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Features

Influencers Call Celebrated Iranian Actress a "Whore" and "Baha'i": Iran's Month in Hate Speech

April 18, 2024
Saleem Vaillancourt
5 min read
The most re-posted piece of hate speech was an arcane post by the user @Nahankhane321 which attacked Iranian singer-songwriter Sasy after he released a music video mocking the historical figure of Amir Kabir
The most re-posted piece of hate speech was an arcane post by the user @Nahankhane321 which attacked Iranian singer-songwriter Sasy after he released a music video mocking the historical figure of Amir Kabir

IranWire's March tracking of online hate speech in Persian saw a 29 per cent increase in attacks on religious minorities—with daily averages of over a thousand posts monitored as part of more than 28,000 items over the month. Most of the posts – over 26,000 – were made to Twitter/X by 11,400 separate users.

Anti-Baha'i hate speech comprised the second-largest proportion of posts in the month with 3,970 posts representing a 43 per cent increase in hate speech tracked by IranWire that targeted the persecuted religious minority. The jump was the largest IranWire saw for any individual group over the month.

The most re-posted piece of hate speech was an arcane post by the user @Nahankhane321 which attacked Iranian singer-songwriter Sasy after he released a music video mocking the historical figure of Amir Kabir and the Qajar king Naser al-Din Shah – both of whom were prominent anti-Baha'i figures in the 19th century.

Anti-Baha'i influencers in the Persian-language social media space sometimes cite Amir Kabir to call for violent actions against Iran's Baha'i community. The month's top anti-Baha'i hashtag was also "#ThankYouAmirKabir". Our tracking revealed a number of other anti-Baha'i articles and posts amongst the wave of hateful content. 

One article, published by ISNA, the government-aligned Iranian Students' News Agency, reported on a biography about an individual named Mohammadtaghi Azimi, who was killed during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, and who is believed to have been a member of the anti-Baha'i Hojjatieh society. The book claims that Azimi infiltrated Baha'i homes as part of his Hojjatieh work.

IranWire's resident hate speech expert, Awat Pouri, who assembles our monthly tracking reports, also pointed this month once again to the "Restart" group of online influencers who spread anti-Baha'i as well as antisemitic and other forms of hate speech.

A post by Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini, the Restart leader, made the lurid and unfounded claim that the celebrated Hollywood actress Golshifteh Farahani met with success as an actress because she is a Baha'i. (No public record of Farahani identifying as a Baha'i exists.) Hosseini also – in an indication of his great personal dignity and class – called Farahani a "Baha'i whore" in his posts.

Hosseini previously presented broadcasts on Iranian television and radio, Pouri says, before he "suddenly became an opposition leader" and began to appear on outlets such as BBC Persian, Radio Farda, and Voice of America. But Pouri thinks Hosseini "is a long-term project, directed by the Revolutionary Guard and other security agencies in Iran." One of the goals of this project, Pouri adds, has been to goad Iranian protesters into committing acts of violence. 

Pouri says this effort saw some success during the 2017 protests when demonstrators set fire to Islamic Republic offices. Pouri adds that Restart is now "insulting and spreading disinformation to humiliate religious minorities, especially Baha'is and Zoroastrians," even as he poses as an opposition figure and thus cultivates sympathies and followers among anti-government protesters. 

The Islamic Republic is working to stifle any solidarity or connection between different dissident groups or between peaceful protesters and innocent religious or ethnic minority communities, Pouri says. The Restart group also combined anti-Baha'i posts with anti-Zoroastrian hate speech – a category which itself saw a 19 per cent increase over the month. 

More than 1,700 posts in this category also mentioned Baha'is accounting for over 80 per cent in total. Ten percent of anti-Zoroastrian posts also suggested that Zoroastrians in Iran are "spies". All the posts were generated by Restart users, Pouri says, who also pointed out that an ayatollah, Dozdozani Tabrizi, alleged that young Iranians were becoming "irreligious, Baha'i, Christian, Zoroastrian, maybe Sunni," as though these were all the same and all negative.

Antisemitic articles also rose over the previous month, with a 32 per cent spike, showing that because of the war in Gaza, many purveyors of hate speech in Persian continue to target both Israel and Jewish people. Readers should also look to IranWire's tracking of antisemitic posts next month –with the April 1 Israeli airstrike on Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders ini Damascus as well as Iran's response. 

Measuring hate speech against the wider political scenario continues to give crucial insights into the role that inciting hate and even violence against minorities plays in geopolitical maneuvers. Among the antisemitic posts were cartoons published by Mashregh News, which is said to be controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, depicting Jews as rats and dogs. Dehumanizing imagery has long been a crucial aspect of antisemitic propaganda and hate speech in Iran and around the world.

Pouri also says that the correlation between anti-Baha'i and antisemitic posts continues to be a trend in the Iranian social media landscape. "When antisemitic hate speech goes up, because of events, then anti-Baha'i hate speech also goes up."

The two types of hate speech also "possibly have a common source, and are possibly directed by the same groups," Pouri says. IranWire also tracked increases in anti-Sunni propaganda and hate speech during the month with a 37 per cent spike.  One set of anti-Sunni posts tried to smear the cleric Molavi Abdul Hamid, Iran's most prominent Sunni voice, based in the Sistan and Baluchestan province of Zahedan, with unfounded allegations of corruption.

The efforts followed a financial corruption scandal which engulfed the Shia leader of Friday Prayers in Tehran, Kazem Sedigh, earlier in the month. Anti-Christian hate speech was alone in March among the forms of hate propaganda targeting religious minorities because of its 11 per cent decrease. If only such results could be seen each month and for all of Iran's minority groups.

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