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.

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum

    “Weareallneda.com”, err, no you aren’t. So stop making this about your own hand wringing.

    How exactly is making her into a cartoon character, which is what that image does, helpful to the people of Iran?

    One thing the media coverage of this whole event makes very clear is the privilege of beauty. If she had been an elderly women, would there be so much concern?

    The more I look at that image that’s been made of her, the angrier I get.

    It just shows that even as the Iranian people are protesting and using their voices, the West is still projecting it’s own opinions and desires on to them and what’s more, painting such opinions as being more valid.

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  • http://muslimlookout.org Krista

    Thank you for writing this, Fatemeh. I’ve been disturbed to see the way her image has been used in the media, and I’m glad you covered it here.

    May she rest in peace…

  • http://modernmitzvot.wordpress.com Julie

    Thank you for this.

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  • http://nataliaantonova.wordpress.com/ Natalia Antonova

    I’ve seen a lot of media coverage of this tragic death, and while some is certainly life-affirming, you’re right to point out the other, ghoulish aspects of it.

    You know, pictures of the dead Anna Nicole Smith did fetch a huge price (some jerk took them as she collapsed), I heard, but they weren’t splashed all over the place like this.

    I think that if we’re going to publish tragic images, we should have the same standard for everyone.

  • http://muslimreverie.wordpress.com Jehanzeb

    Thank you for this, Fatemeh. Such an important read. I noticed western media posting blood-splattering images of Dua Aswad too and now I see it being done with Neda Soltan :( This was beautifully written. Got me teary eyed.

    May God bless her soul and give her peace, justice, and Love. Ameen.

  • s_fischer

    I agree and think you (as well as Tami) make some excellent points. I can’t help but feel so many media outlets are not treating Neda or her image with the deserved dignity and respect; some just view it as a spectacle.
    However, I will say I don’t think all of the focus on her in the west has been so cynical. I can only speak for myself and speculatively for those I know, but the election fraud and now even moreso the violence against demonstrators really struck a nerve with me as someone who was a first-time voter this year. This does not cause me to see Iran through a lens of violence and cruelty; rather one of respect for the bravery and strength for the Iranian people who are risking so much for their rights.
    I didn’t know what I was clicking on when I clicked the link to the Neda video (I was watching the #IranElection Twitter feed) and could not watch all of it, but based on the way it got passed around, I would say yes, her image has been exploited by western media, many using it as a misguided shock tactic and worse. However, I think among westerners who felt compassion towards the Iranian people to begin with, there is some capacity to see her as a woman who was executed for her bravery, as a martyr (though it may not mean the same to us) and as a face of the movement. As you point out, however, why is it not the image of her face in life? I fear reducing someone to a symbol is dehumanizing.
    Excellent post, and thank you for it. I hope for peace for Neda and the other brave protesters who have been killed or injured as well as their families.

  • dianna

    So happy I don’t have a television

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  • Kat in Philly

    As horrific and criminal her murder is, as an American I want to see the same slavishness our MSM and policy pundits are devoting to her applied to all the deaths of young women and children we have caused in Iraq, or of Palestinian children who died by weapons paid for with my taxes. We lionize the deaths of people like Neda because it fits our official and MSM narrative of who is evil and barbaric, and as long as it is Muslims killing Muslims.

    I support the brave Iranian protesters 100%, and pray for consolation for Neda’s family, but I hate our cherry-picking hypocrisy when it comes to the deaths of tens and hundreds of thousands of nameless, faceless people in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere (and now our “drones” are bombing funerals in Pakistan!) because of our hell-bent militaristic policies in Southwest Asia and the Middle East. Where is our grief and compassion for those victims? If, God forbid, we did decide to bomb Iran, would we be able to put name and faces to the “collateral damage” that would no doubt result?

  • RCHOUDH

    Ok I’ve been cross posting alot lately LOL this one’s from Racialicious:

    It’s hypocritical of American media to show this video in order to highlight the violence occurring right now in Iran. At the same time they weren’t allowed until recently to show (limited) footage of dead soldiers’ caskets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. They never show dead images of Iraqi and Afghan civilians (even though they too are floating around the web just like Neda’s video was before being picked up for public consumption).

    POC on POC violence and deaths are ok to show and highlight because they involve those “barbaric non white savages”. However Westerners killing POC’s or being killed by POC’s cannot be shown because then the average American’s already threadbare support for the illegal “War on Terror” would be eliminated completely, giving the corrupt American elites no more room for justifying this mess.
    They aren’t allowed to reveal more of the gruesome Abu Ghraib pics either because it shows Americans torturing and raping Iraqi detainees (with not just men but women and children being victimized as well). Isn’t that the lesson they took away from Vietnam (don’t show the public any graphic images of violence there so they stay ignorant of what’s really happening?)

    It helps the media, corporate and government elites immensely that Americans are generally still hell bent on this anti intellectualist trend, so they don’t bother to study and understand in depth any government policies both domestic and foreign that affect both them and the world. Some of them even revel in their ignorance and stupidity!
    It just goes to show how NOT free and fair corporate American media really is.

  • Amanda

    Honestly it’s disgusting how “normal” her death is being depicted as, they’re showing it all on every news channel. This is normalizing death of women to young boys, they already have games like GTA where they kill fake women now they get to see the same images in real life. You cannot tell me that this isn’t physiologically lessening the severity of violence in young boys minds.

    There are far more videos of men dying out there yet none of them have made the news, why? It’s because men are honorable and worth more to our society while women are only important for making babies. It’s ridiculous to constantly be showing women dead and bleeding while they continue to show images of men looking strong and defiant against the guards. Obviously this is our society trying to make women disposable sex objects by making them look weak and helpless while continuing to show men strong and bold.

  • http://rlayla.blogspot.com Rochelle

    I agree with you s_fischer. If we want to hold the Western media viewer to a higher standard, we should start giving them a little more credit, and seeing them for the reasonable human beings they are. To say this video can be shown in Iran but not here is akin to censoring media concerning America to the viewers in the Middle East because “they just wouldn’t understand.”

    I also want to point out that all my regular sources of news (i.e. New York Times, BBC) only posted the photos of Neda when she was alive. They discussed the video but only posted an image once one was released of her happy and living. And I appreciated this. So kudos to them.

    Also interesting thoughts on the same topic here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/5621272/Iran-Angel-of-Freedom-Dying-seconds-that-last-for-ever.html

  • http://www.7obsessions.blogspot.com Yusra Tekbali

    Seriouslyyyyyyy. so disturbing. but I like how Obama opted to be a little classier during his when commenting on Iran, “Above all, we have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets.”

  • http://aniranianperspective.wordpress.com/ Sara

    Thanks for this Fatemeh … the way Neda is being represented in the media bothered me, but I could not exactly pinpoint why … I think you have done that to a good extent here

  • http://aniranianperspective.wordpress.com/ Sara

    i followed cnn very closely those days, they even showed her face un-blurred and stilled the picture when her eyes were rolling back in one of the reports, I have never seen cnn show something so awfully gruesome and bloody before or after that .. i do however think that if the iranian government had not restricted foreign journalists so harshly, there would have been more proffessional and less emotional portrayals of what’s going on in iran these days, but that’s another story

  • Luc

    I am so sorry these things happen. And yes I think people should remember Neda as on the picture above and not the one one can find on all so called news sites. It shows disrespect for this young womans life.

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  • Sarah Stroup

    I saw the video shortly after it came out, and as I clicked on it (sent to me by an Iranian friend) I did not know what to expect. As soon as it began, I knew what was going to happen—that is, that she would be filmed dying—and I wanted to stop it, but I started shaking, and couldn’t move, and thought I would pass out. I cried and wanted to vomit for the rest of the day.

    I am not unacquainted with death. I am not unacquainted with brutality. I am not naive to what has been unfolding in Iran and our world, and I have spent time in the middle east and do not see it as “exotic” or “brown” or “dangerous.” I did not think Neda was the first person to die there, nor did I suppose for a moment she would be the last.

    The unfortunate fact—although perhaps a galvanizing one—is that her horribly brutal slaughter was caught so vividly on film.

    Just after it was posted, it was pulled from Youtube (as was right). But it had been sent out to CNN and BBC and other news sources in an effort to advertise the brutality of what was going on, and—and in a sense, that was right, too. There is something about seeing strong young men hurling rocks that makes things seem more “even” than seeing a young woman shot on the street. It’s stupid, but it’s how the mind reacts.

    As the days have unfolded, I have also been deeply disturbed, however, by how Neda’s image has been fetishized—although it is not just by the west. And I don’t think it’s because she was “brown” (whatever that means). I think it’s because she was a young, attractive woman, and her death was captured photographically. I do not like that her image is one of her death, but this image shakes people to the core and, I hope, makes them look deeper, think harder, and care more. And maybe revise their own underlying assumptions of what this world is about.

    I am a parent, and have wondered how I would feel if it were my child who had been killed and whose face—in death—had become so famous. I would doubtless hate it. But if it gave strength and hope to people fighting for freedom, and if it woke up a world and made them reexamine their own prejudices (and I do think it is), I would try to forgive.

  • Blacklisted Dictator

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-stoltz/neda-and-the-power-of-the_b_218594.html

    “The 37-second amateur video that shows in vivid and horrifying detail a young girl named Neda dying of a gunshot wound on the streets of Tehran has the capacity to change the political dynamic in Iran. It may already have done so.

    I will not link to the video here. The decision to watch it should be made carefully, knowing it is sickening and likely to remain with you for the rest of your life. You can easily find links to it on this site if you want.

    I found it nearly overwhelming. I had to step away from the computer and gather myself. Afterward when describing it to my wife my voice was shaking and I couldn’t quite formulate my thoughts.

    The morning after viewing it I can say this: I believe that 37-second clip can transform global opinion.

    I liken it to the 1972 photograph of the young Vietnamese girl running naked through the streets, her skin seared by the chemical burn of napalm. Or the 1963 picture of police dogs attacking civil rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama. Both, it is argued, played a key role in galvanizing public opinion on the political issues they represented.

    For me, and I suspect many who view it, the Neda video says with absolute clarity: The violent crackdown on street protesters in Tehran must not stand. The perpetrators must be stopped or removed. It says this more plainly and powerfully than anything else I’ve encountered.

    It eliminates any ambivalence or subtlety one might have about the situation there.

    Last night I was actually wondering how a government responsible for Neda’s death — in an environment where cheap, instant, global, many-to-many communications has brought the phrase “the whole world is watching” closer to literal fact than it was in the 1960s — can possibly remain in power.

    In the cool light of morning I realize that was dramatic hyperbole, heavily colored by emotion.

    But still: That 37-second video has already become a singular, powerful fact driving global opinion. Its impact will only accelerate and expand. It will have consequences.

    Let me also predict that the mainstream media is going to miss the import of that video. Partly because they dare not show it, and thus it will not become part of their newsrooms’ collective consciousness-or conscience.

    But also because they still tend to view amateur, viral “reporting” as marginal “bonus” material, incapable of driving public thought in the way their own professional reporting and opinionating can.

    There is a #Neda hashtag on Twitter. It captures conversations about and inspired by the video.

    Yet it is now being added as a hashtag to general Twitterizing on the election protests, as an expression of commitment at least as powerful as the green avatars that hover like nauseated witnesses over the 140-character global thoughtstream.

    Much is made about Twitter and its limited ability to drive change.

    This isn’t about that.

    It’s about the power of a single, brief incident captured on video — in an environment where people share what moves them instantly with a global audience, without the assistance or approval of governments, media or any institution — to change others’ minds.

    Change the world?

    In the cool light of morning, I realize that’s foolish too.

    But if you are feeling strong and brave and willing to have a horrifying image seared into your brain, view the video.

    It will change you.”

  • Kira McIntyre

    Why the girl is pictured with the christian cross pendant?

  • nooshin az abadan

    salam.azizam mamnun az ettelaatet.
    hi.darling thank you for your information.

  • Blacklisted

    Fatemeh,
    You write:

    “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.”

    Ahmadinejad’s regime is “violent, cruel, repressive and backwards”
    It is important that the whole world understands this.

  • http://explainingislam.blogspot.com Nada Al-Mahdi

    I completely agree with this article. Neda’s death is being exploited by the foreign media to make Iran’s image look worse than ever. I am not trying to minimize her death, but protesters are always shot, it happens. We can’t even accuse the Basij of this death because there isn’t any proof yet! But the media has already decided that it is the fault of the Iranian regime, and that it must be overthrown. I am not a fan of the Iranian government, but they were democratically elected and the West has no right to interfere

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