The “Ordinary Iranians” the Media Forgets

Ever since US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, various media outlets have been trying to portray Iran in a sympathetic light. “Ordinary Iranians,” they say, have been “victimized” by the sanctions, despite the US saying they were specifically targeting the regime in Tehran. It is unfair,” they say, that the brunt of economic pain be felt by Iran’s citizens, and demand that the sanctions stop to somehow bring Iran into the modern world and the international economy. Yet over the years, ever since former American president Barack Obama and his partners in Europe, China and Russia gave sanctions relief to Tehran, the regime has merely funded more butchery throughout the region. It’s “revolution” has led to vast corruption and an economic wasting away in Lebanon and Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Yemenis have been slaughtered because of wars that the regime’s proxies have initiated. Gaza has been on the verge of humanitarian collapse in part because Iran insists of funding terror organizations that attack Israel, forcing it to respond militarily to protect its own people. All because the regime is too cowardly to directly fight its enemies; because the people are too weak to topple the regime; and because the privileged Persian majority does not truly wish to change their government.

The media has been trying to make martyrs out of these “innocent” shopkeepers, yet has for decades ignored the larger plight of other “ordinary Iranians” in the country. Iran’s minorities have been oppressed, abused, and discarded for decades by the regime, with little to no action of protest by the privileged Persian majority in the country. There are four major minority groups in the country–Kurds, Turkic Azeris, Arabs, and Balochis, along with various smaller ethnic groups. The Iranian government has been oppressing them since the days of the Shah, with little to no media coverage of the suffering that these “ordinary Iranians” have endured. Iran’s Kurdish population suffers from grievous human rights violations and systemic racism. Despite the Iranians’ insistence that Kurds are an “Iranic people” without a distinct identity, the Kurds in the country continue to be targeted under a repressive system of laws similar in many ways to what happens to African-Americans in the United States. The government arrests Kurdish teachers for protesting their low wages, engages in police brutality against border porters, and executes en masse members of its Kurdish population after receiving “confessions of crimes” from torture. Iran’s Kurds are denied economic opportunities, changes to celebrate and engage in their own culture, and resources to rebuild their homes after natural disasters (such as earthquakes in Kermanshah Province). Sound familiar? Probably, because this is exactly what happened in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina to the African-American community.

Kurds are not the only minority in Iran that suffer from systemic racism and bias in the political system.  All minorities have actually suffered from worse oppression following the Iran nuclear deal than they did beforehand in recent times. The Balochi people have been arrested at protests against rape culture. Iran has also neglected the Balochi regions economically and educationally, to the point where there are no government-funded schools in the region. This has left the Balochi people impoverished, and in some cases, vulnerable to recruitment by violent groups. A Balochi rap artist, Shah Baloch (real name is Emad Bijarzehi) has been detained in Chabahar without counsel since June 2018. His crime? Making music about the government’s persecution and racism against his people. The Balochi people, most of them Sunni-Muslims, also accuse Iranian police of blocking their entrance to prayers in their mosques (most of Iran’s Persians are Shiite Muslims) and of assassinating their clergymen.

Iran’s Azeri and Arab minorities also have long suffered from discrimination. Hundreds of Arabs in Ahwaz have been rounded up and jailed for organizing protests against the regime and after a terror attack on Iranian security forces. Just like Kurds in Iran, many Arabs face ridiculous charges in their arrests, such as being an “enmity of the Almighty” or for “spreading corruption on Earth.” Many of the Arab protestors in the Khuzestan province merely demand more rights and autonomy. Instead, they are met with police brutality that winds up killing protestors. The Iranian regime also seizes Arab and Kurdish land in the western portion of the country to build petrochemical plants (these regions are rich in oil), polluting these areas and increasingly salinity levels in groundwater. Jobs, of course, are denied to the Arab locals. With an “undesirable” population growing sick, dying off, or leaving, Persians are able to move in and settle on territory that is then improved. Rivers in Khuzestan are redirected to Persian-majority areas for their use, and denied to the Arab population that was already living there. Iran’s Turkic population–made up of Azeris and Turkmen–face similar persecution. In July 2018, 17 Azeri human rights activists were arrested in the north of the country. Their crime? Organizing a protest against racism at the historic Azeri fort of Babak. Iranian security forces have warned locals against heading to the fort after making the arrests. The Iranian education system has also discouraged the use of languages such as Arabic, Kurdish, and Azeri-Turkish for fear that it would bolster separatism or autonomy by minorities. And similar to how Iran denies the unique identity of Kurds, it also refers to Azeris as “Turkish-speaking Persians” in an attempt to erase their heritage and desires for more minority rights.

Ever since the reimposition of sanctions on Iran–and even before that–the media has portrayed Iran’s “innocent civilian population” as suffering unfairly. However, these portrayals have almost exclusively focused on the Persian majority in the country. Sadly, the media has outright ignored the decades-long plight of Iran’s minorities, or tried to cover them up by portraying them as having more rights than they would in neighboring countries. Other news outlets claim that despite the protests against the regime, Iranians are helpless in the face of the regime and do not want to risk losing everything to rise up against it. This is yet another example of the mainstream media in the Western World portraying only the desires and hardships of a privileged majority society. Much as the US ignores the plight of Native Americans or whitewashes–quite literally–heinous crimes committed by some White Americans by humanizing the perpetrator, Western media has long paid no heed to the plight of minority groups in Iran. Before the sanctions were reimposed, before the Islamic Republic, before the nuclear deal, these “ordinary Iranians” of Kurdish, Turkic, Arab, and Balochi background have been suffering from a state of second-class citizenship. They have been protesting inequality, poverty, and violence for longer than the Persian majority, which has benefited from this systemic racism as well as from sympathetic media coverage. When the media says that “ordinary Iranians” do not want the sanctions and are proud of their government and country, it ignores the “ordinary Iranians” who have been crying out for this kind of support from the international community for decades. When the mainstream media in the West suggests that Trump’s Iran policies stem from bigotry, it ignores the racism that these “ordinary Iranians” have been suffering from. When the mainstream media suggests that “ordinary Iranians” are unable and unwilling to risk their lives by taking up arms against such a government, it ignores the fact that numerous minorities inside the country have been doing so for decades, in spite of state-sponsored and state-encouraged oppression.

In this new age of sanctions, the media is not really portraying the suffering of “ordinary Iranians” at all. Rather, it is making excuses for oppression and helping to sustain a discriminatory system that upholds privilege for a certain ethnic group. If the media really wants to portray the struggles of “ordinary Iranians,” it may want to start also showcasing the struggles of those living in Sistan & Baluchistan, Khuzestan, Kermanshah, Kordestan, and East Azerbaijan.

About the Author
Dmitri Shufutinsky is currently attending Arcadia University. He has a deep interest in writing, reading, and politics, as well as photography, health, and traveling. He lives in Philadelphia, USA.
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