Recently I came across Parallel Iran, a recent start-up founded by Iranian filmmaking and media production graduate and all round powerhouse Hatefeh Majidi. The goal of Parallel Iran is to provide a platform for other representations of Iran which are not solely focused on the political circumstances in Iran, but those which look to the beautiful and diverse cultures which exist in Iran yet receive little attention in the media.
The relationship between media representation and policy-making deems it important that we strive to provide nuanced and diverse representations of places which are so often reported about with political agendas in mind. I do not assume to say that those who choose to write and focus on political and social issues should not do so – not at all, only that in all representations there should be balance. In the case of Iran, much like many countries in the world, there is an imbalance. This has been recognised in academic as well as activist circles, and there have been recent papers written about the consequences of focusing on narratives which have the potential to legitimise actions that are damaging to human rights in Iran. These papers, such as Lauden Nooshin’s 2017 paper ‘Whose liberation? Iranian popular music and the fetishization of resistance’, explore how music, academic writing and social media are implicit in this process – suggesting that a single focus on the issues happening in Iran contributes to binary ways of thinking and the ‘romanticisation’ of struggle. This serves only to add more fuel to the fire that is the ‘Iran Narrative’. Ultimately this fire does not work on the behalf of the Iranian people and does not give anybody a real voice. Rather it roars over these voices with its own political ambitions.
Fortunately though, social media has become a space for challenging the dominant discourse and the stereotypes which accompany it. Engaging content is available on pages available for those already intrigued by Iran, such as the See You In Iran Facebook page which has a plethora of blog links and even podcasts produced by Iranians who are interested in meeting the need to present Iran’s many qualities. Videos such as ‘Iranians react to stereotypes’ are also available on YouTube.
Of course, for those of us reading this who are from countries with ‘positive’ nation identities, I do think it important that we pause to consider what it may feel like to believe that producing such content is at all necessary in the first place. The desire to produce and share such content comes from a different place than what it would from someone, say the US or the UK, and I am sure that there are Iranians who would rightly feel indignant at the idea of having to do so. However, for challenging people’s perceptions it is necessary to have challenges available.
Once the content has been produced there is still the next barrier. One must find a way to put said content in front of the noses of the majority and not just in front of those people who were already interested and motivated to learn more about other countries (in this case Iran) which unfortunately is often the reality with social media. It is a bubble in which only the opinions and interests that you already possess are reflected back to you. Therefore, to achieve this there must be a more concerted and collaborative effort, with strategy.
For this reason, it was heartening to meet with Hatefeh Majidi the founder and driving force behind the newly established Parallel Iran. Her determined and focused energy and passion for Parallel Iran was evident in the time I spent speaking to her, whilst she explained to me what the project’s current focus is and what it hopes to achieve long term. Hatefeh is currently in Malta having taken her ideas and plans for Parallel Iran to Freenity, a platform with social impact in mind. The goal of Freenity is to support local and socially focused start-ups, creating a global community of like-minded individuals who can help support community based groups and start-ups with a variety of services, such as content and technical support. Additionally, they run 3-week camps which help support individuals with the growth of their ideas and with technical skills such as content creation, design and programming.
Having taken her hopes for Parallel Iran, Hatefeh, has since hit the ground running, already posting a wide variety of content. Her primary goal at this time is to build a solid and motivated community of people, astutely recognising the need for a strong online presence and a multitude of voices in offering fresh outlooks of Iran. Her hope is to raise the profile of rural areas in Iran through showing their unique cultural attributes. Currently, she told me, there is not enough intercultural communication and awareness between those living in rural areas and those living in the larger towns and cities, let alone internationally. Of course lack of dialogue and representation is one of the main culprits for misunderstanding and binary ways of thinking, and for Hatefeh this is something that she believes needs to be tackled internally, within Iran, as well as externally. With Parallel Iran she is working to build a platform for meaningful, non judgemental and later, socially impacting dialogue. What makes her approach even more refreshing is her emphasis on Global community and connection making. It is not just to Iran’s rural areas that she looks to as places in need of support, but she looks outward too, with the desire to build a community that seeks to represent and share the experiences of all those who have faced or face the prospect of forced migration – whether that migration is within one’s own country or internationally. For this reason, she named her platform Parallel Iran, recognising that Iran’s challenges parallel with many of the challenges faced elsewhere. Iit is Hatefeh’s response to what she saw, during her travels and endeavours, as an imbalance of positive and non essentializing attention that non-western cultures receive in the media. For her, all countries deserve attention and ‘space’.
Right now, her primary focus is introducing those abilities of Iranians and Iranian culture, Art, and Literature which do not yet hold much, if any, attention and space. On Parallel Iran you can already find content about a diverse range of topics related to nature, society and culture in Iran through the use of documentary filmmaking, photography and articles. Hatefeh is hopeful that she will reach and raise the interest of more and more people globally and in Iran.
Her secondary goal, once establishing Parallel Iran (and with it an informed and motivated community) is to look to the ways in which rural areas may be better supported. One aspect of this would be via the sharing of cultural activities – her idea being that this would allow for the people living in often ignored or unknown areas to share their valuable and unique skills and knowledge. After all, it is unfortunately rural areas in many countries which have the burden of lower levels of education or health care, and who suffer the most from economic or environmental issues (which come tied together). These are of course exacerbated by foreign policies such as sanctioning and gives another reason why it is important that as global citizens, we become engaged and active.
Myself, I see diverse and nuanced representations as paramount to challenging policy, and therefore hope that Parallel Iran is able to create a substantial and divergent community. It is my hope, as someone who shares the frustrations of the imbalances and agendas that are pervasive in the Mass Media, that projects, writers, film makers, bloggers and organisations such as Hatefeh’s, do come together, working collectively to embolden and diversify their voices. Reaching the eyes and ears of the majority being the challenge that it is, collaboration and community in the Global village, in my opinion, is as necessary as it’s ever been.
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