Narges Bajoghli, an award-winning anthropologist, filmmaker and writer, spoke about the relationship between power and media in Iran during the final Global Cafe of the semester, hosted by the Global Studies department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Bajoghli, an assistant professor of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University, has written for several publications like The New York Times and The Guardian, as well as guest commentated on Iranian politics on stations like NPR, CNN and PBS NewsHour.
In her talk Dec. 5, Bajoghli discussed her book, “Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic, published in September 2019, which is based on 10 years of research Bajoghli conducted in Iran among the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and paramilitary Basij forces, especially those producing media.
Bajoghli said she was conducting her research during the aftermath of the 2009 Green Movement protests in Iran, which arose after the reelection of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At the time, they were the biggest mass demonstrations in Iran since the 1979 revolution.
Bajoghli met with several commanders since the protests and found that many of them were curious about what inspired so many young people to protest. She said many of the slogans 2009 protests were nearly identical to the slogans in the 1979 revolution.
”For [the commanders], it was a crisis of legitimacy of, “How can this young generation be using the same slogan that they had remembered chanting against the previous dictator?” she said.
In addition to the intersections of power and media in Iran, Bajoghli sought to look at generational changes within these revolutionary systems
”A revolutionary state has the dual project of appealing to citizens while simultaneously defining what the revolutionary project will mean over the long term,” she said. “How to achieve this goal without losing the revolution all together is a contentious question.”
Bajoghli said she observed three media strategies revolutionary systems undertaking: dissimulation techniques, or creating media not easily recognized as being created by a regime, combining news clips and reframing stories through nationalism instead of Shiism.
“They recognize the younger population in Iran are no longer moved by messages of political Islam, so now they are cashing all of their media material in very strong forms of Persian nationalism,” she said.
Emira Ibrahimpasic, assistant director of the global studies program, said she feels Bajoghli’s talk is beneficial for global studies, anthropology and geography majors.
“Global Studies, Anthropology, and Geography will soon be formally part of the School of Global Integrative Studies,” she said in an email. “The talk by Dr. Bajoghli applies to all three of our majors and the overall purpose of the Global Café.”
Bajoghli said the men who appear in the book and their families have challenged everything she thought she knew about Iran revolutions and states.
“The book is not only about state media, but about the men who produce this media and what it means to doubt what they have fought for, not knowing what is to come, and be wrought with anxiety about the fact that they may be relegated back to the margins of society if their political project fails,” she said.