Spring 2024

Anahita Ravanpak, "The Relationship Between Religion and International Support "

Religion, Power Politics, and International Support: Unraveling Iran’s Women’s Right Movement

            The powers of religion and external support are long-standing influential concepts within the fields of sociology and international relations. However, through my analysis of various scholarly publications, I have come to conclude that very few scholars have explored the direct relationship between religion (my independent variable), the inescapable ramifications of power and politics, and their impact on international support (my dependent variable), or the lack thereof, for countries in crisis. Thus, my analysis becomes particularly valuable as it examines an extremely important relationship between religion and international support, primarily in connection to the protests that unfolded in Iran following the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022.
            Amini was a twenty-two-year-old Kurdish female who lived in Iran. She was detained and fatally beaten by “morality police” for allegedly failing to wear her headscarf properly. Her death sparked a series of month-long violent protests in Iran, which were publicized internationally despite the Iranian Republic’s attempts to restrict such media attention. Since protests erupted a year ago, research surrounding their failure to create legitimate governmental, societal, and legal changes is very limited. My research reveals the extensive history of violence, illusion, and oppression the Iranian people have faced at the hands of the Islamic Regime, which is comprised of a minority elite group of Islamists who continue to exploit religion in order to maintain power.
            In this discussion, I will highlight the similarities between existing literature and a YouTube video published by BBC News covering the Women Life Freedom movement in Iran. In doing so, I find the prominent themes of illusion, misconception, feminism, and functionalism across the data obtained from the video, its comments, their relationship to one another, and within the existing literature I have reviewed.

Literature Review:

            To begin I will examine the history of the veil and unveiling to better understand its journey, the ideas that it conveys, and the voices that it silences. In doing so, I will illustrate how religion has been historically exploited within Islamic countries to enhance the power of elite minorities, consequently perpetuating patriarchal norms and reinforcing gender roles/inequalities. The article, “The Debate about Veiling and Unveiling” by Lucia Sorbera provides a transnational historical analysis of the veil explaining its history through a network of boundaries and borders, beyond the confines of national lines. Sorbera explains the purpose of veiling within a religious context, specifically in Islam. She emphasizes the importance of developing a more holistic understanding of its history and creation when studying the relationship between religion and power.
            Sorbera emphasizes how the Quran, the central religious text of Islam, does not require the mandatory enforcement of the hijab, specifically referencing the rise of feminism within Turkey and Egypt to illustrate how their social institutions implemented such religious guidelines as a means of maintaining social order and cohesion (Sorbera 2017). However, as the society became disillusioned by its authoritarian rulers, feminism rose as a means of illuminating such misconstrued notions of Islamic principles. As a result, both Turkey and Egypt no longer enforce mandatory hijab laws. The feminist theory also supports Sorbera’s explanation of how the veil and religion are defined, as it highlights the link between power dynamics and the exploitation of religion to maintain discriminatory laws and practices. Feminist theorists often critique patriarchal aspects of religious traditions and institutions by reinterpreting religious texts to challenge traditional readings used to justify and reinforce gender-based inequalities/hierarchies.
            Like Sorbera, international relations author, Muhittin Ataman, emphasizes how the feminist movement was never anti-hijab, it was simply a protest against hegemonic laws and the strict infrastructure of Muslim countries, which prevented women from obtaining constitutional rights in accordance with Islamic law (Ataman 2003). This historical analysis relates to the protests in Iran as their purpose is rooted within the same cause. The Iranian protests have been misconstrued to be a means of religious resistance; however, they are simply a call for religious freedom. The conflict theory further illustrates how religion is being manipulated as a means of maintaining power relations within Iran.
             As conflict theorists assert, religion can be used as a tool for social control and stratification. This is further illustrated through Ataman’s explanation of how cultural and political autonomy was given to both Muslims and non-Muslims. For example, in the past, there used to be no divide between the Sunni and the Shia, the two distinct Muslim populations, (Ataman 2003). This further illustrates how religion has been manipulated by Islamists to perpetuate discriminatory practices as a means of maintaining the power dynamics of the state. This manipulation directly intersects with conflict theory’s belief that religious authorities and leaders exploit religion to uphold existing power structures, allowing the elites to maintain order and suppress dissent (Abbott 2005).
            To expand upon the ‘illusion’ I have referenced several times now, I will examine the article “Islamic Law as a Cure for Political Law: The Withering of an Islamist Illusion” by Ann Elizabeth Mayer. Unlike the previous scholars, Mayer directly references the extensive history of conflict between the minority elites who comprise the authoritarian regime of Iran and the Iranian citizens. Mayer specifically examines the disillusion of Iranian citizens, further illustrating the function religion serves within society as a means of maintaining social order and the conflict that arises amidst such religious divides.
            Mayer’s description of Iran serving as a model for all Middle Eastern and North African countries provides a far deeper evaluation of international support. Her analysis illuminates how the lack of support could be attributed to the misrepresentation of the protests as Sorbera and Ataman both identify. The Iranian protests were viewed as being anti-hijab and thus as a violation of Islamic principles. The sociological theory of functionalism, which views institutions as specific functions in the overall stability and social order of society illustrates the consequences of such misrepresentation (Abbott 2005). Religion provides individuals with a set of shared values, norms, and beliefs that bind society; raises elites to power; and consequently, excludes those who resist. Therefore, supporting an ‘anti-Islamic’ movement would be frowned upon by Islamic jurists thus resulting in such apprehension for external support. 
            Similar to Sorbera, the article “The Debates on Religion in The Public Sphere: The Case of Turkey” by Ejder Okumus, provides an example referencing Turkey’s Islamic history with a primary focus on their secularization. Unlike the previous authors, Okumus provides a more direct evaluation of the public sphere, and the influence religion has over it. Okumus explains how the public sphere is essentially a field of social life where individuals collaborate and communicate to form mutual decisions and social norms that benefit them all. Here we see a much more obvious connection with functionalism and the purposes of social institutions in forming beliefs that bind individuals. However, as Okumus explains, a divide occurs when religion is introduced as a form of law which eliminates the common consensus and bond between individuals and divides society. Like all the literature we have reviewed thus far, Okumus highlights the exploitation of religion by elite minorities as a means of creating an illusion and establishing their power in the name of protecting Islam.
            There is a common theme within existing literature regarding religion and international support, this being the concept of illusion and the influential means of power and politics in developing societal expectations. There is also an overlapping connection between the feminist, functionalist, and conflict theories, which illustrate how religion serves both as a unifying and exclusionary force dividing the nation-state of countries like Iran. On one hand, there are those who support the feminist theory in challenging discriminatory practices and laws. On the other hand, there are those who manipulate the public by creating an illusion as a means of power maintenance through the exploitation of religion. Thus, the study of these variables is essential as they are prominent factors in international relations and sociology, yet they have never been studied/correlated in such a fashion.


            This research was conducted using the qualitative method of online discourse analysis. The utilization of such a method was essential in demonstrating the relationship between the factors under investigation, religion and international support for countries in crisis, with a specific focus on the failed Iranian protests of 2022. The central research question guiding my study was, “What is the relationship between religion and the lack of international support for Iranian protestors?” The qualitative method was the most suitable approach for contextualizing this research, as it aimed to contribute to a broader scholarly discussion and a greater academic debate.
            On the other hand, discourse analysis is concerned with uncovering latent meanings, a technique that proved particularly beneficial in my comment analysis. It is a reflexive practice that establishes methodological transferability. Critical discourse analysis allows one to connect manifest meanings to latent ones, enabling an understanding of how such meanings are informed by broader social beliefs and practices (Jamerson 2019). This connection is essential for understanding my specific research variables, which involve the broader social beliefs and practices developed by differing levels of citizen religiosity and the authoritative practices of the government. These must be critically analyzed to develop a holistic understanding of such contexts and to connect the influence of religion to the reception of international support.
             Discourse analysis serves as a reflective research practice that is well-suited for the textual examination of online spaces, offering a counterbalance to the positivistic assumptions associated with big data (Recuber 2016). Although a potential limitation to this method could be related to claims about its generalizability potentially hindering its capacity to “continue to make the kinds of close qualitative readings that are its mark of distinction” (Recuber 2016), this is not the case in my research. This method’s value lies precisely in its ability to gather essential details that enhance its transferability. In this specific study, the limitation regarding generalizability did not impede my research. I was able to successfully conduct a credible, transferable, dependable, and confirmable analysis through the development of trustworthy coding schemes and clear interpretations that connected the video content, comments, and existing literature.
             The video I selected was published on YouTube by BBC News, a British broadcasting corporation (BBC 2023). I chose this video because it provides a rich illustration and factual examination of the protests that occurred in Iran just last year. However, after selection, I discovered that the BBC network has an extension called “BBC Persian.” A broadcasting station and subsidiary of BBC World Service that conveys the latest political, social, economic, and sports news relevant to Iran (BBC Persian 2023). This extension of the network illustrates the depth of knowledge and resources they possess, enabling them to conduct research into Iranian politics and to retrieve data/information that no other network has the capacity to obtain. The legitimacy of BBC’s network further motivated me to select this video for analysis as their credibility is easily established.
            To conduct the analysis, I began by reviewing the video twice before analyzing the comments. The comments were selected based on common themes/keywords that emerged upon my initial reading of the texts (Recuber 2016). Initially, I focused on understanding the surface-level or manifest meanings behind each comment, allowing the authors themselves to convey what is meaningful to them (Recuber 2016). After conducting a repeated analysis of the categories and comments, I reframed them to better align with the themes of the comments. I then delved into the latent meanings present within the language, tone, and context of each comment.
             The categories were designed to be self-evident, allowing the reader to grasp the rationale behind demonstrable interpretations when an example of a comment within the category was quoted. The aim of this categorization was to enable the reader to contextualize the content, allowing them to reflect and interpret it within larger discourses (Recuber 2016). This analysis is discussed in greater depth within the comments category of the findings/results section of this paper.
               Afterward, I rewatched the video two more times, carefully noting each break in footage and transition between points to illustrate the narrative developed by the producer. The goal of this aspect of the research was to identify patterns crucial for explaining the relationship between religion and international support. This, in turn, allows us to discuss online discourse more meaningfully. Again, the video analysis is discussed in greater depth within the video category of this paper's findings/results section.
            The combination of the video and comments creates a unique platform of knowledge and value. When rearranged algorithmically, this platform accounts for a key identification of how users' express feelings towards the video. In turn, illustrating their stance on religion, nationality, and feminism in relation to the content and strategic narrative presented in the video (Jamerson 2019). This understanding is crucial for developing data and evidence, establishing connections between these variables, and defending the propositions made by the existing literature regarding this research topic.
            Moreover, the trustworthiness of this qualitative analysis was established through an evaluation of its credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability. Credibility, defined as “The extent to which the study’s findings are trustworthy and believable to others” (Frambach, J. M et al., 2013), was ensured within my analysis using various triangulation methods. These methods include data triangulation by collecting data from existing literature, the BBC YouTube video, and its corresponding comments. Additionally, I incorporated theoretical triangulation into my analysis by utilizing the three main theoretical perspectives this research draws upon: religiosity, functionalism, and feminism.
             Secondly my analysis demonstrates transferability, which can be defined as “The extent to which the findings can be transferred or applied in different settings” (Frambach, J. M et al., 2013). I ensured this factor by attributing meaning through a thick description of the sample and findings. Furthermore, discussing these findings in relation to existing literature from various settings illustrates the applicability of this research to different cases and analytic sites (Frambach, J. M et al., 2013).
            The third criterion, dependability, is defined as “The extent to which the findings are consistent in relation to the contexts in which they were generated” (Frambach, J. M et al., 2013). Dependability is satisfied in this research through continuous data analysis, which informs further data collection. The ongoing re-examination of the data using insights that emerged during analysis reflects a flexible and open process. This is particularly evident by the ability to redefine comment categories upon repeated examination.
            Finally, the fourth criteria of confirmability, is defined as “The extent to which the findings are based on the study’s participants and settings instead of researchers’ biases” (Frambach, J. M et al., 2013). I met this criterion by evaluating data and literature that may disconfirm my findings. As mentioned, the use of multiple triangulation methods helped identify research limitations and provided a holistic understanding of the data, better informing its relationship with my variables and illustrating the reflexivity of my analysis.
             In addition to the trustworthiness it establishes, this qualitative analysis presents Sarah Tracey’s eight criteria for excellent qualitative research. The criteria include a worthy topic, rich rigor, sincerity, credibility, resonance, significant contribution, ethics, and meaningful coherence (Tracey 2013). As Tracey mentions, there are various means, practices, and methods to meet each of these criteria within a qualitative analysis. For instance, a research topic that is relevant, timely, significant, and engaging could fulfill the criteria for a worthy topic. In this case, the research satisfies all eight elements.



            I began my analysis of the video by examining the network’s self-posted description, which began by acknowledging the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death and her significance within the ‘Women Life Freedom’ movement. This description clearly elucidates the video’s underlying purpose is to commemorate and show solidarity with Amini and those who continue to protest and resist the Islamic Republic of Iran. Furthermore, the video’s description establishes its credibility by addressing their inability to operate within Iran and the internet restrictions imposed by the regime. Due to this obstacle, BBC obtained their insights from Emir Nader and Ali Hamedani, two journalists who virtually interacted with individuals inside the country, allowing them to create this “virtual tour of Iran after the Women Life Freedom protests” (BBC-YouTube 2023). In addition to this description, the video clips, which illustrate the interviewer’s discussions with individuals in Iran, further bolster their credibility.
            In my quest to understand the identities of the interviewers/producers of this video, I discovered that both Nader and Hamedani are of Middle Eastern descent (BBC 2023). I found this fact significant in showcasing their unique perception and further validating their credibility as reporters discussing matters concerning the Middle East. Other noteworthy points to mention include the network, BBC, a “British public broadcast service”, with a channel boasting 14.9 million subscribers. At the time of my analysis on October 10, 2023, the video had 11,000 likes, and 7,000 comments. The video was published on August 15, 2023 (BBC 2023). These statistics are instrumental in illustrating the network’s influence and public reach, as well as the feedback they received on this particular video.
            Beyond the video description and analytics, I have identified the most frequently replayed segments as being particularly significant in revealing which parts of the video captured the viewers interest the most. These segments include: the introductory clips of women dancing; the middle section of the video in which a man in a store pours yogurt over two women’s hair; clips of Iran prior to the 1979 revolution towards the end of the video; and the closing clips highlighting a scandal involving two government figures in a leaked sex tape engaging in sexual acts with individuals of the same gender. Although I will discuss the video in its entirety, I find the analysis of these frequently replayed clips to be of particular importance as they can offer insight into how viewers perceive and understand the video.
            For instance, the replayed clips of women dancing in the introduction may illustrate viewers understanding of the resistance and the sympathy they may feel towards women. Specifically, those prosecuted and tortured for engaging in such ordinary human acts, such as dancing without a veil. The clip of the man in the store pouring yogurt on the women’s hair could further evoke feminist sympathies among viewers, supporting the Iranian protests, or reinforce existing notions of Islam being oppressive towards women.
            Next, the segment depicting Iran before the establishment of the Islamic Regime holds significance in illustrating the true values of the country and how this authoritarian government has created an oppressive and outdated system of power that abuses people who were once free. The frequency of replays may be caused by a variety of factors, such as individuals lack of knowledge regarding post-revolution Iran or sympathy with those oppressed in what was once an enriched and beautiful society. The diversity of perception and understanding towards the situation contributes to the narrative created by the video.
            Lastly, the clip portraying the government figures’ infidelity is particularly significant in highlighting the hypocrisy and illusion the government perpetuates. As existing literature from Mayer, Okumus and my forthcoming discussion will emphasize, the illusion of upholding Islamic traditions is unraveling. Iranian citizens are increasingly recognizing the mask of religion under which the authoritarian regime hides. They engage in acts they themselves have outlawed, while Iranian citizens face prosecution, torture, and death for opposing such oppressive and illogical laws. This clip also offers a startling insight that many people may not have been aware of, further deepening distrust in the government, questioning their legitimacy, and underscoring the need to resist such a regime.
            The video itself constructs a particularly compelling narrative, showcasing the profound desire for freedom among Iranian women and citizens, the inhumanity of the Islamic regime and its supporters, and the manipulation of religion in masking oppression. The introductory clip features a woman dancing in the center of a circle formed by both veiled and unveiled women and men clapping in unison to create a rhythm. A man plays the guitar, and soon, another woman joins the circle to dance alongside the first. This clip is followed by a series of others showing unveiled women walking in malls, on the streets, and in other public settings. These clips are significant in illustrating the persistent resistance of Iranian women against the mandatory hijab. Furthermore, they demonstrate the unity among Iranian citizens in their struggle against the Islamic Regime, providing viewers with a visual insight into the basic human rights they are demanding.
            Following the introduction, the video presents footage explaining the death of Mahsa Amini, the woman who was killed by morality police for not adhering to the mandatory hijab. These clips are crucial in explaining the catalyst for the Iranian protests, the uprising against the compulsory hijab, and the disillusionment with the authoritarian regime. Notably, the video introduces Mahsa Amini through a news article placed alongside another article titled “Hand of God Behind Arbaeen Miracle” (BBC-YouTube 2023, 00:00:28-00:00:32). This arrangement is interesting because it illustrates the varying levels of religiosity between the Iranian public and the government.
            As the video continues to demonstrate, there are a considerable number of Iranian citizens who staunchly support the regime and blindly follow the illusion of upholding Islamic guidelines. In contrast, there are individuals who separate religion and freedom, asserting that the Quran does not mandate the enforcement of the hijab. This seemingly minor detail and brief clip carries profound implications for the narrative the film is constructing and the broader context of the protests.
            Just eight seconds after this clip, the video transitions to the protests that erupted following Mahsa Amini’s death. This transition is skillfully executed as it introduces her name and significance before illustrating the impact her death had on the community. Rather than simply recounting the events that led to the protest and the current state of Iran, the video vividly portrays their effects. The clips of the protestors reveal how they are oppressed by the government, with soldiers in military vehicles and on motorcycles using a liquid substance to suppress them. To further underscore the government’s oppressive nature, the video includes clips of surveillance vans stationed in densely populated cities and streets, tasked with patrolling and arresting women who fail to wear a proper headscarf.
            Subsequently, the video features clips of Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, delivering a speech in which he argues that the hijab is not a government restriction, rather it is the country’s law and Sharia, Islamic law. He goes on to declare that non-compliance with mandatory hijab requirements is haram (forbidden) by Sharia. This speech is significant in further exposing the government’s manipulation of religion as a means of maintaining power over the people. It also underscores the complexity of religiosity at play here by illustrating how some individuals genuinely value this distorted interpretation of ‘Sharia,’ while others view it as something that should not be compulsory.
            The video further emphasizes the narrative of government abuse and authoritarianism by demonstrating their use of modern techniques and tools against the people through various modes of surveillance. These clips construct this narrative by showcasing footage of cameras employed to apprehend drivers who violate public morality guidelines, including not wearing the hijab. To emphasize this point, the video displays images of text messages set by Iranian authorities to those who infringe on these guidelines. These texts threaten offenders, stating that their vehicles will be confiscated, and they will be arrested on criminal charges for failing to wear the hijab.
             The video then proceeds to show clips of artists, actresses, and business owners who have resisted the mandatory hijab and received unusual punishments, such as being ordered to attend a psychological clinic for displaying an “anti-family personality” (BBC-YouTube 2023, 00:03:08). The video effectively maintains the continuity among these clips by transitioning to regime supporters who have been emboldened to harass women they observe not wearing the mandatory hijab. This is illustrated by one of the most prominent clips of the video, featuring multiple replays of a man in a store pouring yogurt over two women. The man is thrown out of the store by the clerk, further highlighting the disparities in religiosity among Iranians and the divisions they face following the protests and the tightening of government restrictions. 
            While the existing literature I reviewed regarding the sociological paradigms of this conflict extensively discussed feminism and functionalism, a crucial aspect that was not directly emphasized was the influence of religiosity. Understanding this sociological theory is essential in strengthening the relationship between the variables, religion and international support, as this video highlights. This narrative exhibits the differences in religiosity and their impact on support and internal state conflicts among citizens. The narrative is further illustrated by two interviews presented in the video and the significance of the clips that separate them.
            The first interview begins with the reporter engaging in a virtual conversation with a foot soldier and member of the Revolutionary Guard’s paramilitary group, Ahmed Abadi. Abadi begins by labeling the women who resist the mandatory hijab as being mentally challenged and argues that they should be checked into mental health clinics. He asserts that while others may be fooled by the international media like BBC, they are “hallucinating” and dealing with them “won’t be difficult for us” (BBC-YouTube 2023, 00:04:13-00:04:20). This statement vividly illustrates the oppressive nature of such foot soldiers and the government’s laws, revealing how religion is exploited to manipulate public opinion, create illusion, and maintain power.
            Abadi continues by recounting an incident where he identified a spy who was filming a protest, stating that “she looked like a terrorist” (BBC-YouTube 2023, 00:04:34-00:04:40). He approached her and asked her to stop, but when she confronted him, he slapped her, grabbed her camera, and squeezed its lens into her mouth. The reporter then highlights the issue with Abadi’s actions, stating, “It seems like you take pride in being violent towards women” (BBC-YouTube 2023, 00:04:46-00:04:52). Abadi responds, asserting, “In our country there is no such thing as opponent of Islamic Republic, people are born Muslim, so they need to follow the rules” (BBC-YouTube 2023, 00:04:53-00:05:02). This interview clearly exemplifies a member of society with a significantly higher level of religiosity than others. Abadi feels it is his duty to confront and punish those who violate these mandatory Islamic laws, demonstrating how extreme Islamist views distort the true meaning of religion and create violent means of maintaining power.
            The video transitions to the second interview by showcasing videos of Iranian singers before 1979. The singers were publicly unveiled, wore ‘revealing clothing,’ and danced at concerts. The reporter discusses how the women had relatively equal rights back then, illustrating this with clips where they participated in international sporting events alongside men, such as skiing and playing soccer because they were allowed to be ordinary citizens.
             Following this, there were clips of women gaining the right to vote in 1963 and the authority to serve in parliament and local councils by the late 70s. Women were granted the right to request a divorce, fight for child custody, and saw the minimum age of marriage raised from 13 to 18. Most importantly, women of this time were free to dress as they pleased. Iran was a diverse center for regional arts and cultures, characterized by liberal values that were despised by the authoritarian leaders who initiated the Islamic Revolution. Women protested from the very beginning of this governmental shift which we see in the video that displays footage of women opposing the hijab just days after the 1979 revolution. These clips are significant in illustrating the resistance against the enforcement of such mandatory Islamic laws and the oppressive nature of the government.
            The reporter uses these clips to illustrate the freedom the women used to have and the regression from the implementation of outdated and illogical mandates. These clips then transition into the second interview with Dr. Sedigheh Vasmaghi, an Islamic Professor at Tehran university. Dr. Vasmaghi states, “I never try to convince anybody to wear hijab because I believe that the Quran does not imply that wearing a hijab is compulsory as the Islamic Republic says, a majority of people do not accept this claim” (BBC-YouTube 2023, 00:06:32-00:06:59). The reporter and Dr. Vasmaghi continue by agreeing that, “Extreme policies in Iran have pushed many women and men far from religion, uncovering is a symbol for a change movement” (BBC-YouTube 2023, 00:07:01-00:07:20). This statement is significant when illustrating the rise of feminism and its dominant presence in this movement. It shows how people are moving away from traditional, oppressive Islamic laws towards a more free and culturally enriched society.
             Another important aspect is the contrast in education between the two interviewees. The foot soldier could not speak English, held irrational views, and expressed incoherent sentences while the Professor held a doctorate, could speak English, and is an internationally notable figure. This sharp distinction further illustrates the outdated and illogical ideologies and values of the Islamic Regime and its supporters. In contrast, there are more informed and progressive views on the side of those fighting to liberate women.
            The concluding clips were particularly interesting, serving as a final blow to the illusion the Islamic Regime has created. The clips following this interview displayed blurred out footage of leaked sex tapes involving a senior official responsible for Islamic guidance engaged in sexual acts with another man. The official has been suspended ahead of an investigation, putting the government in a difficult position as they criminalize homosexuality. This clip completes the narrative the entire video illustrates by exhibiting an actual instance where the secret lives of the elite comprising the regime were exposed. This further supports the notion of the government exploiting religion as a means for power maintenance when they themselves fail to abide by mandatory Islamic laws.
            Finally, the video ends by revisiting the introductory clips of unveiled women dancing and doing cartwheels, with a shift to more upbeat music, signifying the hope that remains for a cultural and governmental shift within Iran. The reporter begins his voiceover during the display of these clips, recounting the beginning of the protests up to the current Iranian state. The reporter directly references existing literature by mentioning that the regime itself has been revealed as illusion, stating, “…not the hijab that is at stake, but rather the legitimacy of the regime itself” (BBC-YouTube 2023, 00:08:00-00:08:15). This statement ties the entire narrative of the video together, clearly presenting the perspective the network supports through the buildup of facts and such a final statement. The very last clip is a concluding graphic of a black screen with wave-like illustrations and the word “subscribe.”


            The comments selected from the video have been meticulously analyzed and categorized into four distinct groups: Iranians, perception, women, and identification. These categories emerged following a thorough examination of 50 comments, totaling 2,400 words, with an average length of 23 words per comment. This video was posted on August 15, 2023, and most comments were posted in August and September (BBC-YouTube 2023).
             The comments were initially selected based on their relevance. Those designated as top comments were copied and pasted into a Word document. As my analysis progressed, I started to identify connections and began grouping those with related messages. The first category I developed was ‘Iranians.’ The top comment from a user named “anich8699,” posted in August, read, “As an Iranian woman, I appreciate your attention for producing this report, eventually, we will win women life freedom.” This comment clearly pertains to the video, directly mentioning the ‘Women Life Freedom’ movement and expressing support for the network’s coverage of the protests and general situation. However, only a few top comments were from Iranians echoing the same sentiment, as the majority of the comments fell into the other three categories. This underscores the importance of these select few comments rising to the top, which can be attributed to various factors, such as promoting Iranian support, confirming the video’s validity, or showcasing its reach to viewers. Identifying and understanding these reasons are critical in uncovering the latent meanings behind these comments.
            In this context, a comment with over 3,700 likes and numerous replies demonstrating solidarity highlights the positive reception the video is receiving, particularly from members of the Iranian community as indicated by the user’s self-identification. Consequently, the top comment has the potential to bolster the video’s credibility, as most users tend to rely on such feedback to validate their perceptions. Nevertheless, others will form their own opinions about the video’s purpose and the information it presents, leading us to the next category, ‘perception.’
            Originally, I had labeled this category as ‘misinterpretation.’ However, upon further examination, I discovered a clear division in the perceptions of the commenting users. While most comments expressed general solidarity, a few made contradictory and somewhat hypocritical statements, misconstruing the purpose of the protests and uprising. For instance, a user named “Helmutlozzi” posted a comment in August, stating, “True bravery. My heart is with the Iranian youth fighting against Islamism.”
            Initially, I had only observed its manifest meaning. However, during the categorization process of the comments, I realized how it served as a prime example of illustrating the discrepancy between what the video discusses and the nature of the comments. I originally viewed it as a comment of solidarity, but upon reevaluation, I discovered its underlying issue. The user’s statement “…iranian youth fighting against islamism,” highlights a prominent misconception about the Iranian protests and uprising. This misconception illustrates why Muslim countries failed to provide protestors with external support and it aligns with the point the literature makes about the authoritarian regime abusing religion as a means of maintaining power. 
            The Islamic Republic of Iran wanted to promote the misconception that the people were fighting against Islam so they could maintain the support they had from other Islamic countries. This strategy was intended to ensure that the support the protestors received was, in a sense, Islamophobic. Many individuals in the West quickly supported Iranian protestors under the false premise that they were fighting against Islam, a religion commonly viewed by the West as being oppressive. These perceptions resulted in continued negative perceptions of Islam in the West and a continued lack of support for Iranian protestors.
            There were various comments that used certain words with similar latent meanings, such as those referring to “civilized communities” or making condescending references to religion and Islam. Despite such distorted comments, there were just as many demonstrating a proper understanding of the protests. These comments used words like “choice” and “freedom” instead of “Islam” and “religion,” effectively dissecting the video and the purpose behind the protests for what they truly are: an uprising against an oppressive government. The women are fighting for their freedom from the mandatory hijab and against an authoritarian government that abuses religion as a means of maintaining power and oppression. This is not illustrative of fighting against religion or Islam; it is a fight against an oppressive, authoritarian government comprised of a minority elite who continue to exploit religion to maintain political power.
            The most robust category I identified was, ‘women.’ The majority of comments were related to women and appeared consistently throughout this section. These comments expressed solidarity with women, connections to them, or sympathy for their plight. An illustrative example of this category can be found in a comment from the user “sohilronagh286,” posted a month ago, which stated, “Respect to all those woman and men standing up for justice and equal rights for woman.” Many comments used keywords like “respect”, “strength”, and “bravery” to describe or express support for these women.
            This category was particularly significant in highlighting the primary supporters of this movement: women. Using this aspect of primary, women supporters, we can connect this back to the feminist theory, as the literature suggests that religion is often exploited to perpetuate discriminatory practices and laws. Historically, women have been oppressed by intense religiosity and hierarchical systems designed to diminish their societal influence and power. The women in these comments, expressing solidarity with Iranian protestors, exemplify a shared experience of the oppression that all women face, demonstrating continued support for feminist uprisings aimed at liberating women. 
            The fourth and final category is ‘identification.’ I found it particularly interesting that a significant number of comments featured users identifying their religion, nationality, or ethnicity. The prevalence of this user identification raised questions about why so many felt it necessary or important to mention their origins or religious affiliations. There was a common storytelling aspect, with users like “claytonandrew9167” stating, “As a secular Christian…” or “GeorgiaAndrea” mentioning, “As a Malaysian…”
            This category was a close second in terms of abundance when compared to those mentioning or supporting women. This is especially significant in illustrating the divide between international support and reinforcing the belief that some individuals refuse to support the Iranian protests because of religion. For instance, the majority of supportive comments came from “Christians,” “Americans,” and “former Muslims,” distinctions that clearly illustrate how international support may be attributed to misconception.
            Those identifying as being from the West or practicing different religions present a latent meaning, one of support against Islam and the Middle East. Similarly, those identifying as former Muslims may illustrate their disdain for the religion, further clouding the true meaning of the uprising against an oppressive and authoritarian government in pursuit of freedom. Analyzing these comments is particularly critical for understanding how media and international misinterpretations resulted in a lack of support for the Iranian protestors.


            The analysis of the findings obtained from the video and comments, both separately and in relation to each other, reveals a distinct and particularly beneficial connection to existing literature. Through the triangulation of data from these three sources, common themes of illusion, religiosity, feminism, and functionalism have been identified in each interpretation and study of these variables. To begin this discussion, I will evaluate the connection this data presents to existing literature.
            There was a particular emphasis on the sociological theories of feminism in my review of existing literature regarding this subject. It was essential for researchers to identify and attempt to resolve the common misconception that feminist movements protesting the historic veil were Islamophobic. All five of the literary sources I reviewed made this critical distinction between feminism and religion. Sorbera’s work placed the greatest emphasis on this distinction as she highlighted the history of the veil and its cultural significance to illustrate that it should not be a strict guideline (Sorbera 2017).
            Sorbera provided a transnational historical analysis of the veil, explaining its history through a network of boundaries and borders, beyond the confines of national lines. She also discussed the process of societal disillusionment resulting from authoritarian rulers and its influence on the rise of feminism as a means of dispelling misconstrued notions of Islamic principles (Sorbera 2017). This directly correlates with the findings from the video. Both the producer’s narrative and clips of Iran before the Islamic Regime’s creation illustrate the process of societal disillusionment, the rise of feminism, and the culturally stunted society that has developed as a result of such an exploitation of religion.
            As discussed earlier, the video’s narrative illustrates how the society has gradually become disillusioned as the legitimacy of the Islamic Regime continues to dissolve. The comments further perpetuate this notion of disillusionment, as certain individuals express support for feminism and freedom of choice. To further illustrate the importance of distinguishing between a feminist movement and religion, Ataman builds on Sorbera’s point by emphasizing that the feminist movement was never anti-hijab. The movement was simply a protest against hegemonic laws and the strict infrastructure of Muslim countries, which prevented women from obtaining constitutional rights in accordance with Islamic law (Ataman 2003).
            The Iranian protests have been misconstrued to be a means of religious resistance; however, they are simply a call for religious freedom. As seen in the comments analysis, many individuals were misinterpreting the reason behind the protests, cheering on Iranians for fighting against Islam. Even the video producer stated, this is a fight against the authoritarian regime and the oppression faced by Iranian citizens, not against religion (BBC-YouTube 2023).
            Feminist theory further supports these scholars’ explanations regarding how the veil and religion are defined. This theory illustrates the connection between power relations and the exploitation of religion to maintain discriminatory laws and practices. Feminist theorists often critique patriarchal aspects of religious traditions and institutions. They reinterpret religious texts to challenge traditional readings used to justify and reinforce gender-based inequalities and hierarchies (Abbott 2005). This illustrates how feminism functions as a means of establishing liberation, specifically for women who face oppression in societies like that of Iran where religion is exploited as a means of maintaining power. Again, this is made possible through the process of illusion, which was extensively discussed in the video and identified by several commenters who present disillusionment.
            Although Sorbera and Ataman both identify this process through their historical analysis of the veil and its strict enforcement, Mayer provides a much more direct analysis, highlighting the withering of Islamist illusion (Mayer 2002). Mayer’s piece was particularly interesting and insightful for comprehending this significant concept and its relation to religion and international support. Her description of Iran as a model for all Middle Eastern and North African countries provides a far more profound assessment of international support, which sheds light on how the absence of such support could be attributed to the misrepresentation of protests, as Sorbera and Ataman both point out.
            This point of misinterpretation also underscores the importance and overall significance of this research, given that the interplay between religion and international support is a widespread phenomenon globally. As previously mentioned, a similar connection can be drawn in the current Israel-Palestine conflict, where the level of support provided by nations is closely tied to their religious ideologies. This analysis is particularly insightful as it links this concept to sociological paradigms such as religiosity, functionalism, and feminism. This leads to a more comprehensive and valuable understanding of the function of religion and its influence on both institutions and individuals. This insight is not limited to the literature alone but also supported by the data I collected from both the video and its associated comments.
            The video directly showcases the divide in religiosity among citizens. It features interviews with two Iranian individuals who hold entirely different views on the Islamic Republic and the Women Life Freedom movement (YouTube-BBC 2023). Mayer attributes this division to the power of illusion and its capacity to heighten levels of religiosity (Mayer 2002). The influence of religiosity on perception can also be observed in the comment section, where individuals identify themselves as Muslims, former Muslims, Christians, and so on (YouTube-BBC 2023). I found this particularly fascinating, as it once again illustrates the significant impact of religion on perception and the need individuals feel to differentiate themselves from others.
            The literature I reviewed by Karl Kaltenthaler et. al further underscores the necessity individuals feel to distinguish themselves religiously from others, as evidenced by their analysis of Iraq. Their study revealed that Iraqis who favored foreign patronage with Arabs and Kurds were predominately Sunni, while those who supported involvement of Iran and Russia were primarily Shia (Kaltenthaler et. al 2020). This example highlights the role of religiosity in shaping individuals’ perceptions. Consequently, religion and international support work in tandem, as religious beliefs significantly divide nations and influence their willingness to support one another.
            Moreover, the literature places a much greater emphasis on power and politics than the video. However, certain comments in the video did point out the government’s manipulation and exploitation of religion to maintain power, aligning with existing literature. Okumus also addresses political power in the context of religion and international support. This explains the concept of the public sphere and its importance in developing the social framework where individuals collaborate and communicate to establish mutual decisions and social norms that benefit the collective (Okumus 2015).
            Here, we see a more apparent connection with functionalism and the role of social institutions in shaping beliefs that bind individuals together (Abbott 2005). Okumus further emphasizes the division that arises when religion is introduced as a form of law and disrupts the common consensus and unity among individuals, leading to societal divisions. Like all the literature we have reviewed thus far, Okumus highlights the exploitation of religion by elite minorities as a means of creating an illusion and establishing their power under the guise of protecting Islam.
            While the video delves into the influence of institutions on the feminist movement and their role in enabling authoritarian elites to oppress women and create an illusion, the comments do not establish a similar functionalist connection with religion. This connection is pivotal in understanding religion’s impact on international support, as these variables function interchangeably to shape illusion, religiosity, and the suppression of feminism. The sociological theory of functionalism offers a profound insight into how authoritarian elites wield the power to create illusions. It does so by illuminating the functions of institutions and their ability to shape societal perceptions and levels of religiosity (Abbott 2005).
            Functionalism elucidates how this misrepresentation leads to a lack of support, as religion imparts a set of shared values, norms, and beliefs that bind society, elevate elites to power, and consequently marginalize those who resist (Abbott 2005). Supporting an ‘anti-Islamic’ movement would be discouraged by Islamic jurists, resulting in apprehension regarding external support. This point was underscored in the video through the examination of oppression and the role of established institutions, such as surveillance units, which function to implement and monitor compliance with mandatory Islamic laws (YouTube-BBC 2023).  


            In existing literature on the relationship between religion and international support, a recurring theme emerges – the concept of illusion and its powerful role in shaping societal expectations through the influence of power and politics. Additionally, a significant interconnection is evident between feminism, functionalism, and religiosity. These frameworks illustrate how religion can simultaneously serve as a unifying and exclusionary force, particularly evident in nation-states like Iran.
            A division exists between those who support the feminist theory, challenging discriminatory practices and laws, and those who, according to functionalists, manipulate the public by creating illusions to maintain power through the exploitation of religion. The same themes that emerge from existing literature are also reflected in the data obtained from the analyzed video and comments which support the notion that illusions significantly influence levels of religiosity. This notion is reinforced by institutions upholding strict religious ideologies while condemning theories like feminism that identify the exploitation of religion to maintain hierarchical traditions and power.
            Moreover, politics and power play a crucial role in the relationship between religion and international support. However, these factors are not as prominent in all data sources as feminism and illusion. The strength of this research lies in the credibility and dependability of the sources which support my hypotheses and theoretical framework connecting religion and international support. Nevertheless, a notable weakness of this research is the limited body of literature directly linking these variables. Despite the ongoing conflict in Iran since 1979, the government’s ability to suppress evidence of citizen dissatisfaction and outrage often outweighs the efforts of those willing to report and research such matters. Thus, this research holds particular significance as it delves into the rarely studied correlation between religion and international support within the context of sociological theory.
             To enhance and expand this research, I recommend applying this framework to various religious and historical conflicts/wars to explore how the relationship between religion and international support manifests differently across cultures, institutional factors, and varying levels of religiosity.


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YouTube (2023) “Iranian Women Reject Hijabs despite Morality Police Return - BBC Newsnight.” YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ghmxnK1LUg.  


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