There probably wasn’t a single news outlet that didn’t pick up on the latest incidence of glaring irony (and injustice) out of Iran. It was a group of young Iranians who filmed a tribute video to a hit song by pop star Pharrell Williams, ‘Happy.’ In the video, the young men and women – in trendy Western attire, not a hijab in sight – are shown dancing around urban locales in Iran, well, happily.
It went viral, and things went downhill from there. After the video was uploaded to YouTube, the six actors were arrested, along with the director of the video. Apparently they were humiliated while in detention. The actors were released last week, but not before “confessing” on television to crimes (mainly violating public chastity).
Such an incident would be described as bizarre at the least if it didn’t take place in Iran, which Pharrell himself described as “beyond sad”.
Some linked the arrests to the political rivalry between President Hassan Rouhani and his hardline opponents. Rouhani himself was said to have tweeted in support of the seven; this and other signs were interpreted by some analysts – like The Guardian’s Azadeh Moaveni – to reflect Rouhani’s popularity and the electoral defeat of his rivals, the “entrenched elite.” Rick Gladstone also suggested the arrests, which were followed by even stricter censorship, reflected “alarm” felt by Iran’s Islamist bureaucracy.
While Human Rights Watch called on Iran to drop the charges against the seven, some chose to direct their admonitions to the western media instead.
RT accused the “hedonistic” Western press of stereotypifying Iran and Iranians, forcing them to think in terms “of good and evil.” PolicyMic’s Sana Saeed accused the West of picking up the story “for all the wrong reasons” – namely, its tendency to choose highly publicized government stunts over exposing deeper underlying issues related to human rights and civic freedoms.
But no amount of criticism can cover up the fact that nothing about this story is happy – least of all, the people in it – and you just can’t blame the West for that.