Western media peddles Islamophobia and anti-Iranian narratives
By Xavier Villar
WHY? It’s the first thing people – family, friends – usually tell you when you tell them you want to visit or live in Iran. And after that, they start quoting articles from “experts” – Westerners of course – advising you to think twice before going to Iran.
Yes, Iran is a beautiful country with stunning landscapes and historical sites. But we are talking about the Islamic Republic. Experts usually like to pronounce the words “Islamic Republic” very slowly, noting that the country is an Islamic Republic, a dark place, a political hell on earth, a country of martyrs, with missiles…
When I told my father that I was going to travel to Iran, he oscillated between surprise and concern for my safety. These feelings do not appear in a vacuum. Thirty years ago, Edward Said, after his brilliant orientalism, wrote another important book called “Covering Islam” to analyze how Western media portrayed Islam and Muslims. In fact, the context for this book was provided by the circumstances associated with the Islamic revolution. Said explained that almost all media coverage of Islam and Muslims was either hostile lies or outright lies. Go online. Check Iran/Islamic Republic, then come back and keep reading. Nothing has really changed in all these years.
The denigration, marginalization and destruction – physical and epistemic – of any political expression of Muslimness has been institutionalized across the world. The word for it, for attacks on any political expression of Muslimness, is Islamophobia. And you don’t have to be a right-wing voter to see Muslims through a safe framework. Western leftists, including my father, also share this point of view: yes, Iran supports Palestine and it is one of the bulwarks against imperialism… but the country is also a “theocracy”. You can also be leftist and Islamophobic. Sorry to tell you. Leftists, Western leftists, are part of this Westernesse narrative. The criminalization of Muslims/mulimity is nothing new. What is new is that Islamophobia is now openly embraced by liberal democracies around the world.
But back to media representations of Iran. The media are not independent agents – this is especially true when we talk about Western media. It’s easy to understand: Western media peddles Islamophobia and anti-Iranian narratives: come back online. Check Iran/Islamic Republic one more time.
These stories use a particular grammar, as Professor Salman Sayyid says. A grammar frozen in what we can call the Westernesse as a paradigm, a grammar that sees the secular as the limit of the political – as my father does. And if Iranians dare to resist this colonial paradigm, the media, in turn, presents them as fanatical and irrational. Because the “experts,” the ones my dad reads, are iterations of this racist paradigm that sees Muslims as non-human, non-rational, and non-political beings.
The Islamic Republic is perceived, in the West, as the main obstacle preventing the Westernesse project. It is therefore not difficult to connect the dots, or rather the Islamophobic dots. Iran is the figure that prevents the Westernesse project from being fully realized – more so, the Islamic Revolution was the final blow against Westernesse as a normative center. And what we see today, in the media and in the political order, is the West’s somewhat desperate attempt to reclaim its former hegemonic status.
The main purpose of Islamophobia is to prevent Muslims from projecting themselves into the future: To generate other futures. But it is not an easy task. The regulation and discipline of Muslimness is also part of this attempt to recover lost status. Iran is where Muslimness is most visible and this is something the West cannot tolerate. Yes, Iran has amazing landscapes like Gilan, and amazing historical places, like Qazvin or Isfahan, and amazing food (see my favorites: Tahdig and Baghali Ghatogh) but, for the West – and also for my father – the Islamic Republic also expressed Muslimness in a political way. Overtly political. In an unregulated way. And it’s scary. It is frightening because in Iran the Islamic revolution succeeded in displacing the secular hegemony. And when the secular is displaced, the West cannot seize the new political possibilities that are available to us. The secular, as Saba Mahmood told us, was not the evacuation of Islam from the public domain, but “reshaping the forms it takes, the subjectivities it endorses and the epistemological claims it can argue”.
Iran, in my eyes, is the best example of Islamism – relax, don’t panic: Islamism can be seen as a discourse that refocuses Islam in the public space. And Islamism is a clear challenge to Westernesse as a narrative. Western media want to portray Iran – as the example of all things Muslim – as a threat. Iran’s growth as a political representative of Muslims is seen as a threat to the West’s already lost universal status. And that’s why we have articles, programs, books, Instagram feeds, Twitter feeds… saying that Iran is a dangerous place, a dark place, a rogue state. The equivalence chain can be easy to follow in this case. Iranians, as Muslims, are irrational and therefore not entirely modern, and surprisingly, prone to extremism. The outcome of the security paradigm. And I’ve heard a lot of Western leftists say this, my father among them. .
This article could have been a kind of tourist guide to Iran – if you come to Tehran, you should visit the Orient Café and order the best Turkish coffee in town – but let’s summarize this article. Of course, I did not follow my father’s concerns. I came to Iran. And you should do the same.
Xavier Villar is a researcher based in Spain and Iran. He holds a doctorate in Islamic studies.
(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV).