What’s behind the anti-Iran “Women, Life, Freedom”

On the morning of 19th October 2022, an intriguing poster with a caption was posted on the Facebook and Twitter profiles of the Vice Chancellor of the Government College University, Lahore. Even though the post by Professor Dr. Asghar Zaidi was deleted later that evening, it garnered much attention and subsequent rebuke. As his postings were where most people would have first learnt of a seminar to take place let’s take a look into how this seemingly concerned agenda about women’s rights in Iran came about, and how it was presented so we could better understand what is behind this affair.

The post captioned by the VC of GCU said that he “…is extremely pleased to announce that GCU’s Institute of History and Department of Political Science is organizing a Lecture by Professor Dr. Suroosh Irfani on “Women, Life, Freedom: The Persian Spring” on Thursday 20th October 2022″.

Professor Dr. Asghar Zaidi, the Vice Chancellor, further elaborated that Prof Irfani, the man behind the seminar, is a former Co-Director of the “Graduate Program in Cultural Studies” at the National College of Arts, Lahore, and has served as a Visiting Fellow at “Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University”.

The most prominent feature of the post was a picture of Mahsa Amini, the young Iranian-Kurdish girl who died in Iran. Her image was placed on a blackened map of Iran with a background image of another woman waving her headscarf, something that the pro-Western media has sought to highlight as a deep desire of young Muslim Iranian girls wanting to get rid of the mandatory hijab laws in Iran.  Further in the background one can note the slogan, in Persian, of (Women, Life, Freedom) that has just been coined, against Iranian authorities, by the Iranian exiled diaspora twins of the radical feminist group Femen.

As if all this imagery was not enough to copycat a heavily anti-Islamic agenda that Western Capitals have been pursuing since the 1979 revolution, the inset caption was even more striking!

The caption labelled the much-tweeted videos and images of women taking off their Hijabs in a few Iranian cities, as an ‘Uprising against the Islamic regime’. Yes, the “Islamic regime” not the “Iranian one”! Anyone familiar with the Western onslaught against the Political aspects of Islam, and the IR of Iran in particular, would know that this is by no coincidence. The terms used in the poster, like others, are largely borrowed from the Islamophobic narrative, which is now being indoctrinated to the audience and students at GCU. Since the wording of the poster illustrate the mindset behind this design the idea lends further to this whole thing being contrived. In that the Islamic Republic brought into being in 1979 by a popular revolution and mandated by subsequent referendums, can still be labelled as a “regime”, clearly demonstrates that those behind this event lack agency of their own critical thinking, and instead seek to project this animosity to their audiences in a manner that is rather conniving.

Of course, the post also has the usual drivel about Mahsa Amini dying under torture in police custody; an outright lie which has yet to be proven. The CCTV footage clearly shows her dying of a heart attack at a police station under no duress.

The post by the Vice Chancellor had a tremendous welcome from his immediate circle and students. After all, Dr. Asghar is quite active on-campus and on social media. The man behind the “Harry Potter” film festival last year at GCU, Dr. Asghar presents himself as a dynamic educationist who is also progressive and liberal.  After all, Western-themed galas are the best cultural experiences Pakistani students can be brought up in, right? (Sarcasm intended).

The post from the VC, however, also did receive a huge backlash and comments and replies on his Tweet and Facebook posts show that people were protesting this one-sided and biased take on an otherwise complex situation. Students and readers, alike, went on to condemn the University for this program as did the author of this article.

Many pointed out that an institution like GCU, which ensures that students shall not partake in any political activity by getting an affidavit signed by the student upon admission, is doing the exact opposite. Many also pointed out that the heads at the University are not just Westernized culturally but also aligned with the political agenda of the West. That the University has never paid attention to the mass suffering of the Palestinians, the women of Kashmir or the children of Yemen. That the University goes on to ban any demonstration of solidarity on its premises with the downtrodden Muslims of the world. Much more scathing in comments was the parallel drawn on social media with the forced Hijab bans in France and the University or its top cadre have not bothered to demonstrate concerns there. The overriding theme of such criticism was not that this seminar on irregularities in Iran should not be held but it’s undue and highly misplace on the priorities of this place as an institute. This was similar to the ire the Varsity received online for the Harry Potter film festival that it hosted at the onset of the last winter.

After all the criticism and calls for a protest at the University, whether the event did get either postponed or cancelled outright is not yet clear.

That the seminar eventually did not happen showed that the University administration lacked moral resolve as it is very likely that this may have just been a very one-sided crusade of Prof Suroosh Irfani. After all, Irfani who has in the past in his book “Revolutionary Islam in Iran: Popular Liberation or Religious Dictatorship” sought to display it as a repressive regime, something that also presents itself in the poster of the seminar.

Prof Irfani who has a keen interest in Sufism, the history of wars in the Indo-Pak subcontinent and a behind-the-scenes supporter of the Israeli left is not unique to this perspective that finds a narrow following even amongst Pakistan’s left-leaning academics.

There are more examples in other institutes of Pakistan if one would forage for such perspectives in journals and writings that come out.

Additionally, the GCU’s Farsi department seems to have a very close collaboration with the Iranian cultural centre may also explain why this seminar may not have come to fruition just yet.

This prestigious educational institute GCU established in 1864 became a University in 2002 and has a very nuanced faculty that often is Leftist – both Liberal and Marxist – on the outside but is driven by strong pro-Western inclinations. This is also a University where left-leaning student movements like PSC have in recent years found their base following and have grown outwards.

However, what a prized institute like GCU could do is have not a one-sided but a critical approach with speakers for and against. It defeats the purpose of education when students who should have an analytical approach to complex issues are handed out a propagandized one-sided version of occurrences. Such erroneous takes are quite often in the case of GCU or other progressive faculty of the country’s institute islamophobic in nature.




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