we all know, lost the elections in June.
Indeed, the novel and surprising situation in Iran questions Western media, showing all their weakness that is rooted in their focus on power. How the current events are a response to the extreme control exerted by the regime in the past is very difficult to put into words in this report. The specific decentralized structure of the current resistance accentuates the latest experience of the women’s movement: Their network-like organization as well as their ways of communicating via the internet have set a precedent, and prepared the scattered forms of today’s activism.
Nobody can predict the outcome of the people’s movement. Whatever it will be – every Western-blessed compromise that brings to power one or the other faction will have to deal with the minimum demand of separating religion and state, the demand of unconditional free political and artistic expression, equal rights for women, full citizenship rights for homosexuals and ethnic and religious minorities. A government that is based on the laws of Sharia will not be able to meet these demands.
Haideh Daragahi is a Swedish-Iranian writer, journalist and scientist