There Will be Blood: Neda Agha Soltan’s Post-Mortem Image in the Media

Neda Agha-Soltani was fatally shot during a protest in Iran on Saturday, June 20, 2009. May God give her peace and justice.

Neda Agha Soltani. Image from Caspian Makan, via Daily Mail.

Neda Agha Soltani. Image from Caspian Makan, via Daily Mail.

Several news outlets have reported on her death, and several opinion-makers have heralded her tragic end as a martyrdom for Iran’s opposition movement. In Iran, this may be true: Neda’s death may garner more support and energy for the opposition movement that has been somewhat floundering for the last few days. While I understand that every movement needs its martyr (this is Shi’a Iran we’re talking about–Time explains it for those of you not familiar with the importance of martyrdom in the Shi’a sect), I don’t understand the necessity for the image of her last moments to be splashed across Western news outlets. Why reprint the image of her corpse, instead of the picture above right?

Her last moments were filled with shock and drama, as onlookers attempted to stop the bleeding from the fatal gunshot wound in her chest. They realized they could not help as she began to hemorrhage, and blood ran from her nose, ears, and mouth.

But she is dead now.

And instead of being put to rest, her final, bloody image is being strewn across blogs and Twitter.

Image via weareallneda.com

Image via weareallneda.com

Where were all of these interested parties when the dormitories in Iranian universities were raided last week? There were plenty of pictures that were just as jarring and horrific. Neda is not the first person to die in this. She’s not the first person whose death has been captured on video camera, either.  But she was young, slender, and pretty, and so Western media images are obsessed with watching her die over and over.

Tami has written about brown bodies, death, and media, and her latest title says it all: “Must brown people be martyred for Americans to be motivated?

Tami points out:

“To show brutal images of the dead is generally seen as unseemly and disrespectful. Consider the uproar when some newspapers published images of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu in the early 90s. But deaths like Neda’s we feel we must see, need to see. What does it say when we feel squeamish and protective about the deaths of some, but not others?…”

“I think Americans are fetishizing video of Neda Soltani’s death in a way they would not if she were a young, blonde, American college student shot down on an American street. We do not need to see the lifeless bodies of those women in order to care for them. But people like Neda owe access to their deaths so Americans can access their own humanity.”

This helps explain the fact that Neda is represented as a corpse just as often as she is represented the way any murdered American woman would be: alive and smiling, usually in a picture given to the media by her family or friends (see above right).

Aside from the talk that she is a martyr for Iran’s opposition movement, many in the West are using her death to educate themselves about Iran’s current crisis, viewing Iran through a lens of violence and cruelty, which many add to their current knowledge of the country as repressive, backward, and unsafe for Americans. Neda’s death may help Iranians band closer together and become stronger in their fight for a government that treats them with respect, but here in the West, her lifeless body is little more than another reminder of the instability and danger of “over there”.

What difference has her death made here in the West? As far as I can tell, the only Western response to her death (aside from the gruesome fact that her last moments are a now common fixture on blogs and news sites) has been a website, weareallneda.com, where mourners can leave messages to a Neda who cannot read them. Below the site’s banner is a stylized rendering of her lifeless face amid a river of blood, shown above left.

The cruelty and horror of Neda’s death may be a call to action, but her death mask shouldn’t.

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