Friday, November 1, 2013

Finding Humanity, Not Stereotypes, #InsideIran

Nastaran Ghaffari, 22, is one of the many subjects of ABC News correspondent Muhammad Lila’s #FacesOfIran photo series during his current trip to Iran.
(Photo Credit: Muhammad Lila / Twitter)

It is no surprise that our media environment is saturated with reports of efforts by hawkish lobbying groups, former administration officials, Congress members, and even foreign governments to disrupt and undermine even the nascent possibility of genuine diplomatic progress through new sanctions and war resolutions, and routinely dehumanizing and negative language used to describe anyone and anything connected to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As a result, misleading and misinformed journalism abounds.

Nevertheless, two reporters from two major media outlets are actively doing their best to break this trend.

I have written before of CNN correspondent Reza Sayah, whose recent reporting from Iran has given voice to the Iranian people themselves and introduced a Western audience to a dynamic and diverse nation that does not conform to the tropes and tautologies all too often presented by the media.

In his latest dispatch, Sayah speaks with Dan Gaspar, assistant coach for the World Cup-bound Iranian national soccer team. Gaspar, an American citizen of Portuguese descent, has lived and worked in Iran since 2011.

When he was offered the job and told his wife of his plans, Gaspar reveals, “She was shocked, she was concerned, as most of my friends and family members were.” To his credit, Gaspar was undeterred.

“My personality is one of adventure and curiosity,” he tells Sayah. “I wanted to experience a culture in a part of the world that I’ve never been.”

As a result, Sayah reports, after some time spent in Iran and with Iranians, Gaspar “says what we often hear from visitors to Iran: ‘What you see on TV doesn’t exactly match reality.’” (Indeed, this is a common refrain; recall what professional photographer Amos Chapple said about Iran in a gorgeous photo essay earlier this year: “I was amazed by the difference in western perceptions of the country and what I saw on the ground.”)

“When you listen to the news and you read the news, sometimes during commercials I step away from my couch and I look out the balcony and it’s not what I’m seeing, it’s not what I’m reading and it’s not what I’m hearing,” Gaspar explains. He calls Iranians “generous and peace-loving people, who love their football team and their country.”

“Right now, more than ever, there seems to be a lot of hope and optimism and a sense of energy, that things will get better,” he says, and adds, “If I’d listened to the expert and listened to my friends and family, I probably never would have never been here in Iran. It’s been part of my life for the past three years and during those three years there’s been some wonderful experiences and memories that are going to last a lifetime.”

Watch Sayah’s report here:

Meanwhile, ABC News foreign correspondent Muhammad Lila is also in Iran, traveling around the country and posting beautiful photos and personal observations from his trip on a live blog dubbed  "Inside Iran." 

His photos, which he has also been posting on Twitter, are reminiscent of those taken by "Humans of New York" photographer Brandon Stanton last winter during a two-week trip to Iran. Through Lila's camera lens, in a series Lila hashtags as #FacesOfIran, we meet the everyday Iranians - students, activists, widows, artists, children - who are almost invariably absent from reporting on Iran. We see knockoff fast food chains, get stuck in Tehran's infamous traffic, and get short and touching glimpses of hope and love.

Lila's photography has been well received in the Twittersphere.  His pictures are "[b]ased on simple premise," he explains, "Everyone has a story. You just have to look for it #InsideIran". Some of Lila's revelations will surely surprise his Western audience, whether about Iranian street art etiquette or the fact that young Iranians are all on Facebook.

In a discussion with young engineering students, Lila asked, "Do you really think you're free in Iran?" They replied, "Depends what you consider freedom. What you have in America isn't freedom." When Lila responded that "we can think, be, and do whatever we want," they were quick to fire back: "So can we."

Lila later noted, "Of the dozens of ordinary Iranians we've spoken to, none of them said they're unhappy and want to leave the country."

At the massive Friday prayer service in Tehran, Lila spoke with a cleric who made clear to him that Iranians harbor no ill will toward the American people. "It's America's war-mongering we want to stop," he said.
Below are the photos he has taken so far.  Follow him on Twitter for more to come.

Originally posted at Muftah.


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